The Alberta provincial election campaign is entering territory rarely seen — in Alberta or anywhere else. Not only is a political dynasty about to be upset, but an entire political culture is being challenged. The upset will likely be accomplished on April 23rd. The challenge to the old style of doing politics will enjoy another success, but needs more time to work through to its completion. Look for the next election in Alberta to be just as interesting as the upcoming one.
There is a foreshadowing that the long-governing Tory party is imploding, and it appears that the knives are coming out. (Calgary Herald column here) The rush to blame illustrates three problems that people within the Tory party are wrestling with. One is personal, one is institutional, and one is cultural.
At a personal level, it doesn’t help the Tories that “key insiders” are now panicking, and slagging their party Leader in this way. In addition of course, key insiders, who are blaming the party’s leadership selection process for their current turmoil, determined the party’s leadership selection process and, as the column rightly notes, they have had ample time to undo their error since it was first used almost a decade ago. The ‘naive’ Ms. Redford didn’t impose the selection process on these smart politicos.
At an institutional level, Ms. Redford has had three challenges, since the day she decided to contest the leadership of the party. As I wrote on April 4th, Tory stalwarts did not choose Ms. Redford. Thousands of Albertans joined the party because it was the government party, and they wanted to drag their government, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century. They did what they wanted to do, and then they returned to home, work, and community, leaving Ms. Redford to contend with old-timers who wanted to bolt for the door and return to the comfort of the last century. So her most difficult challenge has been to keep the party in the 21st century. In spite of what thousands of Albertans indicated they wanted to see as the direction of the party, they party has not responded in good faith. Ms. Redford is bright, imaginative, disciplined, energetic, and hard-working. And it appears that she is losing the second challenge.
The third challenge that the Tory party faces is a cultural one. There is something happening just beneath the surface of the political process. Candidates, party workers, the parties and the public are trying to understand the past and the future, and they are trying to decide where they feel more comfortable; they are trying to decide which one to bet on. Does each voter, does the electorate generally, want to be the last out of the past, or the first into the future? For the Tory party, the question is simple: does the Tory party want to compete with the Wild Rose party to be the most sophisticated expression of the old way of doing things, or do they want to be a tentative and exploring party that tries to figure out a dramatically new way of responding to voters and doing politics?
It appears that Ms. Redford wants to be first into the future. But, because of the way the party is imploding under the baggage created by years of direction from old-style M.L.A.s and party mandarins, the centre will not likely hold for another two weeks. For the Tories, the best case scenario at this point seems to be a minority government. Regardless of the outcome, following the election, the Tory party will be filled with recriminations, defections, and wasted energy. Look for a battle royale over leadership, organization, policy, fund-raising, etc. It will likely go into a “blue funk” and decline.
In this situation, at this time, Alberta’s voters have to be wise about the future, without knowing what the future will bring.