Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A Dark Day for Democracy in Alberta

Today Alberta's Leader of the Official Opposition, along with 8 other Wildrose MLAs, crossed the floor to join the governing Progressive Conservatives. In engineering this cynical ploy for power, both Smith, Prentice and their supporters have shown utter contempt for fundamental democratic principles.

To the best of my knowledge, never before in a parliamentary democracy has any Leader of the Official Opposition abdicated their responsibility with such blatant disregard for common decency.

And yet I place more of the blame on the governing PCs. With a comfortable majority, there was absolutely no reason they should have been party to this. A responsible government founded on principles of respect for voters and the common good would have understood that a strong opposition is good for the province. But Jim Prentice and his supporters proved today that they simply cannot abide opposition. This should anger and terrify anyone who cares about good governance.

I consider myself a democratic socialist, and yet today my greatest sympathies lie with the hundreds of thousands of Albertans who voted for the Wildrose party in the 2012 election. Betrayal is a hard word, but betrayed they were. Should one more Wildrose MLA join the government caucus - and rumors are flying that this will happen soon - then the Alberta Liberals will likely form the Official Opposition once again, despite losing that status in 2012. That outcome flies completely in the face of what voters chose in 2012, and as many readers know I worked for the Alberta Liberal caucus for six and a half years. Despite that, I would be appalled were Raj Sherman to become Leader of the Official Opposition again under these circumstances, even though I consider him a good man with the best interests of Albertans at heart.

(And yes, Raj crossed the floor as well - but he left the government caucus on a matter of true principle, and moved from government to opposition. However else you can characterize that move, it certainly wasn't an obvious grab for power.)

There's one more frightening possibility: perhaps the Premier suspects that Alberta's economy will worsen considerably - so much so that having a viable opposition extant during an economic collapse could actually set the stage for the end of the PC dynasty. In that scenario, this cynical maneuver actually makes sense. And if this supposition proves true, then Albertans should prepare ourselves for hard times indeed, especially if we care about public education, public health care, the arts and the vulnerable.

Even if that dark scenario doesn't come to pass, today Jim Prentice and Danielle Smith told voters that elections don't matter. When the next election comes I sincerely hope Albertans will prove them wrong.


Anonymous said...

Hmm, I know a lot of pundits are saying the same thing but I dont really see it that way this is just business as usual in Alberta politics. Remember Ralph Klein ran for leader of the liberal party before he became "King Ralph" of the conservative party. The PC party is basically only concerned with remaining in power and not any strong convictions that they believe in. They are basically conservative but fluctuate their commitment to those ideals based on how they read the tea leaves. There is no doubting that Redneck Alberta leans right politically, the previous administrations were leaning a little bit more centrist than normal so the Wildrose started up to try and grab that room on the right. Prentice looks to be cutting out their feet at least fiscally he's more right than Redford and Stelmach so the Wildrose will have no comments about spending where they disagree. The only place where they will have space to dissent is on social matters and on those matters they come across as cranks, homophobic and tied to the religious right. That side of their platform appeals to a small minority of the population and is likely to only see their popularity shrink.


Stephen Fitzpatrick said...

Wow, you have returned to political commentary in fine form! You echo my sentiments precisely, and I find myself sharing the strange position of feeling tremendous sympathy for those who supported the Wild Rose Party out of a desire for change. How bitter a discovery that so many of these floor-crossers, so adamant in their condemnation of the status quo prior to the byelections, could abandon their supposed principles so quickly and wholeheartedly in a blatant bid for personal political gain. Shame on everybody, but mostly shame on Albertans when the PC party glides to another easy victory in their next election, buoyed up by growing cynicism, electoral detachment and voter apathy germinated by such a disgusting display.

Jeff Shyluk said...

You're going to have to prove that Alberta is democratic in the first place, although I see your points are well-made and I agree with what has been said.

In 109 years, Alberta has formed only four governments:

1905–1921 Alberta Liberal Party
1921–1935 United Farmers of Alberta
1935–1971 Social Credit Party of Alberta
1971–present Alberta Progressive Conservatives

In the article you link to, Premier Prentice refers to his party as "big tent Conservatives", meaning that the ruling party has enough flexibility to overcome the recent schism in Conservative political views. Alberta politics seems to have no shortage of big tents. Social Credit? Farmers' Union?? Liberals??? These were all in their time grass-roots parties that latched onto power and leveraged Alberta's considerable resources to form dynasties.

The names of the parties are indeed irrelevant now, as are their politics. You don't have elections, and seldom ever do. You have coronations. Until the time that Alberta has to become responsible for dwindling resources and a growing population base, the dynastic system represents the greatest financial stability and long-term responsibility for your largest economic sector: a benign dictatorship. Premier Prentice made a move that not only secures his party's fortunes for the next election, but more importantly shows the rest of the Commonwealth that Alberta's government appears stable and predictable, something that ought to appease investors at the precise time that the petro-dollar is swirling down the toilet hole.

I did say "represents". The appearance of economic stability does not equal fiscal prudence, as former Premier Redford proved. Likely, Alberta is in for a rough ride in the next half-decade or more. Don't worry, though. If Mr. Prentice and his cabinet screw up, you can re-elect them all knowing that they probably will have learned from their mistakes and will try harder in the next term.