If Alberta’s left ever wants to come close to power again, it has no choice but to merge with its smaller competitors and move into the mainstream.
In the 113-year history of Alberta, no governing political party – once defeated – has ever returned to power. It is a peculiarly Alberta phenomenon that sees a single party govern –normally without significant opposition – for a long period, to be followed by its total collapse and a new dominant party beginning the process over.
The only notable exception to this otherwise iron rule was the election of 2019 that saw the NDP become Alberta’s first and only one-term government, and a restoration of the Tories under a new brand.
The NDP fit into Alberta’s natural political equilibrium about as well as the Wildrose would fit Vancouver’s. Its win in 2015 was primarily caused by the disastrous mass-floor crossing of 2014, a disastrous PC campaign, and a triumphant debate performance by Notley. The NDP’s victory was entirely fair, but it was a one-off.
It is doubtful that the NDP could have won a second term even if the Wildrose and PC parties had not merged, but the marriage sealed their fate more than a year before the votes would be cast. Despite running a ho-hum campaign plagued by scandal, a clear majority of Albertans were united behind a single purpose: throwing out the NDP.
Major policy reversals and the unceremonious end of the “grassroots guarantee” should have caused serious fissures with the Wildrose wing of the UCP, but the coalition held together for the single goal of ousting Notley from power. It was a vivid example of the axiom that in Canada, “Oppositions don’t win elections. Governments lose them.”
The NDP still held onto a large opposition caucus united behind a single party, overwhelmingly in Edmonton, but with small toeholds remaining in Calgary and Lethbridge.
At present, they have no real hope whatsoever of forming government again. Even if major scandal were to hit the Tories from the RCMP investigations currently underway, and economic recession returned, the NDP’s core values do not make it a viable vehicle for government in Alberta’s political environment.
The question before the NDP now is whether to mainstream the party to contend for power again, or to double-down on its ideological convictions and return to its role as the leftist pole of gravity as a loud but permanent opposition voice.
In the eventual leadership race to replace Notley, the party’s members may have good cause to go with the latter: a loud but permanent opposition. From the NDP true-believer’s perspective, the party already sold-out and moved to the centre after 2015. Despite raising taxes on businesses, the party went out of its way to appear friendly with large corporations. Despite introducing a carbon tax, it wasn’t high enough to actually affect behavior, and much of the money went back to Oil Sands producers in the form of corporate welfare subsidies. The NDP might have stifled the growth of non-government schools, but should have shut them all down.
The true-believer wouldn’t be wrong in concluding that they had made great ideological sacrifices, just to lose anyway. Members of this view will want Notley’s replacement to be a firebrand socialist running to pull the Tories left, not replace them.
If the left is to make a legitimate attempt at seizing power again, it’s highly improbable that they will do so under the NDP banner. For the Tories to buck Alberta’s iron rule of defeated parties never returning to government again, they had to strike a deal with the Wildrose to do so under a new name.
The NDP alone dominants the entire opposition side of the legislature and does not face an ideologically-similar rival of a strength that the Wildrose faced in the PCs, but it failed to consolidated enough of the progressive vote to have a chance.
With no discernible policy differences, the morbid Liberals received just under 1 per cent of the vote running in 51 of 87 constituencies. More important than the 1 per cent of the vote though was lost manpower.
The NDP’s biggest foil was the Alberta Party. The AP ran a markedly more centrist campaign in 2019 than it did in 2015 and managed to capture 9 per cent of the vote, but Alberta’s first-past the post system being what it is, failed to translate into any seats. The Alberta Party may have run a campaign in the mythical ‘centre’ of the political mainstream, but without the unifying force of “defeat the NDP” or “stop the Tories,” didn’t have a solid base on which to build and was squeezed out. Most Alberta Party activists were driven by a deep unease about Kenney, but were unwilling to drink the socialist bathwater of the NDP.
However much they may view themselves as the political goldilocks of Alberta, without a solid ideological base, it is unlikely that they will go anywhere anytime soon.
If the NDP intends to actually contend for power, the logical conclusion is to reach out to the Alberta Party and the remnants of the Liberals and Greens to build a broad new, centre-left coalition. There may be ideological space for four successful left and centre-left parties at the federal level, but not in Alberta.
There is the possibility that more die-hard elements of the NDP would split off to form a less compromising party, but as those of us who attempted it on the right found out, the will to defeat the hated incumbent in power is a more powerful unifying force than any principled policy stance.
The NDP still dominates the left and it’s doubtful that there’s much appetite for putting more water in its wine, but all it might take is for a Jason Kenney of the left to win the leadership of the Alberta Party.
Sask PCs Say “no” to merger with Buffalo Party
With 17 candidates, the BP won 2.9 per cent of the vote. The PCs with 31 candidates won 2 per cent. In ridings in which they ran, the BP averaged 10 per cent, and the PCs 4 per cent.
A recent column in the Western Standard proposed the idea of uniting Saskatchewan’s Buffalo and PC parties. Progressive Conservative candidates and leadership responded quickly with a hard ‘no.’
“Won’t happen Lee,” PC leader Ken Grey posted on Facebook below the article. “We will welcome ex-Buffalo members but merger is a no go. We are a federalist party and from what I see Buffalo wants to broker left and right wing ideologies. We are different parties with different mandates.”
Grey cited the Buffalo Party’s approach of reaching out to both left and right policy goals. “That’s distasteful to me,” said Grey, whose party slogan is “True Conservative.”
The Buffalo Party – despite being just a few months old and running in a handful of ridings – finished as Saskatchewan’s third-place party on October 26th. With 17 candidates, the BP won 2.9 per cent of the vote. The PCs with 31 candidates won 2 per cent. In ridings in which they ran, the BP averaged 10 per cent, and the PCs 4 per cent.
Frank Serfas, a founding signatory of the Western Independence Party and its interim leader in 2015, placed third as the PC candidate in Moosemin. He commented on my Facebook post, “Any talk of PCs and Buffalo merging are completely [p]remature and [h]alf [b]aked.”
In an interview, Serfas said that he joined the PCs in 2018 to support Ken Grey’s leadership bid, but also bought a membership in Wexit Saskatchewan (the Buffalo Party’s original name). He said the Buffalo Party lacks the needed foundation to last.
“No constitution, no membership-adopted platform. There is no elected executive, no elected leader,” Serfas said. “I’ve been watching this a long time, since the early 80s. The only time western separatist parties or independence parties had any traction is when their leaders were legitimately elected by the grassroots.”
Serfas said the party initially indicated they would do these things, then gave reasons why it did not. “Covid. Not enough people. Oh, and my favorite one was not enough time,” he said.
“They’re two different parties in two different places, organization wise, leadership wise, stuff like that. Things still need to be settled in both camps before you can even start dialogue.”
Ironically, a PC press release on August 13 already called it a “merger” when former Wexit candidates such as Harry Frank decided to run as PC candidates. “This merger comes after complaints of top down decisions, candidate removals without reason, and dictatorial style leadership within the Buffalo Party.”
The press release quoted Frank saying, “By uniting the right we have a greater chance of being in a position to challenge this liberal leaning SaskParty and pushing for the changes the residents of this province have been needing.”
The two parties share common policy ground in supporting MLA recall, a provincial police force, and a referendum on equalization to trigger a constitutional convention, all welcomed by Serfas.
“They’re willing to explore other avenues of autonomy. That’s a good start. But the thing you have to remember is that the PCs are a party with one foot in the past and one foot trying to reach into the future,” Serfas said.
Serfas said the PC Party trust fund was one example of control by legacy PCs.
“The party leader does not control that. The party executive does not control it. There is a trust executive that is basically made up of PC luminaries of the past, and they control it.”
PC candidate Tony Ollenberger was a founding member of the Alberta First Party and ran as a candidate in 2001. His former party eventually was refounded in 2018 as the Freedom Conservative Party of Alberta. The FCP would later merge with Wexit Alberta to form the Wildrose Independence Party.
Ollenberger does not want the Saskatchewan PCs to follow suit.
“Buffalo is a flash in the pan. This is exactly what happened with the Alberta Independence Party in 2001,” Ollenberger said. “When they come onto the scene, and not even as a registered party, immediately the media just jumped all over them because they were just the next great thing. And you know after the election in 2001 they went nowhere.”
Ollenberg said his decades of observing independence movements in both provinces suggests some Buffalo Party members will eventually challenge interim leader Wade Sira’s position of “secession if necessary, but not necessarily secession.”
“He’s going to find someone come along and saying, ‘Well we need to separate now,’ and they’ll factionalize, and then they’ll refractionalize… until there’s six parties that need to get registered,” Ollenberger said.
“I’ve seen this movie before and I’ve seen exactly how it ends,” said Ollenberger. “We’d be shooing ourselves in the foot if we wanted to hitch our wagon to the Buffalo Party because I see the same fate unfolding again.”
Ollenberger, who placed third in Saskatoon Fairview, said the party’s message of balanced budgets and fiscal responsibility had a positive response at the doors.
“We certainly need to do more to get our main track on the political radar, get our messaging out there, and make sure that people understand that there is a difference – that when people hear the word ‘Conservative’ they think of us again and not the Sask Party.”
Lee Harding is the Saskatchewan Correspondent for the Western Standard
LETTER: Canada’s electoral system is broken
“There is more than one good reason for getting rid of this destructive and un-democratic FPTP electoral system beginning with the ballot that makes voting extremely challenging and unfair, because voters are forced to chose between party or candidate.”
Another election, producing another fake-majority government most of the people do not want, and conducted a year before it was mandated, by law.
Our system of government is called parliamentary democracy, because the party or coalition with the greatest number of elected Members, will form a majority government while it only represents a minority of the people.
That is very different from the true democratic governments they have in Scandinavian and European countries, where the political power is vested and exercised by the people directly or indirectly through the elected Members of government.
There is more than one good reason for getting rid of this destructive and un-democratic FPTP electoral system beginning with the ballot that makes voting extremely challenging and unfair, because voters are forced to chose between party or candidate.
Canada has a very dysfunctional multi-party system, that continues to erode any semblance of democracy.
MORGAN: This is Kenney’s moment to do or die with union bosses
“Premier Jason Kenney has hit his defining moment in office. He can either be the next Ralph Klein or he can be the next Ed Stelmach.”
Push has come to shove and the crisis which will define Jason Kenney’s premiership is upon us. The collapse of the petrochemical industry and of course the COVID-19 pandemic are both pressing catastrophes on their own. But the issue which will make or break Jason Kenney’s time in office will be in how he manages the looming organized labour revolt.
The “spontaneous” wildcat strikes held by health care support workers last Monday was a test run. A warning shot at best from Alberta’s unions to set the stage for larger actions. Today, a press conference involving a number of union leaders and headed by the Alberta Federation of Labor’s Gil McGowan was held where nothing less than a general strike was threatened if Jason Kenney doesn’t back off on a plan to outsource laundry and food services to health care facilities.
Organized labour has drawn a line in the sand and Jason Kenney needs to jump across it without hesitation.
The plan to outsource health care support services is far from unreasonable or controversial. While these services are indeed essential to running a health facility and much of the work is hard, these are not services that need to be done in-house by government employees. It has been contracted out before and it will be again. The issue of course is that in outsourcing these services while many of the jobs will simply be transferred rather than lost, many if not most of these jobs will become non-union.
Union dues are big money and unions are big business. The AUPE which is responsible for the health care service support workers just built themselves a palatial new $49 million headquarters where their executives can relax in comfort while they count the money coming into their organization from the paycheques of real workers. Of course these union bosses are terrified at the prospect of losing that income. This fear has caused them to choose a terrible hill to die on, which is why the time to push back is perfect for Jason Kenney and the UCP.
Aside from in the energy industry, there is no larger glut of unemployed people out there than in the hospitality industry. Tens of thousands of hotel and restaurant workers are out of work as the pandemic has utterly decimated their industry. These workers will be more than overjoyed to take on the job security which would come from providing services to contractors in the health sector. The government union workers are not filling a need which can’t be easily filled by others. If anything, wage concessions should be floated by union leadership in hopes of keeping those jobs rather than threats to Albertans.
Albertans are fearful for both their economic futures and for the state of their health care. I can think of few ways that organized labour can lose the trust and support of citizens more effectively than by holding Albertans hostage by withholding health care services and refusing to take pay reductions as everybody else has had to. The government unions are putting themselves into a terribly unsympathetic position here.
Our health care system and the spending upon it are unsustainable. Spending cuts are inevitable and they will hurt. Be reminded though that despite all of the noise from labour leaders, Alberta hasn’t actually cut a nickel of spending from health care yet. The UCP has actually increased health care spending since taking office. For the unions to threaten to put the entire province at risk with a general strike over this is ridiculous and Premier Kenney should call them out on this immediately.
It will be tough to make cuts when the time comes, but it has to be done. The protests will come and the unions will strike. It should be remembered how Albertans responded to austerity before though. When Ralph Klein made deep spending cuts in his first term, unions went wild. Protests blossomed while tall foreheads predicted the demise of the Klein government. In the next election, Klein’s support increased. Klein continued to cut, unions continued to howl and in the next election, Klein increased his support yet again. Albertans understand the need for responsible spending and they appreciate it. This has been proven out.
Jason Kenney has hit his defining moment in his premiership. He can either be the next Ralph Klein, or he can be the next Ed Stelmach. Let’s hope Premier Kenney chooses wisely. The time is now and he can’t hesitate.
Cory Morgan is the Podcast Editor and a columnist for the Western Standard
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