Collapse of rickety Wildrose coalition of market fanatics and religious fundamentalists could be bad-news/good-news story for Alberta’s NDP

Posted on November 26, 2014, 12:31 am
9 mins

A recent meeting of the Wildrose Party Legislative caucus. Actual members of the official Opposition party may not appear exactly as illustrated. Below: NDP Leader Rachel Notley and Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith.

Monday’s bombshell that the rickety coalition of ideological market-perfection fanatics and social-conservative religious fundamentalists called the Wildrose Party was coming unstuck may turn out to be a bad-news/good-news story for Alberta’s New Democrats.

Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith’s big problem – other than the fact she appeared to have been completely out of the loop last week about the upcoming defections of MLAs Kerry Towle and Ian Donovan – is that her party’s rank and file is made up of significant numbers of refugees from the disaffected fringes of the vast centre-right coalition that is the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta.

Newly elected New Democratic Party Leader Rachel Notley’s potential big problem is that without vote splitting on the right between Wildrose conservatives and Progressive Conservatives in the Edmonton area, where all three parties have been polling at similar levels, the NDP’s dream of picking up many more seats than the four it has now could evaporate.

Not so long ago, NDP strategists were talking as if they could win a dozen or more seats in the next general election. If the Wildrose Party crumbles, so could the dream that might have seen the NDP form the Opposition in the Legislature based on a stronghold in Edmonton.

On the other hand, with the Alberta Liberals no longer much more than a collection of independents who share office space and the Alberta Party barely on the radar outside a few ridings, the NDP is probably the best placed to pick up votes from disaffected Tories if the Wildrose really does collapse. And even if the NDP sees its dream of a 12-seat caucus die, six seats may be enough to form the Opposition!

What a bitter day it would be, though, if the New Democrats significantly increased their province-wide vote in the next general election but saw their seat tally in the Legislature fall!

So it’s not necessarily only the loony right that is praying Ms. Smith can somehow keep her Wildrose caucus on life support. It will be interesting to see some public opinion polls taken after the brutal events of the past 31 days, in which the Wildrose Party managed to lose all four Oct. 27 by-elections plus three of its caucus members with the possibility of more to go.

Regardless, it won’t be easy for Ms. Smith to fix the gaping tear in the fabric of the Wildrose Party.

Her trouble is that from the start the party was the home to significant cohorts of extreme neoliberal economic fundamentalists who worship the Almighty Market and extreme religious social conservatives who worship a particular interpretation of Almighty God. Alas, they never really had that much in common with one another.

Both had lived unhappily on the disaffected fringes of Alberta’s big-tent Tory coalition because their views were too extreme for most Albertans who, despite thinking of themselves as “conservative,” believe in a modest degree of state intervention in the economy and take a live-and-let-live approach to issues like LGTBQ and reproductive rights that send so-cons into conniptions.

The Wildrose Party, apparently even more conservative than the Conservatives, attracted members of both groups.

But the Wildrose Party really got off the ground in the late 2000s with some big donations from junior oil company movers and shakers who were in a swivet about former premier Ed Stelmach’s sensible if faint-hearted attempt to raise royalties on non-renewable resources. Now that fight is over and the oil companies have won.

If the oilpatch doesn’t need the Wildrose Party anymore because PC Premier Jim Prentice is going to give it everything it wants, can the Wildrose’s remaining supporters write enough cheques to keep the party afloat?

So, after all this excitement, it may have turned out that the only thing holding the so-cons and the market nuts together in the Wildrose Party could be summed up in two words: Alison Redford.

Ms. Redford’s leadership was so incompetent, her own conduct so appalling, and her policies so alienating that the public concluded the Wildrose could be a reasonable still-conservative alternative. The PCs may richly deserve to be punished for their many sins, but with Mr. Prentice at the helm, the need does not look nearly as urgent to a lot of Albertans.

Without the glue provided by Ms. Redford to hold them together, it’s hard to see how the Wildrose Party can soldier on without one faction or the other pulling the plug on what’s left of the shaky enterprise.

Ms. Notley’s task now is to get enough Albertans who are fed up with PCs’ past sins and not yet ready for what may turn into an increasingly extreme Wildrose to rally round the NDP strongly enough to preserve and perhaps even increase its Edmonton stronghold.

This is possible. Historically, Tory and NDP voters have found it surprisingly easy to move back and forth between those seemingly quite different parties in Western Canada. But it will certainly not be easy – as long as Mr. Prentice can maintain the discipline of his growing caucus. That, of course, is no sure thing either, which should keep things interesting.

Ms. Smith’s job is to pull her party’s fat from the fryer before, at the risk of mixing metaphors, more petals fall from the rose.

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Defining ‘neoliberal’: market fundamentalist, but anti-democratic

I am regularly taken to task by a couple of regular commenters for using the term “neoliberal” to describe, erm, neoliberals.

For the record, here is what I mean when I use that term: ideological market fundamentalism combined with belief in strong state power to enforce market mechanisms, even at the expense of democracy.

In Harperism, How Stephen Harper and his Think Tank Colleagues have Transformed Canada, author Donald Gutstein writes: “The ideology the think tanks promote is properly called neoliberalism because, in contrast to libertarians who want a small, powerless state that leaves people alone, neoliberals require a strong state that uses its power to create and enforce markets, and prop them up when they fail, as happened after the 2007-08 financial meltdown. Their utopian dream is a state governed by market transactions and not democratic practices. It’s based on the principle that economic freedom must come before political freedom. Political freedom may not even be necessary. It’s fair to say they believe in government, but not in democracy.”

This definition for market-perfectionist but anti-democratic neoliberalism may properly be applied to many groups in our society, including Mr. Harper’s federal Conservative Party, the market fanatic wing of the Wildrose Party, myriad organizations like the Fraser Institute and Preston Manning’s mislabeled Manning Centre for Building Democracy.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

9 Comments to: Collapse of rickety Wildrose coalition of market fanatics and religious fundamentalists could be bad-news/good-news story for Alberta’s NDP

  1. Will Munsey

    November 26th, 2014

    Good read. Thanks, David. What strikes me about your opinion is the “hope” that the NDs might win as many as 12 seats in a best-case scenario. That says something pretty awful about the political situation in this province.

    Reply
  2. November 26th, 2014

    I wish I wrote this article myself, it’s exactly correct. Surfing the darkness of twitter it’s difficult to understand how so many people have so many varied opinions and nothing seemed to click, but this article is a perfect summary.

    One addition I would add is that the base of the Wildrose Party, in my assessment was the social conservative base. A lot of old former Social Credit types and southern rural types. It was Link Byfeld that started Wildrose and former Social Credit leader Randy Thorsteinson who started the Alberta Alliance after all. These are the small cheque writers and the Western Standard readers.
    When the oil companies plowed the big money into the party in 2009 and got Danielle Smith in charge, it was the hardcore neo-liberal/libertarians that were in charge.

    This is why we see a tweet by Laurie Livingstone saying, “After the embarrassment caused by kooks, cranks, socons & morons this weekend, I’m making it clear I support @laurieblakeman’s Bill 202”. The leadership is disconnected from the grassroots.

    Reply
  3. ronmac

    November 26th, 2014

    Well I’m confused. No baffled is a better word. It was only a few months ago when everybody was saying the Tories were in disarray and Wildrose was waiting in the wings ready to sweep into power with the morning tide.

    The only logical explanation is that Jim Prentice is not a mere mortal but some grand wizard of sorts with magical powers. Like Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings sent here from Middle Earth to disperse the powers of the Dark Lord Stephen Harper. What do you think?

    Reply
    • Alex P

      November 26th, 2014

      Um. Yah. No.

      I’ll admit Prentice did an admirable job of reducing the Wildrose party. Was it his spear and magic helmet? Nope. Just reversing some glaring Redford embarrassments; sell some planes, stop a renovation, don’t wear pearls. Followed up by promises to send oil pipelines in every direction on the compass. There goes the support of small oil concerns.

      Now the challenge is what to do with supporting Gay-Straight Alliances in Schools. Even if they’re just called Safe Lunch Clubs, there is something small-c conservative about not liking bullying. The New Democrats would be the opposition to carry that torch, and the other issues that need them. Crumbling hospitals, overcrowded schools, and delayed infrastructure expansion. Twelve ND seats sounds just right.

      But the true test of neoliberalism is now a commitment to sabotaging you own national interests. For example, thus: ‘George Monbiot: Our bullying corporations are the new enemy within.’

      http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/oct/07/bullying-corporations-enemy-within-business-politicians

      Shocking passage, “Last month the Commons public accounts committee found that the British government has inserted a remarkable clause into contracts with the companies to whom it is handing the probation service (one of the maddest privatisations of all). If a future government seeks to cancel these contracts (Labour has said it will) it would have to pay the companies the money they would otherwise have made over the next 10 years. Yes, 10 years. The penalty would amount to between £300m and £400m.”

      We just haven’t hit rock bottom yet.

      Reply
      • Expat Albertan

        November 26th, 2014

        Frightening development in the UK – not unlike the FIPA with China. I wonder, though, if a future government could not work around this by just changing legislation (although that would likely have collateral damage).

        Reply
      • ronmac

        November 26th, 2014

        I’m sure you’re right. But can’t I live in a fantasy world, even if just for a little while?

        Reply
  4. Expat Albertan

    November 26th, 2014

    Scratch a neo-liberal and you get an oligarch.

    This is what is often left out of the assessment of neo-liberals. Regardless of what they think in theory, in practice, they only are argue for free and unfettered markets from a position of strength, not a position of equality. For example, the neo-liberals of the Wildrose and Harper variety are underwritten by the oil and gas sector – not a sector that is particularly interested in challenges to its hegemony, In fact, I would go even further and say that there is an inherent contradiction between ANY form of equality (even market equality) and economies based on natural resources such as oil. Since the resource cannot be moved (and the capital must come to the resource) it encourages the establishment and maintenance of a landed plutocracy in control of a rentier economy. The worst version of this is the famed ‘banana republic’ where a landed aristocracy usurps foreign investment into its resource sector for its own benefit and not the development of the wider economy.

    Reply
    • Sam Gunsch

      November 26th, 2014

      re Expat’s observation about AB: The worst version of this is the famed ‘banana republic’ where a landed aristocracy usurps foreign investment into its resource sector for its own benefit and not the development of the wider economy.

      Useful and authoritative content (IMO) in the 2011 article at the link below about

      Banana republic and our Alberta version, according to a key Lougheed cabinet member.

      http://thetyee.ca/Opinion/2011/04/13/HarpersBigQuestion/

      excerpt:
      Warrack, one of the architects of the iconic Alberta Heritage Fund, told the Tyee earlier this year that the province is being run like a “banana republic” for failing to collect fair rents for non-renewable resources like the oil sands.
      Warrack is a professor emeritus of business economics at the University of Alberta and former minister of lands and forests in then-premier Peter Lougheed’s cabinet in the early 1970s. Warrack then served as utilities minister and on the energy cabinet committee. He also authored a detailed history on the Heritage Savings Trust Fund and was a key player when the province famously revamped the royalty regime and set up the arm’s length oil wealth fund to benefit future generations.
      “Since time immemorial, the use of other people’s property has been on a two thirds, one third split,” said Warrack. “The owner gets a third and the operator gets two thirds… If you interpret that in terms of oil or natural gas or oil sands, there should be a third of the value to the owners and in the case of oil sands that is 100 per cent owned by the public.”

      Reply
      • Expat Albertan

        November 27th, 2014

        Thanks, Sam. In the interest of complete openness, that Tyee article is where I got the notion of Alberta as a banana republic in the making. Incredible that it comes from a former Conservative cabinet member.

        Reply

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