Family values: Not so long ago they were all swinging left, but now the Progressive Conservative caucus of Premier Jim Prentice is swinging right. Getting ready to launch, from left to right, new PC caucus member Kerry Towle, Mr. Prentice, new caucus member Ian Donovan, and an unidentified former Redford Government cabinet minister. Actual Alberta politicians may not appear exactly as illustrated. Below: The real Mr. Prentice, NDP Leader Rachel Notley, Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith and Alberta Liberal Leader Raj Sherman.

Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley, Alberta Liberal Leader Raj Sherman and Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark were onto something yesterday when they all observed that the government of Premier Jim Prentice is now quickly swinging to the right.

There’s an element of truth to the suggestion Mr. Prentice and his Progressive Conservative caucus are doing it to chase the votes of the province’s loony right, especially its loony social conservative right, which for the past few years has found a not-entirely happy home in the Wildrose Party under the leadership of the socially more flexible Danielle Smith.

Well, those days appear to be over as illustrated by Premier Prentice’s studied waffling and intentional lack of leadership on Bill 202, Edmonton-Centre Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman’s private member’s bill that would force schools to allow gay-straight alliances in the event students perceive a need for them.

When Mr. Prentice says he’ll allow a free vote by his MLAs on Bill 202, and when ex-Wildrose turncoat Ian Donovan risibly suggests that the his former party is now far to the left of the PCs, both statements are code for saying homophobia will be tolerated in the PC caucus to win so-con votes as long as it’s reasonably discreet.

But that’s not the whole story.

The underlying reason this shift to the right is suddenly possible, paradoxically enough, is that the apparent implosion of the right-wing Wildrose Party under Ms. Smith has made it easier for the right-wing PC Party under Mr. Prentice to dismiss the threat from large number of centre-left voters who live in Alberta, as poll after poll of citizens’ general attitudes have shown for years.

Since in reality there is no practical or ideological difference between the Wildrose Party and the PC Party on economic issues, and very little on social ones, it was easy for moderate voters to the left and the right who wanted to punish the 43-year-old Tory dynasty for its deplorable recent performance under Alison Redford to contemplate voting Wildrose.

Indeed, this is the explanation for the recent cautious Wildrose drift toward a more moderate position on such issues as LGBTQ rights, much to the chagrin of MLAs like Mr. Donovan, who was obviously nervous about how the social-conservatives in his rural Southern Alberta riding would respond.

The possibility that moderate voters might go Wildrose also partly explains the initial Tory moves, after Mr. Prentice took up the reins of governing and before the Oct. 27 by-elections, to dump the worst legislative excesses of the Redford regime. He hoped to win back centrist voters who had saved Ms. Redford in 2012, as well as, reasonably enough, to repudiate the former premier’s deplorable personal conduct.

But with Wildrose Party support apparently evaporating in the wake of last month’s by-election disappointments – both in caucus and among its general membership – the Prentice PCs have been freed to revert to form and ignore the moderate instincts of so many Alberta voters.

This should surprise no one. It’s been apparent to anyone who paid attention to what the candidates were actually saying during the Tory leadership campaign that on economic issues Mr. Prentice is just as determined a neoliberal market fundamentalist and oil industry apologist as former Fraser Institute apparatchik Smith. As for social issues, it now appears he doesn’t give a fig about LGBTQ rights and will do whatever it takes to win yet another PC majority.

With all three parties generally labelled progressive in Alberta splitting one another’s votes and polling in the teens, he’s no longer under much pressure to pay attention to the “left.”

However, the committed social conservative right – which has its electoral act together, whatever we may think of its social views – is another matter entirely. Mr. Prentice will pander to it as long as he needs to – and how long that is entirely up to the rest of us.

In an interview with the CBC yesterday morning, Ms. Smith was sounding more like her confident old self, as if she had recovered some of the aplomb she seemed to lose immediately after the defections Monday of Little Bow MLA Donovan and her former close friend, Innisfail-Sylvan Lake MLA Kerry Towle.

But it will be a hard struggle for her to get her party back to where it was even a month ago.

And if we believe former Wildrose MLA and Green Party Leader Joe Anglin, who quit Ms. Smith’s caucus earlier this month before she could fire him in an unrelated dispute, that two more Wildrose MLAs are about to decamp, well … the party’s done like dinner, no matter how confident its leader appears.

The plain fact is, as hard as this may be for Alberta’s progressive voters to digest, if they want progressive policies, they’re going to have to vote for progressive parties.

And if the progressive parties can’t get their act together and show some co-operation, progressive voters are going to have to pick one and get on with it themselves, or resign themselves to a full half century of Tory rule!

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  1. Dave, progressive voters in Alberta are not going to pick one of the parties of the centre-left and run with it. That hasn’t happened to date for a bunch of reasons, and it can’t happen now. The NDP has some strength in Edmonton but it simply does not exist in Calgary and it’s not going to come into being, as the recent by-elections made clear. While the Liberals look lazy and divided, they have some cred in the South and will get some traction everywhere from next year’s federal election. The Greens, if one transfers federal results to the provincial elections, are the party that is gaining some traction in southern Alberta. And then of course Greg Clark, if not his party, has some support in Calgary. Indeed, if these parties are simply too childish to work together either to create something new or simply an electoral coalition, it won’t really matter how far to the right the Tories go. The population will vote for them because, as Margaret Thatcher loved to say, “there is no alternative.” At least no alternative for those who are only willing to vote for potential winners and that’s a huge part of the electorate–people who only follow politics for a short period during an election as opposed to party wonks or people who read blogs.

  2. Both the Alberta and Wildrose parties are populated with disgruntled PC’s unhappy with former premier Ed Stelmach. Both Stelmach and Redford were unexpected winners in their respective leadership contests and neither had the support of the PC establishment. This led to a dramatic improvement in the fortunes of the Wildrose in the last provincial election. Now that the PC’s have the predicted winner at the helm, a died in the wool establishment PC insider, the entire reason for the Wildrose to exist has evaporated. It won’t be long before they join the Alberta Party and fade to the margins.

  3. We need to lock the principals of the Alberta NDP, Liberals, Greens and Alberta Party in a conference room in Red Deer; they wouldn’t be allowed to leave until they agree on the terms of a merger. (The merger need only last until they win an election and get rid of first past the post; they can then go back to their useless hair-splitting.) They have too much in common to keep handing power to a bunch of market fundamentalists. What a failure of vision (and courage) from the Alberta left…!

  4. The Wildrose is far from imploding…Every political party goes through a case of hiccups, the Wildrose is no exception…What has to be remembered is that Prentice took the top 8 pages out of the Wildrose playbook and instituted them as his own creations…He had nothing better…from the license plate fiasco to the closing of Michener Centre, all Wildrose fights…We are alive and well and will recover, as did the PC’s after Stelmach and Redford…Time is a good thing at times and does help get rid of the hiccups and that is where we are at…Joe Anglins statement that 4 more Wildrose MLA’s will be crossing the floor soon, is a joke…there are not 4 Wildrose MLA’s who would confide anything with the likes of Anglin…as a matter of fact, Anglin approached the RRMHS riding of the PC Party President and offered his services to be told, NO THANK-YOU…We are all good…and will rebuild even better than before…

    1. Well said in the tradition of the Titanic’s ship captain.

      The flirtatious one night stand Albertans had with the Wildrose is over. You and your wildrosers can sit by the phone and wait for that call that will never come. Albertans have moved back home with their spouse for life – the PCs.

      Don’t get me wrong I’m sad too, but it’s because they failed to look at more interesting parties like the liberals or NDP. If only they had tried something new, but instead they settled for the comfort of the old ways.

  5. Even if a progressive party does get elected it will look pretty much the same as the Progressive Conservative party they are replacing. It is why the Wildrose leadership has been moderating it’s position on a number of social issues and why the Alberta Party tried so hard to look like a younger version of the old stodgy PC’s in the last election. As an NDP member I remember the Liberals under Laurence Decore who campaigned to the right of Ralph Klein. Merger is not in the cards. I am sure if an NDP leader ever dared to lead the party in that direction it wouldn’t be long before a new left wing party emerged in response. Merger would not create the political results that its advocates suggest it would.

  6. @al berta

    You are a flubber head. The numbers from a merger will not put this imagined party in striking range. The problem is far deeper. Btw….its a better strategy for each party to win their own sests and then contemplate cooperation or a coalition, after they all win their own ridings first. Mergerists are quack brained flat society cretins that cant add. The numbers simply dont add up to challenge Tory Largesse . Tory Largesse must be challenged by getting ordinary folks more engaged and involved and that takes hard work and door knocking.

  7. Louis, you can’t spell, but you could compete with Winston Churchill in trying to knock down your opponents with insults. This is not a question of “addition.” It is a question of persuading Albertans that anyone is in the game other than the Tories and perhaps Wildrose. The votes for the centre-left parties declined from 40 percent in 2008 to 20 percent in 2012 because voters decided that these parties were only interested in squabbling with each other and not in forming a government. Most voters are focused on the overall provincial election results, not their own riding, and so they safely eliminate the four centre-left parties from their calculation of whom they should consider voting for. Your moralistic prescription of “hard work and door knocking” sounds much like Tory harping on “pulling up your own bootstraps” as the way to deal with poverty. I’ve been there and done that and I know that the reason few people join us in knocking on doors or leafleting is that all the sane people know that we are just playing games and have no intention of winning elections in Alberta. THEY can add. The centre-left knows only how to subtract and divide: we take a few thousand party members in each of 4 parties and instead of putting all of them to work in a reasonable number of seats where we have a chance to win and where the left-leaning vote is not hopelessly divided, we divide them among all the constituencies, compete for no good reason, and subtract from the numbers needed to win the constituencies where the centre-left has real traction.

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