And then there were five: The Wildrose caucus back before it experienced civil war, desertions and mass defections, including that of its leader, the woman in red above. Below: former NDP leader Brian Mason and current Leader Rachel Notley; effective Liberal MLAs David Swann and Hugh Macdonald.

One of the more irritating byproducts of mass defection by the Mudville Nine and two of their caucus colleagues who rejoined the Tory Mothership a few days earlier has been the outright wholesaling of the nonsensical claim the Wildrose Party was the most effective opposition Alberta has ever known.

Jen Gerson and Jesse Kline said this in the National Post. Global News broadcast it. Canada’s National Website, the Globe and Mail, chipped it into a stone tablet and brought it down from the mountain at 444 Front Street. Even the CBC peddled this nonsense.

There are many more examples, of course. Quite naturally, the Wildrose Party’s supporters – and many others too – have picked up the refrain and repeated it far and wide.

Well, it’s baloney. At least some of the professional political commentators know it’s baloney, too. Indeed, it has become a Big Lie, classically defined, which has now been repeated often enough to take on the quality of truthiness in the minds of many ordinary Albertans.

In reality, the Wildrose Party was not a particularly effective opposition.

The reason for this is quite simple – as former leader Danielle Smith has in effect admitted – they didn’t really oppose anything of substance that the Progressive Conservative government did, regardless of whom the premier was at any particular moment.

The Wildrose opposition focused on alleged waste, entitlement and obvious scandals – easy targets that didn’t make them much different from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and other professional agitators in the burgeoning Canadian right-wing outrage industry.

But on matters of legislative substance, they offered little – and often just meekly agreed and voted with the government.

Indeed, the Wildrose Opposition was quite dishonest about government spending – cheerfully jumping on any protest bandwagon organized by other players unhappy with cuts or underfunding, even going so far as to turn up at union-organized protests to say the Right Things, but at the same time advocating a tougher fiscal line than either the pre-Jim Prentice or Prentice PCs, at least when it came to revenue and borrowing.

Not only did they fail as official Opposition to offer meaningful policy differences to the PCs, they provided little debate – often only one lame speech in which they agreed with most of the government’s positions and accepted its legislative provisions.

If they offered amendments, as in the case of Bill 10, the Prentice Government’s controversial response to the private member’s bill that would have forced schools to accept gay-straight alliances, those amendments tended to reinforce the government’s position.

This was very poor performance compared to both the Alberta Liberals as official Opposition and the New Democratic Party caucus, which has been smaller than the Liberals in recent Legislative sessions.

Liberal MLAs like physician David Swann and Laurie Blakeman, author of the original gay-straight alliance private member’s bill, actually debated government bills, and where possible slowed them down. Former MLA Hugh Macdonald, probably the best choice as Liberal leader in 2011 when former Tory Raj Sherman got the job, was a fine debater and a brilliant researcher who effectively held the government’s feet to the fire countless times.

It goes without saying that the NDP caucus convincingly held the government to account – even in years when that caucus was made up of only former leader Brian Mason and current Leader Rachel Notley – more than the Wildrose Party ever did. Both Mr. Mason and Ms. Notley have reputations as effective Parliamentarians because, unlike most of Wildrose MLAs, they are effective Parliamentarians.

It was the NDP’s efforts above those of all other parties that in 2005 and 2006 stopped the “Third Way” – Ralph Klein’s attempt to privatize health care in Alberta.

It was the NDP that later in that decade effectively opposed the Child Advocate reporting to the minister not the Legislature, as well as premier Ed Stelmach’s surrender on charging fair energy royalties for the people who actually own the resources. More recently, it was New Democrat MLAs who pushed better regulation of auto insurers into the books. Likewise, right to the present, the NDP has kept up the pressure the PCs’ continuing and disgraceful failure on seniors’ care.

All the Wildrose caucus really had going for it that was different was its numbers – something that can hardly be said of them any more, notwithstanding Speaker Gene Zwozdesky’s decision yesterday allowing them remain the official Opposition for the moment, not that it will make much difference.

As an aside, in Mr. Zwozdesky’s defence, given the party’s remaining numbers in the Legislature, the votes accumulated by each party in past elections, and Parliamentary tradition, his ruling yesterday is hard to fault. Anyway, the situation is bound to change again soon enough – although MLA Shayne Saskiw insisted via Tweet yesterday morning that, despite the popular wisdom, it won’t be him who makes the move. I will take him at his word.

As a Wildrose House Leader who had a background in a governing party with overwhelming numbers in the Legislature, Rob Anderson never really “got” the Parliamentary role of the official Opposition.

Opposition MLAs complain that as chair of the Public Accounts Committee – the only committee chaired by a member of the Opposition, and which is supposed to favour the opposition – he ensured the large government caucus got the same amount of time for each member, instead of the previous arrangement in which opposition and government questions alternated.

Kudos to right-wing Sun media columnist Lorne Gunter, for whom I usually have little time, for admitting, albeit rather deep in his column Monday, that “former NDP Leader Grant Notley (father of current NDP leader Rachel Notley), who was a caucus of one, was more effective by himself than most official oppositions we have had.” And, yes, that includes the recent Wildrose opposition.

The NDP? A great opposition, serving Albertans well.

The Alberta Liberals of the past? Ditto – although maybe not so much today with two or three of their best MLAs on the way out and the caucus under Dr. Sherman essentially reduced to a group of independents who share office space.

But the Wildrose Party as the most effective opposition Alberta’s ever had?

Please! Give us a break! It’s hogwash, pure and simple.

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  1. Don’t overplay the effectiveness of the Liberal Opposition. Individual MLAs have had their moments, of course. But for the most part they are a joke. Raj Sherman is a hot mess as leader. David Swann was so ineffective he never got the chance to lead his party into an election. Kevin Taft looks good compared to these two – but the truth is he was a disaster as well – spending his time trying to suck up to the oil patch for money, missing the boat on the issue of oil royalties just as people were starting to talk about it. Ultimately, Taft watched his party lose half his seats on an election night he honestly thought was going to make him Premier.

    The NDP are a different story. Always showing the Liberals and Wildrose how to do it. Even kooky Pam Barrett could rip Klein a new one from time to time. Every single MLA the NDP managed to elect has been effective at keeping the government on its toes.

  2. I have met Hugh MacDonald a few times. He is a rare individual. I am grateful for his service to this province. We won’t see another Hugh, but here’s hoping there are still young men and women willing to stick their oar in and work for the public good. Wherever you are, Hugh, hello and hope you’re well.

  3. It really depends on your definition of “best opposition.” Ideologically, the Wildrose were always and remain similar to the Progressive Conservatives. They were certainly effective in ending the political careers of Premier Ed Stelmach and Alison Redford. I’m not sure the Liberals or NDP could have done that on their own, mostly because neither of those two parties stand a reasonable chance of forming government. The Wildorse were better organized and better funded than the other two opposition parties. And they were more effective on issues like stopping oil and gas royalty reform and property rights because the Tories were scared they could lose the next election on those issues.

  4. This entire country has become, a disgraceful cesspool of corruption. There is no, democracy, honor, scruples, decency, ethics nor morales, what-so-ever. Canada has become a litany of lies, deceit, corruption, thefts, dirty tactics, dirty politics and cheating to win, is of the norm in this country.

    Politicians are not about what is good for the country, provinces and the people. Politicans only care about themselves, what benifits them, their own power, glory and to hell with the people.

    I grew up in the good decent and democratic democratic Canada, that was once welcomed around the world. We used to be proud to be Canadians back then.

  5. Well done David.
    As long as we are on the festive topic of hogwash/fantasy/myths let me add to your list:

    Harper is an economist – BS. He never worked as an economist in his life
    Harper is a westerner. BS He was born in Toronto and spent much of his life there.
    We have a democracy in AB. BS Our government is run by the oil and gas industry
    Prentice is intelligent. BS, but he might be smarter than my 6th grader.
    The Wildrose was an opposition party. BS They were a PC splinter group.

    My list is longer, but I have to get back to drinking.

    1. Athabascan: Your 6th Grader may not be as wily or experienced as Mr. Prentice, but that doesn’t mean he or she is not smarter. On Premier Prentice, I keep wavering between “he’s a political genius” and “he’s an idiot who completely misunderstands Albertans.” Of course, if the latter is true, it may not matter because, as you point out, we don’t really have a functioning democracy here.

  6. Well, given that there hasn’t been any other opposition to speak of in the last 15 years, it was the best, even if you disagree with its positions. The mindless ramblings of the Liberals, Mason’s year’s of verbal finger wagging, and now Notley’s whining haven’t served any but the tiniest number of Albertans.

  7. Climenhaga said: “The Wildrose opposition focused on alleged waste,
    entitlement and obvious scandals – easy targets that didn’t make them
    much different from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and other
    professional agitators in the burgeoning Canadian right-wing outrage industry.”

    This point about the ‘burgeoning Canadian right-wing outrage industry’
    which includes the WRP leaders (not their supporters)
    is THE explanation of any of the media who genuflect to WRP. IMO.


    A key source informing my view on this issue is discussed here:

    In Not a Conspiracy Theory: How Business Propaganda Hijacks Democracy,

    Do you ever wonder why so many of the Fraser Institute’s right-wing commentaries get into Canadian daily newspapers?

    In Not a Conspiracy Theory: How Business Propaganda Hijacks Democracy, former SFU communications professor and occasional Straight contributor Donald Gutstein explains how Canadians are being duped by a sophisticated, broad-ranging, and reactionary public-relations assault financed by some of North America’s largest corporations. ”


    The WRP leaders/agitator’s snark about government being the problem,
    about how citizens should put their faith in corporations/the market;
    i.e. the dogma constantly repeated by leaders of the Wildrose,
    in their propaganda, their strident outrage, IMO would not
    have had much traction, would have had much less crediblity,
    without the buttressing/amplification/legitimization from
    right-wing think-tanks and Canada’s right-wing
    corporate media owners, especially of course the Sun chain,
    and the National Post, and the G&M, the Calgary Herald.

    Key sources for my claims:
    See Donald Gutstein’s analysis in two books at links below
    notice Prentice’s buddy Hayek and his prominence.
    Some should ask D. Smith AND Prentice about Hayek’s evidence for his ideology.

    Recent additional analysis:

    The success of Harperism is no accident. Donald Gutstein
    documents the links between the politicians, think tanks, journalists,
    academics, and researchers who nurture and promote
    each other’s neo-liberal ideas.
    These and other essential elements of Harperism flow from
    neo-liberal economic theories propounded by the
    Austrian economist Friedrich von Hayek and his U.S. disciples.

    See more at:

    Sam Gunsch

  8. Prentice vs NDP

    Handmaid’s Tale vs humane politics

    Ok… sorry, but copy pasta below is relevant to understanding
    AB politics under Prentice and Danielle Smith…

    Just replace Harper with Prentice or Smith in the text, and wherever media are mentioned think Gunter/Levant/Corbella/Ivison/MacKay/Cosh/Watson/Robson/Byfield/et al

    As an undergraduate at the University of Calgary, Harper came under the influence of Friedrich Hayek, the patron saint of the Fraser Institute and conservative economists. According to his biographer William Johnson, Harper became a disciple. In his most famous book, The Road to Serfdom, Hayek argued that any government intervention such as social welfare or public education, no matter how well intentioned, will inevitably lead to slavery and serfdom.

    Harper’s two-sided base

    To win elections, Harper needs both social and economic conservatives in his tent. In 2003, Harper discussed his strategy to achieve this at a Civitas Society annual meeting. This secretive organization, which blocks public access to all but minimal information on its website and leaves little paper or electronic trail, is a network of Canadian social and economic conservative academics, politicians, journalists and think-tank propagandists.

    The Civitas founding directors include many leading lights in Canadian conservatism: Harper adviser Tom Flanagan, REAL Women’s Gwen Landolt, David Frum and Ezra Levant, the Fraser Institute’s Michael Walker and John Robson from the CD Howe Institute, Conservative MP Jason Kenney, Alberta Report’s Ted Byfield and the National Citizen Coalition’s David Somerville.

    Civitas is top-heavy with journalists who promote conservative causes. Lorne Gunter of the National Post and Ottawa Citizen editorial writer John Robson are past-presidents. Members include Janet Jackson (Calgary Sun) and Danielle Smith (formerly Calgary Herald). Journalists Colby Cosh and William Watson (National Post) and Andrew Coyne (Maclean’s) have made presentations to Civitas. The National Post’s Barbara Kay edits the society’s newsletter.

    Harper’s 2003 Civitas speech was the source of the charge made by the Liberals during the 2004 election that he had a scary, secret agenda. Harper claimed that all major parties had largely accepted an economic conservative frame. Now the task was to return to social conservatism and social values, to change gears from neo-con to theo-con, in The Report’s Ted Byfield’s apt but worrisome phrase, echoing visions of a future not unlike that painted in Margaret Atwood’s dystopian work, A Handmaid’s Tale.

    The state should take a more activist role in policing social norms and values. To achieve this goal, he said, social and economic conservatives must reunite as they have in the U.S., where evangelical Christians and business ruled in an alliance under George W. Bush. Red Tories must be jettisoned from the party, he said, and alliances forged with ethnic and immigrant communities who currently vote Liberal but espouse traditional family values. This was the successful strategy counselled by the neo-cons under Ronald Reagan to pull conservative Democrats into the Republican tent.
    It’s also Harper’s strategy, as evidenced by his appointment of Civitas co-founder Jason Kenney as his minister of citizenship and immigration and social conservative Gary Goodyear as his minister of science after the 2008 election.

    Harper’s high stakes balancing act

    Not only does Harper have to hide his agenda from the Canadian voters, he must balance the demands of the social and economic conservatives in his coalition. Sometimes they want very different policies.

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