Helping Easterners Understand the Alberta Election

Barry Cooper
April 25, 2012
Alberta (along with the other Western provinces) really does have long-term economic and geopolitical interests distinct from those of Canadians living in the St. Lawrence Valley. Until our fellow-citizens in Ontario and Quebec accept Alberta leadership, Premier Alison Redford’s pledge to build bridges is an exercise in futility or worse, capitulation. Barry Cooper looks at the Alberta election and explains what it means…

Helping Easterners Understand the Alberta Election

Barry Cooper
April 25, 2012
Alberta (along with the other Western provinces) really does have long-term economic and geopolitical interests distinct from those of Canadians living in the St. Lawrence Valley. Until our fellow-citizens in Ontario and Quebec accept Alberta leadership, Premier Alison Redford’s pledge to build bridges is an exercise in futility or worse, capitulation. Barry Cooper looks at the Alberta election and explains what it means…
Share on facebook
Share on Facebook
Share on twitter
Share on Twitter

Last Sunday, before Albertans voted, the polls showed the Wildrose Party (WR) ahead of the Progressive Conservatives (PCs) by a 42/32 spread. Next day the PCs won, 44/34, which translated into a comfortable majority. So, what happened?

The simplest and somewhat “tekkie” explanation is that the polls were wrong, that they were consistently in that one-out-of-twenty category that is left over when the probabilities of accuracy are announced as being plus or minus 3% nineteen times out of twenty. A series of rogue polls is possible, of course, but in the same way that, as Hegel once said, it was possible for the Sultan to become Pope.

More likely is that there was a systematic problem in the way the polls were conducted. Almost every pollster uses landlines when they call, annoyingly, around suppertime to interrogate you on your intentions. If your only phone is a cell, you are likely to be overlooked and if you live by tweets and Facebook, you are invisible.

There was, accordingly, a significant unknown and unknowable factor in play, in addition to the 20% or so who claimed to be undecided. Pollsters don’t like murky unknowable unknowns, so everyone thought the Wildrose lead was real, which provided the PCs with an opportunity that Stephen Carter, the tweet-wizard who helped Mayor Naheed Nenshi win, seized. The narrative he developed over the last couple of weeks was well tested: Wildrose was “scary.”

But wait a minute! The people who played the scary card, as in “Stephen Harper is scary,” were federal Liberals and NDPers. That is, they were lefties and the PCs were still at least nominally conservative.

Not so. Consider how things looked to Alison Redford. She won the leadership of the party by pandering to public sector unions, especially teachers. Then she rewarded them. In a province near the top in per-capita spending, she promised increased expenditures. And, of course, she tried to distance herself from the PC history of corruption, intimidation and entitlement.

In short, Redford acted on the probably accurate assumption that most voters are not surprised that politicians cheat and lie. To the gullible and innocent she could make the plausible claim that she is different. For minimally engaged voters, the PC brand is familiar and life in Alberta is pretty good.

But the PCs still had to find new supporters. Since WR was mounting a challenge from the conservative side of the political spectrum, they could find new supporters only by courting the left, where Redford is more comfortable anyway.

This is why the WR leader, Danielle Smith, indicated that “strategic voting” by those who normally support the NDP or the Liberals helped the PCs. It also explains why the last conservative in the PC party, my good friend, Ted Morton, lost. Without Ted inside the tent, look to the PCs to drift ever farther to the left. This may please some people, especially those who equate a “national” vision with big government, but it promises a large target for WR when they gain more experience.

For their part, WR managed to make some major blunders reminiscent of the early Reform Party and the Alliance before, under Stephen Harper, they learned the discipline required to win. Every party, including WR, is a coalition. They brought together social conservatives, libertarians, populists and Alberta patriots, united chiefly in their deep disgust, for different reasons, about what the PCs have become.

Let’s take the constituent elements in order.

Because they are motivated almost entirely by conscience, the so-cons were always a problem. Allan Hunsperger, a so-con pastor, allowed in a year-old blog that, upon their demise, homosexuals would spend eternity in a lake of fire; Ron Leech, another so-con pastor, said he had an advantage because he was a white guy and so could represent all citizens, unlike a Sikh PC candidate who represented only his ethnic community.

Anyone who follows ethnic politics knows that Leech may have exaggerated the sources of his opponent’s support, but what he said was not entirely untrue. And Hunsperger? Well, Smith said that might be his personal view, but it was not WR policy. Good to know.

That is, Smith’s handling of Hunsperger’s bozo eruption (as it was called) was consistent with her libertarian view regarding free speech, even when that speech was unbelievably stupid. During an election, when a lot more is at stake than maintaining consistent libertarian views, it was a gross strategic error, a “self-inflicted wound,” she later called it. By then it was too late. The “scary” message had traction.

The populists and patriots denounced in the Eastern media as “little Albertans” will prove to be both resilient and Premier Redford’s greatest challenge.

Her problem, as she will rediscover soon enough, is that Alberta (along with the other Western provinces) really does have long-term economic and geopolitical interests distinct from those of Canadians living in the St. Lawrence Valley. Until our fellow-citizens in Ontario and Quebec accept Alberta leadership, building bridges, as Redford promises, is an exercise in futility or worse, capitulation.

Hence the most curious result of the election: Wildrose and Danielle Smith are tasked with defending Alberta’s interests even against the Alberta government.

~

Barry Cooper is a professor of Political Science at the University of Calgary.

Love C2C Journal? Here's how you can help us grow.

More for you

The Private Sector Must Get a Larger Role in Canadian Health Care

Canada has so far ducked the extreme growth in the Covid-19 hospitalization and mortality rates afflicting some other countries. The worst is certainly still to come, however – and when it does, the shortfall in Canada’s health care capacity will be laid bare. The vulnerability was largely avoidable, points out Gwyn Morgan, if Canada like nearly all other countries had only allowed private health care delivery alongside its public system. When the nation comes out the other side of the pandemic, Morgan writes, a health care policy reckoning will be long overdue.

Future of Conservatism Series, Part V: Could Canada Handle a Trumpian Populist?

Democratic politics must continue even in times of war. Despite suspension of the federal Conservative leadership race amidst the coronavirus, members and supporters still need to think about how to shape their party and pick the right leader to best meet the many challenges of our era. C2C Journal has looked at revived Red Toryism, at uncompromisingly principled conservatism and at the decidedly compromised but successful Harper way. We have sought insight from abroad. And now we turn to populism. Barry Cooper applies his usual fearless thinking and cheerful bluntness to evaluate whether the Canadian political landscape has become hospitable terrain to a Canadian Trump.

Want More Affordable Housing in Canada? Build More Houses

Solving Canada’s housing crisis shouldn’t require more than a single lesson in economics. When prices are high, a free market always responds and supplies more. Yet amidst Canada’s severe problems of housing affordability, this foolproof mechanism is continually frustrated by governments that are either ignorant of how markets work, fixated on preserving the status quo or display naked contempt for the profit motive. Peter Shawn Taylor looks at the scorn heaped on land developers, landlords and the rest of the housing supply industry and wonders how they became the villains of this story.

Thinking Clearly in a Time of Panic

How should the conservative mind respond to the coronavirus pandemic? Panic and despair are in ample supply, and the urge to succumb appears widespread. Others have steered, via deliberate ignorance, to fatalism, though the walls are closing in on such rebels. Both extremes are beneath thoughtful conservatives. C2C Editor-in-Chief George Koch counsels that however dark today might appear, the eternal search for objective truth – the foundation for all conservative thought – is the first necessary step along the path to seeing humankind through to brighter days.

Future of Conservatism Series Part IV: Rallying the World’s Centre-Right Parties

As Canada’s Conservatives evaluate leadership hopefuls and ponder what their party is about and which path might lead to electoral victory, it’s easy to ignore international politics. They should take a look, for the world holds dozens of established centre-right democratic parties, and many are tackling challenges of relevance and adaptation at least as steep as those burdening Canada’s Conservatives. John Weissenberger travelled to Washington, D.C. for the annual conference of the International Democrat Union (IDU) and provides his assessment in this essay. Later this year, once international travel is restored, Weissenberger heads to Vienna to deepen his understanding at the IDU’s 2020 Forum.

Averting “Climate Poverty” for Canada’s Middle Class

Pursuing grandiose visions tends to cloud judgment, and when the vision is saving our very planet from an apprehended climate crisis, it’s little surprise that numbers are fudged, logic is twisted, the hardest-hit are ignored and entire social classes are cast into the trash. Matthew Lau, however, refuses to be dazzled by dreams. In this article, Lau remains rooted in reality and fixed on crunching the numbers to come up with some arresting conclusions about the huge costs of government climate policies to working people here and now, set against marginal if not ephemeral benefits to come over the next 80 years.

Share This Story

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on print

Donate

Subscribe to the C2C Weekly
It's Free!

By clicking SUBSCRIBE, you agree to receive emails from C2C Journal. You can unsubscribe at any time.