Friday, April 10, 2015

Conservatives in Ontario and Alberta go topsy turvy...

With yesterday's dropout by Monte McNaughton, the Ontario PC leadership race is down to just two: mainstream Tory Christine Elliott, who has represented the provincial riding of Whitby-Ajax since 2006, and the vaguely social conservative Patrick Brown, who has been the federal MP for Barrie since 2006.

I'm glad to see the underwhelming McNaughton go.  His main strategy in this leadership race seemed to be to recruit social conservative bigots to his cause, showing up at anti-sex ed curriculum rallies and arguing that "especially Kathleen Wynne" is not qualified to make decisions she was elected to make.  He later backtracked claiming his loaded words didn't mean what everybody thought they meant.  Back to the obscure opposition backbenches for you, Mr. McNaughton.   

It's true that Christine Elliott isn't the most dynamic personality, but she does embody great life experience and, dare I say it, integrity.  She'd be a dignified and worthy adversary for Kathleen Wynne in 2018.

Patrick Brown, on the other hand, strikes me as a wannabe, the kind of young Conservative who makes me cringe when he opens his mouth.  So much entitlement, so much arrogance, so little understanding.  He's done nothing outside of the political world his entire young life.

But success in politics isn't about merit, integrity and accomplishment; it's about signing up members, schmoozing, working rooms and "appearing" to be the best candidate.  At least at the party level, of course.

If Brown's team has signed up 40,000 new members, as they claim, and he wins over the smattering of members signed up by McNaughton, Brown might have a shot on the single ballot happening May 9th.  We shall see.

If they choose Brown, the Ontario PCs will be setting themselves up to lose again.  They won't be reaching outside of their traditional demographic.  They already have the votes of guys who look like Brown from central Ontario.  Up against a giant like Wynne, Brown's mousy arrogance will make Tim Hudak look like a statesman.  And the Liberals will likely be on their way to almost certain re-election, unless Andrea Horwath can figure out a way to come up the middle and challenge the Grits.  But Ontario will get worse government, as majority governments with little chance of losing get arrogant and sloppy, and we definitely don't need more Ontario Liberal arrogance and sloppiness.

Speaking of arrogant and sloppy majority governments, things could be changing in Alberta where longtime Progressive Conservative dominance is again being threatened in an election set for May 5th. 

New polls put Jim Prentice's PC government in second or third place at around 25%, neck and neck with the surging Alberta NDP, with the Wildrose Party under new leader Brian Jean on top at 31%.   The struggling Alberta Liberals are stuck at 12%, with the upstart Alberta Party (AP) at about 5%. 

This trend of PCs tanking in the early weeks of Alberta election campaigns speaks clearly to the Alberta public's pent-up desire to give their 44-year-old government the boot.  Healthy democracies switch governing parties every 10 years or so, unless the opposition screws up royally, which only delays the defeat until they get their acts together.

However, Alberta is a special case, where the mainstream is so far on the conservative right, that Liberals and New Democrats have rarely competed for power.  The only recent exception was 1993 when Liberal Leader Laurence Decore won 40% of the vote against Ralph Klein's PCs at 45%.  Since then, the Alberta Liberals have been dying on the vine, unable to mount a competitive threat.

The Wildrose came close in 2012 but ended up with only 34% of the vote after some of its kooky, far-right bigot candidates started talking about gays dying in lakes of fire.   Wildrose imploded last year when leader Danielle Smith and 10 other MLAs crossed the floor to get a taste of power.  That taste was short-lived for most of them, including Smith who lost the PC nomination in her own riding.

But the new strength for Wildrose in these early days in 2015 shows there is still much conservative anger at the establishment PCs.  If new leader Brian Jean can run a decent campaign, hit the right notes and inspire his base to take a chance, he might end up winning the votes currently parked with him, which would be devastating to Jim Prentice's fortunes.  

The surging NDP also speaks to the pent-up desire of Alberta progressives to finally have a champion.   Their new leader Rachel Notley is connecting with voters and looks poised to sweep most of Edmonton.  It's amazing what some good organization can do for a party to make it viable.  And the polls showing them in the mid-20s, up from 10% in 2012, indicate that progressives are embracing them. 

As stated above, the Alberta Liberals have been in slow motion collapse since the 1990s.  In 2012, their vote fell to 10% under former PC-turned Liberal leader Raj Sherman.  With polls showing the NDP surging, even I would vote NDP if I lived in Alberta (unless, of course, I lived in Edmonton Centre where Liberal Laurie Blakeman is seeking re-election, or Calgary-Mountain View where interim Liberal leader David Swann is running, or Calgary-Elbow where Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark is running.)  Three of the 5 Liberal MLAs aren't running again and, with the party still weak, it seems unlikely decent new candidates in those ridings will hang on to them.  But we shall see how the rest of the campaign goes.  David Swann is a decent guy with a great record of advocating for the environment.  If Jim Prentice's PCs do indeed collapse on voting day, the Liberals might be able to save some of their seats and perhaps even win a couple more. 

It's always seemed to me that Alberta's conservative political tradition made it virtually impossible for either the Liberals or the NDP to seriously compete for power.  Thus, if progressives wanted a real chance at winning there, they need to unite under one new banner, perhaps something like the Alberta Party.  But the AP has yet to make a breakthrough that would make that possible.

Instead, it's the Alberta NDP doing well this time.  The NDP may end up winning a dozen seats in Edmonton with a few seats here and there around the province.  But ultimately, the NDP will only ever be advocates from opposition in Alberta, who are we kidding?  Albertans will never elect an NDP government.

Thus if progressives want to actually win there, they've got to form a new coalition.  There is already serious talk between the Liberals and the Alberta Party and the Greens.  Laurie Blakeman is running under all 3 banners in Edmonton Centre, which just might save her skin against the NDP.

But the stubborn NDP will likely kibosh any such efforts at progressive unity and doom Albertans to conservative government for decades to come.  


Gyor said...

The NDP unites progressives by draining both the Liberals and Alberta Parties of support. The Liberal Party and Alberta Parties are completely unneeded, they serve no purpose and the sooner they go extinxt the better.

The Alberta can't merge with the other parties, its simply a wing of a national party, the NDP can't merge with another party without doing so nationally, going through proper channels and processes. Rachael can't just deside to merge. So this merger talk is a waste of time, the focus needs to be how can the NDP take votes from the PCs and populist votes from Wildrose.

Matt Guerin said...

Any party can merge if they wish. They could sever ties with the federal NDP and make their own rules.

But if the Alberta NDP is contented with permanent opposition, that's their business. With a bit of luck, they could hold the balance of power. But I'm not counting on it.