One party democracy … the story of Alberta politics …

There's a columnist in the Calgary Sun that I read all the time, but rarely comment on. He tends to write on issues that don't fire me up with passion, but in some ways, its his calm, logical, matter-of-fact writing style that makes him easier to overlook. For me, I find I often read his stuff and go away thinking "Well, of course … that makes perfect sense."

Bill Kaufmann also usually covers issues of provincial politics, and I fear that in Alberta, that's a recipe for obscurity as well. The excitement generated around Alberta politics, in the general public I mean, couldn't be measured with the most sensitive of instrumentation. In today's column, he discusses the recent move by Klein to lock down government information even tighter with their recent law to keep ministerial briefings secret for 5 years. As Kaufmann pointed out "That sounds suspiciously like Lyle Oberg's closeted skeletons. Do tell."

Kaufmann talked to Duff Conacher from the group Democracy Watch, a frequent critic of Alberta 'democracy.'  He was mainly concerned about the lack of a public harm clause in the new legislation, and while I agree in theory that ministerial briefings that contian utterances of public harm NEED to be exempt from any secrecy legislation, it occurs to me that the same people who will apply and grade that test are the people wjo will be affected by a result of public harm and disclosure of that.  The problems, IMO, go a bit deeper than that. 

No one seems to be talking about the 800-lb gorilla in the room, frankly. He's sitting in the corner waving at everyone with a big grin on his face (and remember, a grinning gorilla is NOT something you want to see in the wild, and especially not the corner of your kitchen, lol). Ralph Klein was elected to be Premiere of Alberta for the first time in 1992, but it wasn't really the general election that made him Premiere of Alberta. I suppose, technically, that was the rubber stamp, but as with the man he took over from, Don Getty, Ralph Klein's REAL election for power was winning the leadership of the Alberta Progressive Conservatives … the general election was a mere formality at that point.

In fact, Alberta has been a one party democracy for over 30 years, since 1972 when Peter Lougheed defeated the Social Credit governement of Harry Strom.   Lougheed presided over 14 years of leadership in Alberta, and when Don Getty won the Leadership after Lougheed's retirement, it really was seen as a transfer of the crown from one natural ruler to the next.

That's why I say its an 800 pound gorilla, grinning at us. It goes WELL beyond the 35-odd year 'reign' of the Alberta Progressive Conservative's. It was 1944 when Earnest Manning's SoCred party first won an Alberta election.  Manning won seven straight elections after that and handed power over to his successor, Harry Strom.  Strom lost the next election, and there was a technical shift in the ruling party in Alberta, but that was more a reflection of Strom's move to the right and the APC party settling into the void he left behind.  It wasn't that Albertan's changed parties in 1972 so much … we lifted up our ideology, drove the old, tired party out and drove a new party in underneath.

What makes all this so ironic is that we make so much noise about democracy in the outside world. We whine and complain about AdScam moneys being wasted, and crow for full disclosure of the details. All the while, no one mentions the MASSIVE Alberta Securities Commission scandal investigation that's been going for since Don Getty's regime largely because of government stonewalling. We whine about "12 years of Liberal one-party democracy in Ottawa" all the while ignoring the fact that the same political ideology has ruled Alberta for more than HALF A CENTURY. The irony is, no one even notices the irony.

I love Kaufmann's stuff, and I agree with what he says about the new legislation. Its another dangerous example of how tightly regulated the government of Alberta is. The fact is, we live in a one party state, and we have done so for many, may decades … even today, as Ralph contemplates retirement, the question isn't about who will win the next election. The question is, who will win the APC leadership race to replace Ralph. They are the hands on favorite to win the next election, even though I can't tell you who it will be. The 800 pound gorilla would like to point out it doesn't matter whether Oberg wins, or Dinning, or Morton … what matters is that whoever does will go on to be the premiere of Alberta. That's almost a fore-gone conclusion, despite what the other party leader's will say. The 800 pound gorilla is here to say that real election in Alberta never takes place amongst the general public, and he's happily sitting in the backbenches waving a big APC flag. He doesn't care who wins.


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