Doing my part for one party democracy …

Its election time in Alberta again … the King is dead, long live the King. For those completely unfamiliar with Alberta provincial politics, I wrote a primer on the subject here on View from the Edge last year, whose title I stole for my opening line above. My previous article on the subject was in response to the election of Ed Stelmach as Conservative party leader, replacing the former Premiere Ralph Klein, and in it I spent some time talking about the history of democracy in Alberta.

I coined the phrase “one party democracy” because from my perspective, thats exactly what Alberta is. The current Conservative party has been in power continuously, with majorities, since 1971. Prior to ’71, Ernest Manning and his Social Credit party had a virtual lock on the Alberta Legislature from 1935 onwards. Essentially, in 73 years, Alberta has seen only one change of government that involved putting a new party in power, and even that one can hardly be called a significant change of government. The So-Creds, under Manning’s leadership, were a right of centre party with conservative roots focused on Alberta’s rural population. The Conservative party of 1971, under the leadership of Peter Lougheed, jumped into very much the same role when the So-Creds took a sharp turn to the right with the election of Harry Strom as their leader after Manning’s retirement in 1968. The election of ’71 was far less a “change of government” than a correction that brought Alberta back in line with the small-c conservative philosophy that has always driven Alberta politics. Albertans didn’t elect a new government in 1971 … they lifted the hood and slid a new party into the same governing philosophy they’d always wanted and had.

Today, after 3 previous Conservative Premieres, Ed Stelmach and the party go back to the polls again in what may be the most hotly contested election in Alberta in recent memory. Recent events in by-elections (such as the election of the first Liberal MLA in the history of Ralph Klein’s old riding, Calgary-Elbow) have shown the conservatives to potentially be far more vulnerable in this election than at any time in my own electoral history in Alberta. Stelmach’s lack of charisma, especially in the wake of a charismatic leader like Klein, has left many Albertans cold. While he seems to be a competent manager, a Premiere is more of a figurehead than a manager, and while the Premiere certainly needs to be able to function in government, his main role is to serve as the public face of the party and province. Like him or hate him, Ralph never shied away from that role of Alberta’s face … since Stelmach took over, Alberta’s face has been more like a brown paper bag. Stelmach has turned out to be our own Alberta version of the “Unknown Politician” and that lack of charisma will not serve him, or his party, well today.

I don’t know how things will turn out. The betting man in Alberta would NEVER bet against the incumbent in provincial elections … the odds just simply do not favour that bet. But I must say, for the first time in my adult life, and almost for the first time in my entire life, its at least conceivable that Alberta will be governed by a different party tomorrow than it is today. In past provincial elections I’ve voted in, vain hope aside, that was never really an option … going into the polling booth, I simply knew that however I voted, Getty or Klein would still be the leader of my province at the end of the day. Today, I can actually see a glimmer of light shining through a crack in the armour of the conservative juggernaut … who knows, after tonight its possible there may actually be THREE parties that have ruled Alberta in the last 73 years. Still, if I were a betting man, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t bet the house on it … not even sure I’d bet a fiver on it.

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