RED DEER, Alta. Jan. 30, 2017 /Troy Media/ – Ever since Alberta became a province in 1905, a sitting government party that loses an election ceases to be a political force. Banished into the dustbin of history.
In a roundabout way, we’re about to see that happen again.
Wildrose Party Leader Brian Jean, who spent most of last year openly mocking the possibility of a merger between his party and the defeated Progressive Conservatives, declared last week that he’s willing to lead a merged PC and Wildrose movement.
What would that new movement call itself? It can’t be Progressive Conservative because that would be too humiliating for a Wildrose Party with more sitting MLAs, more paid members and more money. It can’t be Wildrose because that would be an act of capitulation by the PC, who are still proud – if decimated. And the Alberta Reform name is already taken, as is the Alberta Party name.
Whatever the name on this next rose, by this fall, if either PC leadership front runner Jason Kenney or Wildrose’s Jean has his way, the PC brand in Alberta will cease to exist. History will be repeated.
Jean didn’t call a news conference about this, so he didn’t have to field questions about his change of mind regarding any formal merger of the right. He made the announcement on a seven-minute video posted on the Wildrose website.
Jean’s own party membership must have convinced him that Wildrose couldn’t win an election on its own. Nor could a renewed PC party win without the rural support of the Wildrose rank and file, based on Kenney’s repeated overtures to the Wildrose membership.
Both sides must give up a great deal in the process. The Progressive Conservative old guard that ruled Alberta for so long has the most to lose. Their long dynasty was marked by a centre-right brand of Toryism that for all its mockery of liberalism contained a lot of its pragmatic culture.
Alberta’s teachers, doctors and civil servants became the highest-paid of their kind in the land under PC governments. This from a party that preached careful financial stewardship from the right side of its mouth.
Alberta’s energy bounty was spent with an energy that would make a socialist blush. Scarcely anything of the hundreds of billions in energy royalties Alberta collected were saved for a rainy day – through many repeats of the cycle of oil price booms and busts.
But the voices of a more gentle centre-right will be lost in a merger. Little matter. Any centrist influence on PC party policy was buried when Sandra Jansen and Donna Kennedy-Glans were viciously hounded out of the leadership race at a meeting in Red Deer last November.
A month before, in another meeting in Red Deer, Jean disparaged the PC party as being “confused about its values, its principles and what it stands for.” He added that the party “is rife with uncertainty.”
Apparently he no longer things so.
With the election of Donald Trump in the United States and the prospect of a federal Conservative leader in Kevin O’Leary or Kellie Leitch, any uncertainty is over. The right has become quite certain about its principles and values.
Jean, as ambitious as any politician, wants to lead what emerges from this sort of marriage of the hard right.
He’s welcome to it.
But what will become of the more centrist thinkers in Alberta who believe in a free-enterprise, egalitarian and compassionate government, but who are by no means ready to hold their noses and join the NDP?
They, my friends, have been swept into history.
Greg Neiman is a freelance editor, columnist and blogger living in Red Deer, Alta. Greg is included in Troy Media’s Unlimited Access subscription plan.
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