You’d think with the Energy East pipeline hanging in the balance and the generous national support Fort McMurray residents have received, the Wildrose party would have the common decency (if not the political insight) to at least appear grateful.
But no. In what resembled a frat boy night on the town, Wildrose agitator Derek Fildebrandt put the ugly Albertan on national display last week. He embarrassed himself, his party and every Albertan by insulting visiting Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne in the Alberta legislature. Then he proudly supported a vile homophobic slur directed at Wynne on social media.
Wildrose Leader Brian Jean, scrambling to salvage the situation, issued a press release saying that Fildebrandt’s comment “does not represent the values of the Wildrose caucus.” And the party apologized on behalf of Fildebrandt.
My guess is that Fildebrandt’s comments probably do reflect (if they do not represent) the values of many in the Wildrose caucus. It’s also likely that many of Wildrose rural constituents also share these views.
Wildrose has a strong rural base in Alberta. And, it is true, rural Albertans tend to be more socially conservative than their urban counterparts. Many rural Wildrosers are uncomfortable with the openly gay lifestyle represented by Wynne.
However, most of these rural Albertans have also been raised properly and even if they share these views, they have learned – often from the back of their mother’s hand – to ‘mind their manners.’
What was Fildebrandt thinking? Wynne was a guest in our house!
Diplomatic protocols exist for good reasons. Provinces in Canada are like microstates, with significant autonomy. But like it or not, Alberta’s prosperity depends upon active support from the rest of Canada, Ontario in particular.
Wildrose has been trying for years to present itself as a viable governing alternative; perhaps even a government in waiting. These kinds of antics remind the majority of Albertans that they don’t share values with the party or its base.
In an important poll a few years ago, it was revealed that 65 percent of Albertans self-describe as progressive and not conservative. The critical problem for Jean is the uncomfortable reality that Wildrose does not connect with progressive Albertans.
That means while Alberta progressives might share the fiscal concerns of the Wildrose party, they are liberal on issues like immigration, LGBT rights and the development of a more civil multicultural society.
The Progressive Conservative party knew this well and maintained a ‘big tent’ philosophy that attracted conservatives and progressives into a coalition that governed for more than 40 years, until last spring.
Because the PC dynasty governed successfully for so many decades, there is a tendency on the right to believe that Albertans are true conservatives and that political power awaits if only a united right-wing party could be cobbled together.
Realistically, political power awaits the party that can be a home to Alberta’s progressives. When this important voting bloc shifted allegiances from the Jim Prentice-led PCs to Rachel Notley’s New Democrats in the last election, they sent a message that any right-wing alternative needs to absorb: a strictly conservative party is not an acceptable home for the majority of Albertans.
Many pundits and backroom politicos are attempting to unite the right, trying to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. They would do well to learn the lessons of the past election and to examine carefully the shifting political landscape in this dynamic province.
A new political force is rising in Alberta. It is driven by a youthful generation that is more worldly, ecologically minded and tolerant, and far less dependent upon (or interested in) the energy economy than previous generations.
Jean has good reasons to want a united right. Unfortunately, he is unable to control the ugly Albertan that is so close to the surface in his own party. He may try to disassociate himself from the circus that Fildebrandt has unleashed but, as leader of the party, he cannot escape responsibility for the appalling behaviour displayed by his caucus members in the legislature.
And given that an awakening on the right seems increasingly unlikely, Notley could well be Alberta’s premier for a long time.
Robert McGarvey is an economic historian and former managing director of Merlin Consulting, a London, U.K.-based consulting firm. Robert’s most recent book is Futuromics: A Guide to Thriving in Capitalism’s Third Wave.