On Tuesday Alberta formally turned into a two party state, at least as far as elected seats go. There were 13 parties in the election and all but the NDP and UCP were decimated by the voters.
I have been involved in alternative parties for well over 20 years from when I joined the Alberta Party in the mid 90s, to forming and leading the Alberta Independence Party in 2000, to the Alberta Alliance, to Wildrose and finally ending in the UCP where for the first time in decades I find myself supporting the party in power. The seeds of the Alberta Alliance party did eventually grow into being a large part of today’s UCP but it took over a decade with many ups and downs. Alternative parties can be important and can eventually get into power but it is a tough road.
There are many reasons why people choose to join alternative parties. For some it is single issue matters as with the Marijuana Party or Green Party. For some it is formed around an individual leader. For some it is a preference of being a big fish in a small pond when it comes to management and leadership. For others it simply is a disenchantment with all of the major parties and seeking to build an entirely new alternative.
Alternative parties are important. They propose ideas and concepts that mainstream parties may not have the courage to approach. They can pressure mainstream parties by threatening to split votes in key constituencies thus will impact the actions of mainstream parties at times. Alternative parties can act as a pressure relief valve for mainstream parties as activists who insist on pushing to the extremes can be invited to leave and join a fringe party that better suits their goals. Finally, alternative parties can potentially eventually go on to form effective opposition parties or governments.
The electoral doldrums are now approaching for alternative parties. There is no time worse to try to grow your membership and raise funds than right after an election. People are tired of politics and are ready to sit back and watch the new government in action for better or for worse. With a federal election looming, it will be even that much tougher for alternative parties to manage to stay relevant.
I am going to break down all of the alternative parties with my thoughts on where they may go starting from largest to smallest.
There is no doubt that the Alberta Party is the biggest loser coming out of this election. Not only did they lose every one of the seats that they had gained from floor crossings, they lost the one and only elected seat that they had. Greg Clark had far and away been the most popular asset for the party and he was solidly turfed from his Calgary Elbow seat which he had worked so had to win and had done a very good job of representing. Their leader Stephen Mandel didn’t even come close in Edmonton McClung and the rest of their candidates landed in the low single digit levels of support. This was nothing less than a catastrophe for the party.
Since being taken over by disenchanted Green Party folks nearly 10 years ago, the Alberta Party has become the sad sack of the Alberta electoral scene with a large social media presence and a microscopic electoral one. They have spent nearly a decade pursuing a mythical middle. They felt that if they shouted “centrist” loudly enough that they would pull people from both the left and the right and win elections. So far all they have done is alienate folks from both sides and the polls show it. Like it or not, people tend to land on one side of the spectrum or another to a degree and they have little use for the mushy middle.
The Alberta Party has been plagued by bizarre strategic moves as well. In constantly refusing to run in by-elections they missed chances to build their electoral base and train themselves in campaigning. Worst of all, they let embittered refugees from the defunct Progressive Conservative Party take them over. That new element insanely pushed Greg Clark out of the leadership. This led to months of a leadership race where nobody wanted the job. Stephen Mandel was finally pulled in an placed as the new leader.
Under Mandel’s leadership the party lurched from one mess to another. The worst was when Mandel among others nearly found themselves banned from running in the election due to his not having found time to file a nomination expense report. A task that takes about 20 minutes. This hardly instilled confidence in people that the Alberta Party was ready to govern the province.
They tweeted and shouted from the sidelines and they ran many candidates. Despite this, the Alberta Party simply could not break that elusive double digit barrier and finished at 9% support.
All that said, over 150,000 Albertans voted for the Alberta Party and this can’t be dismissed. There definitely is a degree of demand for what they are proposing out there but they need to get their shit together if they are to have a hope in properly capturing it.
The Alberta Party is going to need to do some deep introspection. They will need a new leader and they need to turf the pack of Redford era weasels that they inherited from the Progressive Conservative Party. They need to quit putting out the fluffy feelgood policy statements that try to appeal to everybody. This party needs to find its ideological niche and to own it. Create a solid base and then draw people to it. More “big listens” or limp “party for everyone” statements will keep them languishing on the fringes.
The Alberta Party is the best placed party to turn itself into a contender in the next general election. Their choices in the next two years will determine if this is to happen.
It took over a century but the Liberal Party of Alberta finally went from being the first governing party in Alberta to a loss of every seat with a dismal 1% support level throughout the province.
Aside from a short resurgence in the 1990s under Lawrence Decore, the Liberal brand in Alberta has struggled since the government of Pierre Trudeau. The National Energy Program of the 1980s essentially turned the Liberal name toxic in Alberta and Trudeau’s witless son Justin is certainly not doing them any favors. Lackluster leadership and a general lack of electoral support has led to a constant decline for the party within Alberta.
David Khan is bright and personable enough, but he wasn’t capable of breathing life into the dying party in the last election. Calgary Mountainview was the last Liberal bastion in Alberta and Khan finished a distant fourth place with 5.6% support.
Hell, even I managed to pull 6.5% when I ran in Mountainview in 2008 and I was working in the Arctic for all but three days of the campaign.
I think we have finally seen the end of the Liberal Party within Alberta. Only the most masochistic of delusional optimists will be ready to take on this clunker and try to turn it viable again.
The demise of the Alberta Liberals will aid the Alberta Party though as they try to create a left of center alternative that Albertans can get behind. The anchor of the pernicious Liberal name will not hamper their efforts.
Coming in next with 0.7% support is the latest incarnation of the Alberta Independence Party.
The party under previously unknown David Bjorkman managed to become registered by running candidates in over 50% of the constituencies in Alberta. While that path to registration has existed for some time, this is the first time that a party has actually taken it successfully in order to become registered. I tried that method in 2001 and failed.
It says a great deal about the motivation behind the folks that they could pull this off. It is no small task to find 63 people willing and able to get run for the party along with paying the deposits to run and getting the requisite signatures. There is some strong organizational power lurking within that organization.
The candidate diversity was striking as well with a large contingent of aboriginal candidates and the only transgendered candidate to run in this election.
That being said, the party didn’t really set the world on fire with their results. Most of their candidates didn’t break 1% support and I think their best showing was just shy of 2%.
In leading a secessionist party into an election before I learned one simple fact that still stands today. While people will talk big about secession and will respond to polls favorably for secession, when push comes to shove at the ballot box Albertans do not want to take that leap. This is not to say that it will never happen but at this time it is clear that we are nowhere close to having a large segment of the population ready to call it quits on confederation.
I think the Alberta Independence Party is here to stay. If they put the same energy and organizational talent into the next couple years that they did in the months leading up to this election, I expect that they will start pulling some better numbers in some choice constituencies. They won’t be in contention for winning the province but they could very well play a spoiler in some seats.
If Justin Trudeau gets re-elected we can expect to see growth in the AIP as well. As we saw in the 1980s a secessionist can even win a seat in a by-election if the anger is strong enough. The anger cools quickly however.
I expect that Kenney will take a stronger stance in steps towards independence if we get such an adversarial relationship with Ottawa in the future which will defuse the efforts of the AIP.
Another hindrance for a secessionist party is that they are bound to be single issue no matter how hard they may work to develop policy. People want to vote for a government rather than an issue. Secession belongs in the land of advocacy and referendums rather than parties. The AIP can and likely will fill that advocacy role now that they are registered and can raise funds.
Next we have Derek Fildebrandt’s Freedom Conservative Party at 0.5%,
I say “Derek Fildebrandt’s” party because in reality the party simply was all about him.
I like Derek. He is bright, ambitious and has a talent for bringing issues to the forefront. That made it all the more disappointing when he managed to crater his political career with so many errors of his own making.
The Alberta First Party was languishing as an unknown registered entity with a soft-separatist stance. Getting a sitting MLA if even for a short time was a coup for the small organization and it is easy to manage something of that size. This was a big fish in a small pond scenario.
Despite Fildebrandt’s initial claims that they would not run candidates in constituencies where there was a risk of vote splitting in favor of the NDP, FCP candidates began springing up in some very vulnerable constituencies. This cut deeply into the credibility of this nascent party and took away one of the major defenses for having another right of center party in the electoral list.
It became clear that the party was dominated by members who found themselves disenchanted with the UCP for any number of reasons. While spite can certainly motivate some folks, it doesn’t draw electoral support.
The strongest showing the FCP got was 7.7% in Chestemere Strathmore where Derek was handily beaten by Leela Aheer.
I just don’t see this party going anywhere aside from being a rump on the right wing sidelines. If the UCP drifts too far left as the PCs had 10 years ago, the FCP may be revived by a personable leader and pressure the UCP from the right as the Wildrose Party had. For now I expect they will flounder.
As for Derek, I really hope he finds his path. Perhaps with a few years of time out from electoral politics he can come back with some credibility. He certainly has the potential and he is young enough.
Next is the Green Party of Alberta. To put it simply, they are left leaning and single issue despite their constant claims to be centrist and deeper.
They will always be on the scene and will always pull a small number of votes from their core supporters. If they have any impact at all, it will be to be a spoiler in some constituencies by pulling votes from the NDP.
They finished with 0.4% which is about as good as they can expect in Alberta.
Next at 0.3% is the Alberta Advantage Party under Marilyn Burns.
Burns suffers from a chronic oppositional disorder and simply likes leaving parties in order to attack them. Burns started with the Alberta Alliance, stomped away to the Wildrose group, stomped off to the wilderness and then formed her own little party.
Spite doesn’t sell and while the party remains as a registered entity, it won’t go anywhere as it stands now. Like the FCP it may morph into a viable right of center opposition party but it will need some major changes before that happens. Until then they are a non-factor being led by somebody incapable of working with others.
Communism is a vile ideology responsible for hundreds of millions of deaths around the world.
Despite that, we still have a small group of extremists openly supporting communism and they have been led by Naomi Rankin in Alberta for some years.
The communists have a registered party and managed to pull 277 votes from either ignorant extremist assholes or folks who accidentally put an X in the wrong box.
They will always be around and they will thankfully go nowhere.
Perhaps now that Anne McGrath is unemployed she will go back to her overt communist roots and take the leadership of the party. In that case these scumbags may find 400 votes throughout the province.
The Reform Party of Alberta is registered and hanging in the wings.
This rump was built by Randy Thorsteinson. Randy is like Marilyn Burns only he has the fiscal means and organizational skills to keep going. Randy went from Social Credit to Alberta Alliance to forming this party. His pattern is consistent. If he can’t lead the parade, he will stomp away and form his own. This party isn’t going anywhere.
The Pro-life Alberta Political association is what the remnants of the Social Credit Party turned itself into.
Not much needs to be said about these guys. As can be seen, they are single issue and going nowhere though they will act as a partisan filter in drawing the hysteric pro-lifers to them and getting them out of serious parties.
The Wildrose and PC parties are still registered but are essentially dead in the water.
A lot can happen in four years. Some of these parties may blossom and some may die. New parties may appear on the scene.
While they hang in the fringes, these parties play a role and can’t be fully dismissed. It is too bad that they didn’t at least get a few seats to add some diversity of voices in the legislature. Time will tell if this two party system will last or not.