Let’s face it, barring a complete meltdown the UCP will be forming the next government of Alberta as soon as they get a chance in a general election. While politics are volatile and strange things happen, I don’t think I am taking a long shot position here. While Albertans were clearly discontent with the old PC government and they were not yet ready to trust the nascent Wildrose Party, they did not really understand just how brutal an NDP government could be until they got a taste of one for a few years. We won’t be going back to that for a long time.
That said, we should not let the government in waiting take that status for granted. We need an incoming government that will win the election based on goals and principles. Just winning for the sake of getting rid of the NDP is indeed appealing enough on its own but we still need the party to demonstrate and maintain a commitment to the conservative, grassroots principles upon which it was built. This will be much less likely to happen if there is no competition to the UCP from the right flank.
No, we don’t need to split the vote again. It must be remembered though, it was not simply a vote split that got us the NDP government of today. The NDP won due to an appallingly arrogant and disconnected PC government and a Wildrose opposition that was still recovering from being torn apart from its former leader. There was never a risk in prior elections of electing socialists despite there always being multiple options on the right. Conservatives had managed to put multiple unpalatable options before the electorate in 2015 and we all paid the price.
As it began to look inevitable that there would only be one conservative option on the table in next general election, everything suddenly changed when Derek Fildebrandt popped up as the interim leader of the newly re-branded Freedom Conservative Party.
There is little sense beating around the bush. Derek ran out of partisan options and that is his prime motivation in taking on this new party. Through a series of incidents due to a terrible lack of judgement, Fildebrandt left Kenney with few options but to keep him out of the UCP at least by my interpretation.
That said, I like Derek. He is smart, driven and doesn’t beat around the bush. He is driven by solid libertarian/conservative principles and has a great history of holding politicians to account. While his maverick ways have made him difficult to handle in a partisan setting, he is an asset in the legislature. It really is too bad that it has come to his being on the outside looking in with the UCP but it is clear that he isn’t giving up and this could be a productive thing.
Nobody said that forming the next government would be easy and I am sure that Kenney has never been under any illusions that it would be. Trying to coast as an opposition party and hiding from issues is not a good way to get there however. When the choice was made for UCP members to walk out over and over again rather than face and debate the NDP on their abortion clinic “bubble zone” bill, I was pretty disappointed.
Any political watcher knew that the bill was a political trap. Yes, the NDP were trying to make the non-issue of abortion access into a current issue and that was the point of the bill. Well, too damn bad. Trap or not, it is the role of the opposition to examine these bills and to offer either support or constructive opposition. By walking out the UCP did neither.
Fildebrandt was the lone working opposition member on this bill. He proposed amendments to the bill, they predictably got shot down by the NDP & he voted against the bill with a clear conscience based on that. The world didn’t label him a crazed anti-woman member and life carried on. He did his job.
There will doubtless be other bills set as traps in the coming months as an increasingly desperate NDP tries to find a way to make the Kenney juggernaut implode on social issues. With another conservative party on the sidelines willing to give a reasoned opposition to these efforts, it will be tougher for the UCP caucus to duck and hide on these bills. They will only be giving more legitimacy to the FCP. This makes for a better democracy for us.
One of the most elusive yet critical facets of parliamentary democracy in Canada is free legislative votes. Many parties pay lip service to free votes but it is rare when they practice them. Whipped votes are an insult to the electorate who send not one but 87 members to the legislature. I know I am being idealistic but we really could get some better political outcomes with a number of unrestrained voices speaking to, debating on and voting on issues in the legislature rather than a couple parties doing what are essentially token whipped votes.
An escape hatch has to be present in order to allow some degree of caucus freedom. The NDP has the Alberta Party to woo and pull discontented left wing members. The UCP now has the FCP to their right. These options will hardly cure all ills for the parties but it will make the leaderships consider things a little more before cracking the whip at times.
Fildebrandt’s assertion that the FCP will only run candidates in constituencies where it is pretty much impossible to win despite multiple vote splits is critical here too. Nobody wants to take a chance on giving the Notley government four more years. I will be living in Banff-Kananaskis when the writ drops. The thought of having Cam “the Weenie” Westhead as my MLA for four years is appalling. There is no way I would entertain the thought of supporting an FCP or any other right of center candidate in my constituency for even a heartbeat. I am sure that reasonable voters in any other constituencies where the NDP may remain in play feel the same.
Time will tell if the FCP develops into a productive entity or simply becomes a haven for malcontents and second place UCP nomination contestants.
I do feel that reasonable opposition from the right is essential for us in Alberta and I think that to a degree the FCP will be able to provide that. I want to see unrestrained voices speaking politically. Not hateful or insane voices (though those labels will be tossed out there) but voices that are not afraid to rattle cages a bit. We can’t make worthwhile changes if we hide from the tough issues.
I am not sour on the UCP. I want and look forward to them forming our next government with Jason Kenney as our Premier. I also however want that administration to be held to account as effectively as possible. Hopefully the FCP can aid in doing that. Time will tell as this new party begins to fill out. It will be interesting if nothing else.