It is hardly a secret that Alberta is not a liberal friendly province. Alberta has been and remains a frontier for the ambitious and independent. Agriculture drew courageous settlers in the late 1800s. Oil drew more in the early 1900s and high tech energy related jobs still draw people from all over the world today.
To relocate into a new environment and take a gamble on a new life takes courage. To endure and remain until you have established yourself takes dedication. In other words, since the beginning of confederation Alberta has drawn strong, independent minded people who don’t want or need big government to get in their way. To put it another way, Alberta has never really been a strong draw for liberals.
This can be seen quite clearly as the Liberal Party has languished for over a century in Alberta as a party yet cant form government.
In 1905 Alberta joined confederation and Liberal Alexander Rutherford was appointed as our first premier. Rutherford called an election later that year and established himself an elected mandate. Not too difficult to do when no opposition party system had been created or established yet. It took 12 years before Albertans organized and tossed the Liberal Party of Alberta to the electoral roadside for what has now been a century.
Had there not been a Liberal government in Ottawa in 1905, I suspect that we never would have seen a Liberal party in power in Alberta.
While the Liberals have run in 25 general elections since 1917, they have never come close to winning power in Alberta. Laurence Decore came somewhat close in 1993 by running on a platform more conservative than the Progressive Conservatives. The populist wave led by Ralph Klein beat back that effort and today despite burning through half a dozen new leaders the Liberals are as deep in the electoral toilet as ever in Alberta.
What is a dedicated liberal sort of person to do in such a situation?
Any realistic liberal (there are a few out there) knows that they will never form government under the Liberal Party banner so they need to seek other alternatives.
A liberal can doggedly keep trying under the party banner as they pursue another century in opposition.
A liberal can simply give up and go federal.
A liberal can go municipal where party allegiance isn’t always evident. That way they can campaign conservative and then govern as a liberal upon election while depending on electoral apathy in order to maintain their job.
A liberal can sneak into a conservative party and hope to turn it liberal.
To be fair though, Sanda Jansen is more of a simple opportunist than a liberal. Jansen would have been begging to join the Wildrose Party had they won the general election. Jansen only cares about residing in a government seat. The party means nothing to her.
The strategy of infiltrating and controlling the Progressive Conservative Party was a successful one for a time. From the later years of Klein’s leadership to the party’s electoral catastrophe in 2015 it was evident that the party was leaning far more to the “progressive” side and drifting away from the conservative side as liberal style entitlement scandals erupted and deficit budgets became common again.
The liberal transformation of the PCs led to the development of the Wildrose Party as an increasing number of conservatives gave up on the PC party.
Unfortunately, due to the now legendary act of treachery led by Danielle Smith and Jim Prentice, the electorate became so horrified and disgusted by both parties that they accidentally elected the Notley NDP.
Now, while the NDP “cure” is turning out to be worse than the disease, we are at least seeing some good long term outcomes here.
The liberals within the Progressive Conservative Party were by nature opportunists. Many of them jumped ship shortly after the party lost power. They had no interest in serving as an opposition party. Other liberals hung on in hopes of turning the shell of the party into a re-branded Liberal Party. Those hopes were dashed as Jason Kenney engaged conservative grassroots voters and swept into the leadership last spring.
The upside I am looking at is that the liberal element has been very effectively flushed from the PC party making the ability of creating a unified conservative party viable.
Now where do all these homeless liberals go?
Fear not. They have taken a page from the 1937 Liberal playbook when they tried to come into power under the Independent Citizen’s Association. You see, Liberals realized that they couldn’t win under their party banner so they tried to hide under a banner that stood for nothing. They banked on the electorate being so tired of openly partisan politics that they would latch on to a party that claimed to shun partisanship through being a coalition of independents thus non-partisan than ever. This coalition failed dismally and the first stealth Liberal attempt ended after the 1940 election when the coalition fell apart. If a party wont openly stand for something, they simply cant concentrate support.
Undaunted however, disaffected Liberals are confident that they can pull this off through the Alberta Party.
The Alberta Party has been around in a few incarnations since the 1980s. In 2010 a group of liberals took over the small party and in hopes of creating the stealth liberal party they desired. Ever avoiding a solid policy stance on anything, the Alberta Party held a painfully long process that hey coined “the big listen”. The logic was that if they claimed to be always listening to Albertans that they would somehow gain broad support. In maintaining this party that wasn’t a party approach, the Alberta Party took the province by storm in the 2012 general election with a solid 1.33% of the vote.
Undaunted, they carried on. They replaced the term listen with “center”. They follow a simplistic belief that the majority of people are in this mushy world of being in the center and that they surly will engage this giant yet sleeping majority and get a firm center (liberal) government in Alberta. Fiercely battling in the 2015 general election the Alberta Party garnered a staggering 2.28% of the vote. Apparently the center was sleeping that day.
Interestingly though, some experienced liberal operatives will be moving into the Alberta Party this time now that they have lost their Progressive Conservative home. A few champagne socialists will likely pony up some contributions to the next campaign as well.
Will the rallying cry of “centrists!” lead to the first Liberal government in Alberta in over 100 years? I sincerely doubt it.
All the same, it is nothing if not interesting to see a tenacious group of people working generation after generation to sell a product that simply does not appeal to the majority and through so many ways.
We are in quite a period of political flux in Alberta right now to say the least. It will be interesting to see where all the chips land in the next couple years and where liberals will go after the Alberta Party loses another general election through running on nothing.