Unite the right? Not so fast!

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Let’s be clear. The Notley NDP were not elected due to Alberta having a divided right. As can be seen with the historical NDP support numbers in general elections, there is room to split things over five ways before risking the election an NDP government.

What happened in the 2015 election was the result of a collective revulsion on the part of the electorate over Danielle Smith’s treachery and Jim Prentice’s repugnant and flagrantly power hungry behaviour.

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The electorate was appalled when Jim Prentice lured Smith and her followers into a mass floor crossing that spat in the faces of thousands of their former supporters. Voter disgust only increased as Prentice manipulated nominations in his own party while breaking his own party’s law for fixed election dates is what was a clear power grab.

When given the opportunity, party members showed their ire as they tossed out floor crossers at nomination meetings despite the best efforts of Prentice and Navigator to protect them. The panicked protection of Bruce McAllister’s nomination after other nomination losses only served to infuriate members and voters further as we moved towards an election with no justification.

Former Wildrose opposition leader Danielle Smith delivers a speech after losing the PC nomination to Carrie Fischer for the Highwood riding in High River, Alta on Saturday, March 28, 2015. Smith crossed the floor with 8 other Wildrose MLAs, defecting to the PC party and leaving the Wildrose with 5 seats. There were a total of 942 ballots cast for the nomination, but the exact results were not disclosed.

Former Wildrose opposition leader Danielle Smith delivers a speech after losing the PC nomination to Carrie Fischer for the Highwood riding in High River, Alta on Saturday, March 28, 2015.

People were outright disgusted with the Progressive Conservative Party and it’s leadership as the 2015 election campaign began. The Wildrose Party was still reeling from the mass defection and adjusting to a brand new leader. The taint of Smith’s self-serving actions still hung on the Wildrose Party as well whether fair or not. The Liberal Party was in shambles and the Alberta Party was still essentially unheard of by the majority of the electorate.

Desperate voters migrated to what they saw as the only familiar and principled voice in the electoral lineup. Nobody was thinking of right or left as they migrated to Notley. What people wanted to see for a change was some honesty and principles no matter what side of the electoral spectrum those principles came from. The PC principle of power for the sake of power was roundly rejected. Notley won a majority by default and we are all paying for that situation today.

The reason I am going over this is that some people are trying to simplistically claim that it is nothing more than a split on the right that got the NDP into power in Alberta and that simply is not true. If efforts to build an alternative to the Notley government do not take these facts into account, we may indeed really be working towards putting the Notley NDP back into power for another term.

We hear columnists calling for uniting the right.

We have a MPs calling for uniting the right.

We have Brian Jean calling to unite the right.

We have an American style PAC gathering notable names and raising money to unite the right.

We have basement meetings chaired by former MLAs calling for uniting the right.

Despite all of these calls to unite the right, nobody has defined what this united right is supposed to look like or how it will be formed. Are talking about a merger of the Wildrose and the PC parties? Are we talking about forming yet another whole new party? Are we talking about rebranding the Wildrose?

All of the above are considerations but it is going to take some time and a lot of deliberation to determine what course is best. Rushing into things with so many questions hanging could lead to further splintering and alienating the electorate even more.

I don’t have solid answers but I can certainly see some things that are sure to fail.

For some sort of alternative to succeed it has to be created totally in the open!

Among the many things that repelled the electorate last year, the backroom negotiations and nature of the moves by Prentice and Smith were paramount. Nobody likes secret, self-serving deals and if the public gets even a whiff of such activities in any new efforts they will head for the door in droves. It is this issue that makes me hope that the new PAC starts becoming much more transparent in its funding sources and its goals or it may be quite counterproductive,. On the surface right now it looks like many of the same old players trying to recreate the PC party simply for the sake of getting back into power again. This may indeed not be the case at all but perception in politics is indeed reality and the perception had best be improving soon.

I attended an informal gathering of conservative minded folks hosted by Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt and PC MLA Mike Ellis last December. While nothing solid came from the meeting, I think it was very productive in that it got many stubborn partisans into the same room with the goal of examining where they have common ground. The complete transparency and informal nature of the gathering was of great appeal. It let us put our hackles down with no hard agenda and let many of us realize that we are closer together on things than we may think. While these sorts of gatherings don’t produce immediate, solid results, they help build the foundation we need. I hope that we see more of them. Again, patience is required here.

We need principles that run deeper than simply gaining power and raising money!

The Wildrose Party is celebrating record fundraising numbers and they should. Strong fundraising indicates a good grassroots support base. That being said, we saw rather clearly in the last election that spending alone does not win seats. The electorate doesn’t give two shits about which party or candidate raised or spent more money. They want to vote for somebody who shares common principles with them.

If the move towards an alternative can only define itself as existing for the sake of gaining power, we can rest assured that the movement will be rejected as well. The PC party in it’s last few years in government truly demonstrated that retaining power at all costs was it’s only mandate and Albertans got more than tired with that. We need something more.

We have to define just what the heck the “right” even is.

What is right? Is it just fiscal conservatism? Is it social conservatism? How much mix? While the Wildrose was being labelled as being anti-gay due to the odious “lake of fire” ravings of one of it’s former candidates, the PC Party infuriated the province with the pushing of Bill 10. So which of the parties is socially conservative and how?

PC MLA Sandra Jansen is demonstrating a social leftism which puts her on par with the NDP despite her flogging of Bill 10 only a little more than a year ago. This sort of demonstration of floating personal principles demonstrates exactly the kind of self-serving opportunism that we are all sick and tired of. Jathensen will clearly support anything if she thinks it will keep her seat. Is she right wing? Is she left wing? Does it matter? If parties somehow merged, would she really be able to share a caucus with Rick Strankman for example?

I don’t think we should see MLAs and candidates lining up and declaring themselves to be right or left and not budging based on ideological standing. If we are going to keep harping on “unite the right” though we had better settle on just what the “right” is.

The last PC budget was decidedly left wing while their social policies in the end were right wing.

I am socially very left and fiscally very right. I wont claim that Alberta has a libertarian majority but it is a significant element among voters. How will a united “right” capture that element of the electorate?

I am looking forward to seeing an alternative formed and growing to the Notley government whether it is something new or an evolution of one of the existing parties. We need to act carefully though and resist the temptation to rush here. As can be seen in the initial stats in this posting, the NDP is far from being the natural governing party of Alberta. An alternative to Notley does not need to be perfect in order to replace her government. The bar is rather low when looking at traditional NDP support in Alberta as a matter of fact.

Let’s take our time and give the NDP more rope. They will take care of much for us. We cant sit on our hands for the next 3-4 years but we don’t need to hatch a “united right” in the next few months either.

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6 thoughts on “Unite the right? Not so fast!

  1. It is entirely possible that Alberta’s political climate will transform into something akin to BC, where you have the centre-left forces represented in the NDP and the centre-right in some mash-up party similar to the BC Liberal coalition of urban capitalists/suburbanite voters and rural/small town voters. In fact, I’d bet everything on that happening.

    The problem you have however is that as powerful as Notley Derangement Syndrome is among some people, its nowhere near the levels where you can just hope for the party to collapse and win based on revulsion alone. Could it happen? Sure, Notley could have a Rae-style meltdown, but it seems unlikely and leaves way too much to chance for any sane political operative. It is especially risky to count on that if you just have a simple “right-wing party” sitting there expectantly, look what happened to Wildrose in 2012 – the PCs told scary stories about the party that ended up being reinforced by fools and Smith’s naïveté. A similar thing will happen to any party, whether its the Wildrose or Conservatives or Yeehaw Cowboy Freedom Party, that is not sufficiently attractive to urban voters. The NDP, no matter what their results pre-2015 were, will walk away with another election.

    Since you’re all so fond of Saskatchewan lately, take some cues from the SaskParty’s history. A merger of “free market” centre-to-centre-right parties/MLAs that then went on to lose two easily winnable elections because it decided to limit its appeal to the rural parts of the province and worried urban voters, voters that ended up being susceptible to the NDP’s tarnishing of the party as conservatives coming to take away your privileges and Crown corps – again, reinforced by the SaskParty’s own foot-in-mouth-prone membership. The SaskParty relied on the promised NDP collapse that never came more than actual sound strategy. Brad Wall came and helped rejig the appeal the party, but how long will Alberta’s right wait?

    That is why a merger or a reorganisation of the province’s “free market” politicos or whatever needs to start now if it wishes to win the next election. The NDP will not go down easily, and if you’re saddled with an unprepared party and burdensome members who scare the bejeezus out of voters in Calgary and Edmonton, you will simply not win. Three years is less time than you think. If your politicians are serious about winning, they will hammer out the details now, present a moderate united front, and then chase the orange out of the government benches.

  2. I wish Brian Jean would actually focus on running his party instead of whatever it is he is actually doing.

    Rick Strankman is the only one in the Wildrose caucus demonstrating leadership lately.

    Quite frankly, as far as I’m concerned the right is already united. There are no Conservatives left in the PC Party.

  3. The NDP won’t implode like the Rae government because they won’t make the mistake he did. There will be no attempt to put a squeeze on the civil service (remember Rae Days) and destroy the party base. Similarily there will be a light touch with teachers and nurses.

    There are only two ways to defeat the NDP:
    1) reduce the number of votes they receive, or
    2) amalgamate most of the opposition votes into one party.

    Path (1) looks doubtful; those upset with the NDP never voted for them to begin with and the NDP won’t make Rae type errors.

    Path (2) is the only chance but it requires either a new unite the right party or the collapse of the PCs or WR.

  4. My major concern is that this this whole undertaking is driven from the top down – not from members up.
    My second concern is that this appears to be a “self-serving” project headed by none other than Brian Jean et al who kindly donated through his “connections” some $10,000 to the Jim Prentice leadership campaign a while ago- How credible and sincere can Jean be|???? I wouldn’t buy a used car from him!!!

    • In Jean’s defense, he made that donation before the Smith floor crossing and his ascension own to the WRP leadership – that crosses a pretty big schism. Why wouldn’t have Jean supported Prentice, a caucus mate and long-time friend, before all that BS happened?

  5. I think the dire financial situation in Alberta will force the hands of government and opposition parties. As I recall the NDP (and Prentice PC’s) projected deficits in the $7 billion dollar range and this was based on $55 oil. With oil prices down around $30 for the foreseeable future, this number could hit $10 billion per year. That’s not sustainable in itself, but when you add the runaway health care costs and the incompetence of the current government we could see a situation in 2019 where any government will have no choice but to slash all unnecessary spending just to keep up with the operating costs of health care and education. Making the Alberta Health Services’ budgets affordable and sustainable in the future is the biggest challenge, but taking this on is not likely to win any votes. Nevertheless I would like to see this as the foundation of the WRP’s platform, or of any newly-created “united alternative” party.

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