By Trevor Busch
Cracks have begun to appear in recent days in the seemingly impenetrable facade of Alberta’s United Conservative Party. Once the shining beacon of hope for right-leaning Albertans less enthusiastic about the creation of Rachel Notley’s semi-socialist paradise, the UCP has staggered into the home stretch beset by scandal and raising uncomfortable questions about Jason Kenney’s integrity and his ability to lead the province free from the kind of backroom, nudge-wink handshake style of politics we’re seeing in today’s headlines.
It couldn’t have come at a worse time for the UCP. An internal party scandal which appears to open a window on how politics is really done for the UCP is the last thing Kenney would have wanted. Not having the party involved in such questionable activities would seem to have been obvious to those of us staring in from outside the caucus pressure-cooker bubble, but today’s politicians seem to have almost no idea about what is actually inappropriate behaviour — or at least they feign ignorance and festoon us with apologetic language when things don’t go their way.
With an election date now in the books, it is worth noting that Alberta’s election “season” legislation is really a joke, a watered-down incarnation that had started out with the aim of establishing fixed election dates, but ended up gutted by the former PC government. It has always been advantageous for the ruling party to have the ability to call a snap election at the most opportune time. Not surprisingly, the ruling PCs of the day wished to retain their hold over this power, leading to the Mickey Mouse bill we now have today which still allows the party in power wide discretion in calling an election date.
At the time the legislation was passed, the PCs were part of a four-decade dynasty at the top of Alberta politics, and at least in their eyes there was no danger that this monopoly would ever be challenged. Why is it that political success always seems to evolve into arrogance and complacency? The only silver lining is that dumbfounded look on all their faces when voters show them the door, as we saw in 2015. Again not surprisingly, Kenney and the UCP had agitated extensively to try to pressure the NDP to call the election, without much success. But if they’re looking for a scapegoat for a lack of fixed election dates in Alberta, they needed to look around at some of their own caucus colleagues before waving a bony, self-righteous finger across the aisle in the house.
Now the cracks are really beginning to widen for the UCP. As if allegations (and evidence now uncovered by meat-and-potatoes journalism) that Kenney’s ‘opponent’ in the UCP leadership campaign was little more than a ‘kamikaze’ candidate designed to undermine Kenney’s real leadership target Brian Jean, weren’t bad enough — now the old “Lake of Fire” controversy which has plagued conservatives in Alberta through successive elections has now reared its ugly head yet again, this time with a white nationalist flavour. The resignation on Monday of Calgary-Mountain View UCP candidate Caylan Ford over allegations of white nationalist comments posted online is another body blow to the UCP only days after the leadership race shenanigans came to light. Kenney campaigned on the idea that he would deal harshly with so-called ‘bozo eruptions’ within the party ranks, which many believe sank the chances of conservatives in 2012. But in today’s social media inferno, there’s no delete button for anything you choose to post out in the cyber-sphere, even decades ago in some cases — the Internet has been around since the early 1990s.
Such chaos in caucus and at the top should have many Albertans questioning the leadership abilities of the UCP. In the case of Caylan Ford, for instance, should party brass not have thoroughly vetted her background? Are social media and Internet investigations of a candidate not standard practice? And if they’re not, why is that not the case? Controversy and scandal of this nature, in almost every example at every level of government, could have been avoided down the road with a more extensive examination before commencing the journey.
Not that political parties should be morphing into the Thought Police, monitoring every aspect of a party member’s personal and professional life — what kinds of paranoid and extra-legal practices would a caucus subjected to that level of scrutiny by their own leadership come up with to turn against the very citizens that voted for them?
Paranoia has consequences in all aspects of life, but especially if it has infected the individuals with a firm grip on the levers of power. Striking a balance between what should be private and what should not will become an escalating question in tomorrow’s world. If, indeed, today’s rapidly-evolving technology will not make privacy a thing of the past entirely. Imagining what it might be like to live in such a world, where all secrets are bared and all flaws exposed for judgement by everyone around us, is a disturbing exercise for us 20th century Luddites.
For the NDP’s part, the spending rollouts and announcements that have been coming fast and furious in recent days goes to show that Notley’s party isn’t ashamed to take a page from their old-school former foes in the house, the PCs, despite campaigning in 2015 as a breath of fresh political air for Albertans. In their time in office, the NDP have proven themselves to be something less than radical socialists (despite constant hacking from the UCP about ‘ideologically-driven policies’) but slightly more than left-of-centre Liberals, which is generally the territory they like to inhabit. Conservative prophets of doom like Kenney have attempted to paint the NDP with Moscow’s red brush, but with only limited success.
The problem is the NDP haven’t really raised the red flag from Edmonton’s legislature. While some of their environmental policies, like the carbon tax, have been deeply unpopular and tinged with a streak of eco-socialism in the eyes of many, Notley’s actions on the pipelines file and in other areas would suggest she won’t soon be laying down in the path of the steamroller or chaining herself to any trees.
Playing the balancing game between what is too radical and what is too centrist has always been the key to Canadian democratic politics, both at the federal and provincial levels. Radicalism can seem like everyone is on your side when you’re standing at a podium at a rally surrounded by screaming crowds of like-minded individuals. It’s easy to convince yourself that you have a thumb firmly placed on the pulse of voters. But it’s not the party membership you’re trying to convince, the rally supporters and the more radical activists online. It’s those voters who will probably never attend a political rally, whose increasingly-educated eyes and ears turn away from the abrasive messaging about ideology and instead look at platforms for substance instead of posturing. Those are the voters that all parties are usually targeting, and despite more dramatic drifts in either direction for many North Americans in the political sphere in recent years, this group of non-aligned voters is still really where majority power lies for parties. Playing to your radicalized “base” is probably still a recipe for political disaster in progressive-leaning Canada.
But with deficit-stricken Alberta still desperately seeking a stationary store that stocks anything but red pens, the fiscal freight train of spending largesse that the NDP have continued after the PCs knocked the lock off the provincial treasury would suggest that Notley has some work to do in convincing Albertans that she has the wherewithal to right the province’s financial ship.
That will be one of the key areas where the UCP should be able to put the NDP on the run, scandal or no scandal.