For any democracy to function properly, there is one simple requirement — an effective opposition.
Opposition parties not only hold the governing party to account but in some cases, can play a very important role in developing policy and infusing new ideas into the political conversation.
That was the important role the Wildrose party played in Alberta. A party which rose from the ground up, in relatively short order, Wildrose politicians were constantly a thorn in the side of the Stelmach and Redford-led Conservatives.
Without doubt, a number of political scandals would likely never have surfaced, at least not as quick- ly as they did, without the pressure applied by Danielle Smith and her colleagues. There are also a number of Wildrose initiatives and ideas the Progressive Conservatives ultimately borrowed, and crafted into policies of their own, ideas which, once again, would have likely been buried under heaps of political rubble in years past.
Today, Albertans are faced with a much different landscape.
The Wildrose party has been decimated with the defection of its leaders and several high- ranking MLAs, who have joined the Progressive Conservative machine. The Alberta Liberals and NDP both had long-serving leaders step down, and the Wildrose has not yet picked its leader.
Greg Clark, the Alberta Party leader who took control of that party in late 2013, is all that remains of a leadership group that once consisted of Redford, Smith, Raj Sherman of the Liberals and Brian Mason of the NDP.
It will take a significant amount of time, likely at least until the next election cycle, before another political entity rises to challenge the Progressive Conservatives. For all intents and purposes, the expected spring election will be nothing but a formality in many ridings across the province, with little standing in the way of the continuation of a political dynasty the likes of which no other jurisdiction in Canada has even come close to matching.
And while it is likely too late to make a dent in the PC armour in 2015, if in fact Premier Jim Prentice does go ahead with a spring election, in contradiction of a law mandating the election be held in 2016, Alberta’s opposition parties need to keep an eye to the future. An alliance between the Liberals and the Alberta Party has been floated, and a partnership between the Liberals and NDP, in an effort to unite the left, has been a consideration in the past.
But now, as Alberta’s opposition parties stare down the barrel of a possible early election, not one party finds itself prepared. Blame, or credit, can be placed at the doorsteps of Prentice and Smith for creating a one-sided “showdown” but in politics, one should be prepared for anything. The fact Alberta’s political par- ties appear grossly unprepared for an election, ultimately falls on the shoulders of those at the top of these organizations.
Monday, the Green Party of Alberta announced it will not run candidates against the Liberals in two ridings, and will not contest the NDP in four ridings. Greens will also not run against the Alberta Party’s Clark, with the hope the three left-of-centre parties will not run against their leader, Janet Keeping.
No merger talk is in the works, as far as the Greens are concerned, and an alliance between the Liberals and the Alberta Party is unlikely in time for this election, as Clark has left the door open for future cooperation.
Alberta, like any other democratic jurisdiction on the planet, needs a credible alternative to the government in power, no matter who that party ends up being in the end.
Our system depends on it.