Alison Redford is no Ralph Klein. She loves process
Troy Media – by Barry Cooper
Around the middle of the campaign the Calgary Herald ran an analysis of a recent poll with the headline that we “have just seen the worst six weeks in PC history.” Those difficult weeks were not an accident. As with the federal Liberals’ sponsorship scandal, so many years in office with such a risible opposition, made self-destruction almost inevitable.
Almost a year ago, my colleagues Anthony Sayers and David Stewart wrote a paper for the University of Calgary School of Public Policy, “Is this the End of the Tory Dynasty?” It provided a long-term analysis of the challenge posed by the Wildrose Alliance to four decades of PC rule. The key to Wildrose success, as was true for Peter Lougheed at the beginning, was that the governing party caucus was divided.
Redford is no Ralph
In 1993 Ralph Klein met the same challenge by a major policy reversal, a purge of the old guard, and creative leadership initiatives. Klein transformed the Lougheed-Getty party into the Ralph party.
Alison Redford is no Ralph. She loves process. She has shown herself a master of half-measures. That works in quiet times, but when bold leadership is called for, her way looks timid.
But let’s take her perspective. Before becoming leader she had effectively no support in caucus. She won the leadership by the same bizarre internal electoral system that burdened the province with Ed Stelmach. She relied on the votes of large numbers of five-dollar-a-membership instant PCs to whom she promised (and delivered) quick rewards. And she promised “change,” a vacuous slogan recently used with dubious results south of the border.
So even if she wanted to change things, how could she do it? She couldn’t repudiate her caucus or they would repudiate her. She certainly couldn’t take on the party machine and the mechanics who run it or she would quickly run out of money. This is why, early on, she called for a change in Alberta’s “character.”
Perhaps she thought this was sufficiently ambiguous to mean many things to many people. It meant nothing to the mechanics. The problem is, changing the character of a province actually does mean something. Machiavelli called it introducing new modes and orders, and he said it is the most difficult thing to do in politics.
In the first place, “character” refers to Alberta at its best, not the land of PC dreams that long tolerated corruption, intimidation, and entitlement. If you really want to change Alberta’s character, you cannot like it the way it is. This is why a major turning point in the campaign was when Danielle Smith pointed out the implications of changing our character.
In fact, Lorne Gunter, writing in the National Post, was the first to note that “the Premier doesn’t like Albertans much.” He pointed to revisions in the traffic laws that would turn the province into a puritanical extension of B.C. by imposing draconian administrative penalties for driving (legally unimpaired) after a couple of beers.
She also doesn’t like the notion that in Alberta parents are the “primary educators” of their own children. Teachers complement the education that our kids get at home. She seems to want the same teachers’ unions that helped elect her to replace the things kids learn at home with those found in our Orwellian Human Rights Commissions. Hence she had her education minister introduce a “diversity clause” to the education act. Fortunately it died.
A “national” Albertan?
She wants to join five other provinces in a lawsuit against the tobacco industry. That would by-pass individual responsibility and make us more like them, I guess.
She wants another national energy program, which she calls a national energy strategy. Barely a month in office she was swanning around central Canada talking it up. In keeping with the ideals of UN bureaucrats (of which she once was one) can a global energy strategy be far behind?
In exchange for repudiating our character, Redford won the praise of the Globe and Mail as a “national Albertan,” not a “little Albertan.” Give me a premier who sees no need to change our character. If the Toronto media think that reflects a “little Alberta,” we’ll learn to live with it.
Barry Cooper is a political science professor at the University of Calgary. This column was originally written for C2C Journal.