Scandal, controversy, and electoral fortunes? What does 2013 hold for Alberta politics?

Alberta Politics in 2013
Alberta Politics in 2013

What does 2013 hold for Alberta’s political leaders? Do their performances in 2012 shed any light on how the next year will play out?

Saved from defeat by controversial comments made by social conservative elements of the Wildrose Party, Premier Alison Redford led the Progressive Conservative Party to its 12th consecutive electoral victory since 1971. Under her leadership, the Tories have sent signals suggesting their intention to build a new electoral coalition centred around moderate conservatives and liberals, a response to the loss of their hard-conservative base to the Wildrose Party.

As I wrote earlier this month, the Redford Tories have been consistently slow in responding to emerging political crises and scandals, giving the opposition Wildrose Party the opportunity to define the media narrative each time. The Tories will need to shed their geriatric reflexes and become quicker at managing crisis communications less they be defined as old, tired, and corrupt over the next three years.

On the horizon, an expected sixth consecutive provincial budget deficit and tension with Doctors’ and Teachers’ unions could be the defining political issues of the next few months. The election of an NDP government in British Columbia could also reopen discussions around the development of the Northern Gateway Pipeline from Bruderheim to Kitimat.

Old and corrupt is exactly what Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith wants the Tories to look like in 2013.

In advance of the April 2012 election, the Wildrose was at its strongest in the public opinion polls when the newspaper headlines trumpeted tales of Tory corruption. Her new 17 MLA caucus, which has now faced against the Tories on the floor of the Assembly,  is battle ready to continue its permanent negative campaign against the Tories in 2013.

The question is whether the Wildrose Party can transform itself into more than just a conservative political war machine. Can the Wildrose Party led by Ms. Smith transform itself into a government-in-waiting?

Optimists in the Liberal Party will tell you that the fact their party won any seats in the 2012 election is proof that Raj Sherman has earned the right to remain party leader. The Liberals did survive the election with five MLAs, but the former Tory MLA led the party to its worst electoral showing in more than twenty-five years.

Deprived of its long-held official opposition status, the newly rebranded Liberalberta Party now faces the difficult challenge of figuring out where it fits in Alberta’s new political landscape. Popular Calgary MLA Kent Hehr and party president Todd Van Vliet clashed earlier this month over what the future direction of the Liberal Party should be. The next year will show indications whether Dr. Sherman’s rag-tag caucus can survive the three years until the next election.

New Democrat leader Brian Mason wants to build a bigger tent. The NDP, electorally stuck within Edmonton city limits for the past twenty-years, is hoping to take advantage of the electoral decline of the Liberal Party to expand his own party’s base of support. While the NDP is expected to form government in British Columbia and is on an electoral upswing in Ontario, Alberta has historically not been fertile soil for even moderate versions of the social democratic party.

Currently the longest-serving party leader, Mr. Mason told the Calgary Herald in a year-end interview that he plans to lead his party into the next election in 2016. The next election would be Mr. Mason’s fourth election as party leader and will mark his twenty-seventh year as an elected politician.

While experience is important, and sometimes irreplaceable, party supporters will need to ask themselves whether Mr. Mason is the leader who can bring the NDP to the next level in Alberta. With a newly expanded and younger caucus, New Democrats will be forgiven if they look to Rachel Notley, David Eggen, or rising star Deron Bilous, to be a fresh face for their party in the next election. An inspiring leadership race with a new generation of candidates could give the NDP a significant boost in Conservative-dominated Alberta.

The next 365 days could be interesting for Alberta’s political scene.

Happy New Year!

_______

There is little doubt in my mind that the title for story-maker of the year on Alberta’s political scene in 2012 is held by CBC investigative reporter Charles Rusnell. A serious investigative journalist, Mr. Rusnell uncovered some of the defining political stories of the year from Allaudin Meralli‘s and Lynn Redford‘s expense claims to the unfortunately named “Tobaccogate“. These stories shaped the political debate in Alberta at critical moments in 2012. (EDIT: I mistakenly gave credit to Mr. Rusnell for uncovering the controversial payments to MLAs for serving on a committee that rarely met. Credit for this story belongs to Scott Hennig).

9 thoughts on “Scandal, controversy, and electoral fortunes? What does 2013 hold for Alberta politics?”

  1. One thing I would like to see is the NDP and Liberals take on this idea that Alison Redford is somehow progressive.

    She’s not. She’s big on progressive symbolic gestures, but if you look at her record – it’s pretty freaking right wing.

    She’s deeply in bed with the energy sector. Her government refused to make changes to the election act that might reduce the influence of business on her government. And her government passed a bill that effectively transfers complete control over environmental monitoring from government to the energy sector.

    Why do people think she is progressive? Likely because she put a small bump into education funding before the election, and because she marched in a pride parade. But look at her record:

    * After promising ‘stable, predictable funding’ in Education, just this month her ministers have told school boards to brace for cuts. Her promise didn’t even last a year.

    * Bill 44 is still the law of the land. Teachers are self-censoring before teaching tolerance of sexual minorities.

    * The Redford government caved into religious fundamentalists on the issue of the human rights code being mentioned in the Education act.

    If the Liberals lost so many votes to the PCs because Redford looked progressive, it seems to me a part of the strategy of that party and the NDP should be to start pointing out how the PCs and the Wildrose are really not very different.

  2. The biggest asset the WR has against the PCs is Ms Redford herself. She’s reneged on her promise of fiscal discipline, whipped the Alberta Medical Association into a frenzy and is now gunning for the teachers. Danielle Smith doesn’t need to do anything more than point out that Ms Redford says one thing and does the opposite. Ms Redford will topple herself. The big question is how many PCs she’ll take with her.

  3. A Win-Win for New Democrats in Alberta

    Building on the momentum of the last election should be on the minds of all New Democrats and needs to be done sooner rather than later. With the further decline of the Liberals, we are the progressive party on the move and it’s time to capitalize on that.

    In my mind there is one political play that can that can do just that and as a bonus would benefit the party federally. That would be Brian Mason stepping down as Alberta NDP leader to seek the nomination in the newly redrawn federal riding of Edmonton-Griesbach.

    This would allow for a leadership race to invigorate our base and draw in new candidates,activists and supporters, allowing us to create that “big tent” we keep talking about.

    It would be the next chapter for Brian Mason in his already impressive career as an effective voice for his constituents, and voice for New Democrats across both Edmonton and Alberta. Imagine the possibility of electing 3 NDP MP’s in 2015, and the effect on our party’s momentum and moral carrying us through to 2016.

    In Brian’s own words. “Right now, we have an opportunity to be that centre-left vehicle for progressive political change in Alberta – and I intend to grasp that.” and I can think of a better way for him to do that.

  4. @ Great Leap Forward, forgive me if I’m skeptical about the claims of a person who uses as their name a campaign that resulted in the deaths of millions.

    The Liberals and NDs in Alberta have been having these circular discussions for what seems like an eternity with no real long-term gains. Meanwhile, us left-of-centre voters are getting a bit tired of the partisan chest beating.

  5. The Tories are far beyond political redemption. Their leader, backed by only ONE MLA, promised change, but instead gave voters political whitewashes, broken and watered down promises and a state where the Governing Party has NO working relations with the opposition parties, like past AB Tory Leaders DID have. Despite promised change, even new Tory MLA’s have a deep sense of financial self entitlement, given the recent expense scandals. Tories have NO respect for taxpayer dollars. They have to be guilted, exposed and shamed before they give a shred of any watered down accountability.

    Now after waffling, bait and switching and lying on so many fronts about so many issues, scandal after scandal, there are too many to list, these guys are putting on their dancing shoes and trying to paint the rosiest picture of the looming fiscal cliff, they are about to impose on Albertans.

    Oil at 90-$100/bbl for years, NO savings, no stability or value built into our system. Any CEO and its board of directors of any large corporation would have been fired by shareholder voting.

    They ran an election with over forcasted revenue projections, lying their way with huge promises and have no structural financial plan in place to deal with debt reduction and saving. Tories have a SPENDING AND REVENUE problem. They are unwilling to do what is right, that is a fair progressive tax, a fair royalty collection and efficient government spending.

    They still managed to give their cabinet 34% pay raises and bribe all MLA’s with RRSP raises. Billions wasted, nothing saved, little to show, NO pipelines built to the U.S. or Global Markets. Where was the Leadership?

    This is the epitome of failed leadership and a party on its last legs. Structurally are doomed to financial failure, regardless which puppet they choose. This party is incapable of mending its ways doomed to repeat the cycles of its past mistakes. Media relations and public communications gimps can try all the spin they like, some of them can’t tell the difference between Corporate Communications and Government Communications, its one and the same, when it should be different. Folks are getting tired of being lied to.

    Brian, Raj or Danielle would make an excellent premiers, anything is better than this, whether either of them get lucky enough to do on their own, or by coalition. Folks eventually got tired of Social Credit. Perhaps that moment is near for the Tories.

    Don Get-ty had a very close call. Let’s see how much debt it will take to turn over the Tories. The Tories have another 3 years to run this ship thoroughly into the ground and doing a consistently predictable job of it.

    To balance the budget, they will likely take it out of the hides of Tax Paying Albertans. Decreasing access to healthcare and education and seniors care. They have an iron will to spend like drunk sailors, NOT save and not collect proper revenue. They are not even willing to have the discussions.

    This deficit is created artificially. They have no plan to diversify our economy into an innovation based economy, but hellbent on keeping Alberta revenue streams addicted to Oil Royalties. We are becoming stagnated. The world is moving on. The question is can we compete? What do we have outside of oil, not much, if it keeps dropping.

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