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Alberta Politics

testing conservative unity.

Calgary-Centre North by-election could be a test of conservative unity in alberta.

As the first major political event on the federal stage in Alberta since the Wildrose Alliance jumped from insignificance to contender in the polls over the past year, the Calgary-Centre North by-election could be a symbolic test of the Conservative Party’s strength in tolerating the provincial split in the conservative movement in Alberta. The resignation of Environment Minister Jim Prentice could open the door for a contested race for the Conservative Party nomination that could highlight some of these cleavages. Could that riding’s Conservative nomination contest become a proxy war in the battle between moderate and ideological conservatives that has exploded on the provincial level?

I have had an number of interesting and frank conversations with federal Conservative Party organizers who are acutely aware of their delicate balancing act. In most provinces, many members of the federal Conservative Party are also members of the equivalent “conservative” party in the provincial level (ie: BC Liberals, Saskatchewan Party, PC Party in Ontario and the maritimes). Alberta’s conservatives are in a different situation.

Many active members of the Conservative Party of Canada remain active members of the four decade-long governing Progressive Conservatives, but many have become active with the Wildrose Alliance over the past year (including Wildrose candidates Andrew Constantinidis in Calgary-West and Rod Fox in Lacombe-Ponoka who are former Conservative Party Electoral District Association Presidents). Two of the Wildroses main political staffers are also products of the federal Conservative school of politics. Executive Director Vitor Marciano and Communications Director William McBeath both left positions in the federal Conservative establishment to join the insurgent Wildrosers since Danielle Smith became leader.

It is somewhat reminiscent of the split that happened among conservative voters in the 1990s with the rise of the Reform Party of Canada and the decline of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada. Although they did not form a functional provincial-wing, the split between the Reformers and the federal PC Party in Alberta also happened during a time of flux on the provincial level. Many Reform Party supporters were drawn to the policies of fiscal conservative provincial Liberal leader Laurence Decore. A few Reformers such as Don MacDonald and Donna Graham ran as Liberal Party candidates. Mr. MacDonald stunned many political watchers when he handily won a 1992 by-election in the Three Hills riding in the conservative heartland. The Liberals also won support in the Little Bow constituency where candidate Ms. Graham came within 262 votes of defeating Tory Barry McFarland. It was a different time.

Following the 1993 re-election of the PC Party led by Premier Ralph Klein, many of these tensions disappeared as many Reformers made amends with Alberta’s natural governing party. Some of these tensions re-emerged under a resurgent Social Credit in 1997, but that year’s election proved to bare no fruit for the antiquated political movement. By 2001, when Reform MP Ian McClelland moved into provincial politics it appeared that all was beautiful, calm, and quiet on the conservative front. What a difference nine years can make.

Back to my original point, it will be very interesting to watch how the Conservative Party of Canada will try to mitigate any migration of the conservative conflict into its ranks in Alberta.