Alberta is used to being a political outlier. And in the first six months of 2020, when governments and opposition parties in most provinces put aside their political differences to face the COVID-19 pandemic and economic shutdown, Alberta remained an outlier as neither the United Conservative Party government nor the New Democratic Party opposition put aside their differences to rally around the flag. Here are a few reasons why:
1. Jason Kenney is unpopular. This is not new and has been a problem that has dogged him and his party since he jumped into provincial politics in 2017. Pulling off a coup by taking over the Progressive Conservative Party and merging it with the Wildrose Party to form the UCP may have solidified his popularity among conservative partisans, but most polls have shown his approval and performance ratings dragging far below the high-water mark of UCP support in the 2019 election.
2. The United Conservative Party government is using the pandemic and economic crisis as cloud cover to continue to implement a divisive political agenda. The UCP campaigned on the slogan of “jobs, economy and pipelines,” but during the pandemic the government has barely skipped a beat in continuing its fight with rural and small town doctors, cutting funding that led to 25,000 education workers losing their jobs and thousands of layoffs at Alberta’s technical colleges and universities, and pushing the privatization and closure of Alberta’s provincial parks. And plans to layoff nurses and health care workers? That has only been delayed.
And while claiming that the government is broke, the UCP invested $1.5 billion and pledged an additional $6 billion towards the construction of a pipeline that entirely depends on Donald Trump being re-elected as President of the United States in November.
Probably one of the most distinguishing features of the UCP government is the inability of it’s ministers to admit it is wrong or has made a mistake, ever. Instead, the UCP responds by aggressively blaming its opponents, whether it be the Alberta Medical Association, the New Democratic Party, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Alberta Federation of Labour President Gil McGowan, secret foreign-funded anti-Alberta campaigns, or nefarious urban green-left radicals with growing influence over New York City-based credit rating agencies.
Barely a day goes by where the UCP does not release a meme or video on social media attacking its opponents. Long gone are the days when the old PC Party government would focus on governing and pretend the opposition parties didn’t exist.
3. The New Democratic Party official opposition is very aggressive. While the tiny 2-4 MLA NDP caucus of the past would frequently run circles around the other opposition parties, the current 24-MLA NDP caucus is striking a different tone and operating in a similar aggressive manner to how the Wildrose Party did during its time in opposition benches from 2012-2017.
It is perhaps not a surprise that the UCP is now trying to paint the NDP with the same “Team Angry” moniker that the PC Party slapped onto the Wildrose Party a decade ago. But the political landscape in Alberta is drastically different as both parties now exist in a competitive environment where Albertans have a taste for electoral change.
With former premier Rachel Notley at its helm and a front bench of former cabinet ministers in its caucus, the NDP are the first official opposition in decades that can legitimately call itself a government-in-waiting. But in a big way, the NDP needs to start acting like a government-in-waiting and talking confidently about what new ideas it will implement and bad UCP ideas it will repeal if or when it forms government again in 2023.
4. Nothing is actually getting done for Albertans who now face record unemployment levels and a very uncertain economic future.