The majority of Albertans are finding themselves dissatisfied with a Redford government they see as wasteful and bulky, and are savouring the opportunity for change. The last time citizens were upset to this degree with the Progressive Conservatives, they seriously considered a Liberal government in 1993, boosting the Grit seat count from eight to thirty-two, and the vote share from 28% to 40%.
Instead of looking left, this year Albertan conservatives have found an alternative to the right of Redford’s PCs: The Wildrose Party. In most ways the two parties have the markings of the Steven Harper center-right populist package. In other ways, however, the Wildrose pose a serious threat to the social welfare net in the province. Danielle Smith recently asserted that climate change may not actually be occurring, she has candidates alleging that homosexuals will be burning in hell for eternity, and has flirted with pulling out of the Canadian public pension plan.
I would rather see an Alberta Party or Alberta Liberal government, but the reality is that Alberta is likely to welcome Danielle Smith as their next premier. Aside from the negative baggage she will bring with her to Edmonton, there are certain benefits that accompany a fresh breath in politics, and I think four are especially worth noting:
- First, Smith is campaigning on allowing her caucus to vote however they please on apparently everything, including confidence motions that could topple her government. If there is anything I hate more than blind partisanship, it is forced partisanship. At every political level in Canada, an elected official either votes with their party or no longer belongs to the party. Smith is seemingly open to allowing her caucus vote as an Albertan, rather than as a Wildrose caucus member.
- Second, Smith has called for fixed election dates. As it stands now, the Government of the day can decide when to call an election. This gives an unfair edge to the Government, allowing them to decide when the most advantageous time to call an election is. This evens the playing field, granting equal preparation time for every party in advance of an election, while making sure the Government doesn’t stall until more fortuitous poll numbers come their way.
- Third, and most controversial, citizen referendum. In order to force a referendum on any issue, the sponsors would need half a million Albertans to sign a petition, then find half the province willing to vote in favour. Most worries about the referendum center around divisive issues like invalidating gay marriage and delisting abortion. Both are protected by the charter, but even if they somehow were not, I have faith at least half of Alberta supports gay marriages and a woman’s right to choose. The Wildrose leader, I might add, is on record as favouring both. What this does is allow citizens to recall measures (or MLAs) they do not agree with, and I am behind the intention of increasing democratic participation.
- Finally, Smith has pledged to cut salaries of all elected members, and eliminate the bulk of the severance plan. The new plan would give retiring members exactly one-year of full pay, no more or less, ending the tradition of bloated severance packages, including $1-million that went to Ken Kowalski and Ed Stelmach. The Alberta Liberals, Alberta Party and NDP have also vowed to roll back pay, the Liberals going so far to argue for the elimination of some of the 87 MLA posts, something I would call “a no brainer”.
Smith is likely to be the next premier, and if she is, Albertans must keep her honest in regards to improving their democracy. I hope the Wildrose serves as a model to other provinces as to how proper politics works. The emphasis, of course, is on hope.