Sandra Jansen just confirmed she’s running for the leadership of Alberta’s Progressive Conservative party. This is good news because her campaign will test Jason Kenney’s assertion that there’s no such thing as a progressive conservative.
Kenney is peddling the line that there are only two kinds of people in Alberta—small “c” conservatives who yearn to merge the Progressive Conservatives and the Wildrose into a single “free enterprise party” and a bunch of nutbars who accidentally elected the NDP.
Before everyone leaps on the NDP bashing bandwagon, let’s put our minds to leadership.
Jansen acknowledges the PCs demonstrated poor leadership in the past and suggests PC leadership candidates should take a hard look at themselves and figure out how they can be better leaders and better MLAs.
Which leads one to wonder why Jason Kenney, notwithstanding his high praise for the PCs under Peter Lougheed and Ralph Klein, decided the best PC leader is one who buries the party, rather than rebuilds it.
Birds of a feather flock together—except when they don’t
Kenney says if Peter McKay and Stephen Harper could unite a bunch of small “c” federal conservatives under the Conservative Party of Canada banner, merging Alberta’s PCs and Wildrose parties will be a “walk in the park”.
He points to a recent report published by the Manning Centre as evidence he’s right.
The Manning report says that since May 2015 when the NDP came into power the majority of the Wildrose and PC MLAs voted the same way 90.2% of the time on legislative votes and 95.8% of the time on money votes and this demonstrates there’s little of substance separating the Wildrose from the PCs.
Aside from the fact that the Manning report is not a quantitative analysis—the issues put to vote range from inconsequential to significant and the number of Wildrose and PC MLAs voting on each issue varies from vote to vote—it fails to address two instances where the Wildrose and the PCs are sharply divided, namely fiscal policy and democratic renewal.
In June 2015 the PCs proposed Bill 201, Assuring Alberta’s Fiscal Future. The Bill required the government to invest 25% of all non-renewable resource revenue into the Heritage Fund. The investment obligation jumped to 50% in years where operating revenue was expected to exceed operating expense.
Every Wildrose MLA voted with the NDP to reject the PC’s Bill.
The Wildrose opposed it on principle because in their view it was “borrowing to invest”. The Wildrose would suspend investment in the Heritage Fund until there’s a budgetary surplus in both the operating and capital accounts—something no one expects to see in the foreseeable future.*
A merged “free enterprise party” must reach consensus on fiscal policy. If the Wildrose and the PCs can’t agree on how to balance long term savings against debt repayment how will they ever agree on the allocation of scarce resources to fund public services and infrastructure.
In March 2016 the Wildrose introduced the Election Recall Bill. They characterized recall as “a core western Canadian, small “c” conservative principle” which would increase Albertans’ access to democracy. The Wildrose feel deeply about recall as a fundamental principle and have brought a recall bill to the Legislature three times in the last six years.**
Wildrose MLA, Mark Smith, was prepared to consider any number of amendments if the Assembly would simply accept the bill “on principle”. His plea fell on deaf ears and the PCs voted with the NDP to reject the Bill. The PCs had a number of concerns including the fear that recall drives short-term thinking and weakens an MLA’s resolve to take a stand on unpopular issues.
The primary focus of a merged “free enterprise party” is likely the economy but fundamental differences concerning the democratic process cannot be ignored.
Slogans vs Vision
Jason Kenney says Albertans are sophisticated and will be able to see through the objections to merger thrown up by naysayers.
That’s true. Albertans can also tell the difference between a politician spouting vacuous slogans and one with a vision for Alberta that goes beyond simply getting into power.
It’s time for Mr Kenney to show his respect for Albertans by telling them what he would do the day after he’s elected premier to address climate change and convince Justin Trudeau not to impose a federal carbon tax after Kenney eliminates the provincial carbon tax and how he will ensure religious schools protect the rights of LGBTQ students…and that’s just for starters.
Because a campaign built on destroying two political parties in order to unseat a third isn’t going to cut it.
*Hansard, June 22, 2015, 130
**Hansard, Mar 10, 2016, 92, Mar 14, 2016, 122 and 129