Oh, the irony of freedom-loving Alberta harbouring the closest thing Canada has to a one-party state.
With last week’s defection of nine Wildrose MLAs — including former leader Danielle Smith — to the Progressive Conservatives, we’ve seen a powerful government become even more super-charged and an already shaky opposition cut down even further.
The Tories’ firmer grasp on power and the means through which this was accomplished have worrisome side-effects.
Political commentators and opinion writers have worn out their keyboards while highlighting the erosion of trust between electors and their MLAs.
The so-called Wildrose Nine have been almost universally condemned in these and other newspaper opinion pages for several reasons:
- Their disregard for voters by switching parties between elections;
- Their continued charade in stating they will fight the government while simultaneously laying the groundwork to join it;
- The appearance of the floor-crossing to be acts of pure self-interest, rather than the Alberta-building exercise they claim it to be.
Beyond the issues of trust, there is further fallout from last week’s political acrobatic act that should be a cause for concern to all Albertans — namely, the damage it could cause to our democracy.
The Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta has certainly cemented its grasp on power and on the system that allows it to stay in power.
Even before the mass floor-crossing, joining the PC party was a surefire way to have a say on (and perhaps even come up with) party policies that would eventually become government policies via legislative rubber stamping.
This leads to the perverse situation in which you would join a political party not because you believe in its core principles but because you believe you can manipulate it to fit your own.
Recall the politically astute but philosophically eyebrow-raising tactic engineered by former premier Alison Redford as she battled to win the party leadership in 2011.
After she pledged to restore millions of dollars in education cuts she’d helped to institute, Alberta’s biggest teacher’s union urged its members to join the PCAA to support Redford in the leadership vote.
One runoff vote later, she upset favourite Gary Mar to lead the party and become Alberta’s first female premier.
All that access, all that power for the low price of a one-year party membership.
The PCAA machine is so well-entrenched, one could be forgiven for believing our general elections to be pro forma exercises in democracy.
Indeed, despite intermittent discontent with successive Conservative governments, none have been dislodged since the party came to power in 1971.
Now, with the PCs taking in nine of their previously most-ardent critics, it only further validates what can arguably be called one of the least-democratic political processes in Canada.
Despite the way Alberta’s political system is currently set up and despite everything that’s happened in the last week, the electorate must not disengage.
While the PCAA is a formidable entity, one party should not and cannot have a monopoly over this province’s political conversation.
Albertans can certainly choose to work within the Tory machine but we must continue to foster viable opposition parties of all stripes.
We must still vote when we are called to the ballot box.
We must not allow abuses of trust by some politicians to undermine the work of those who are in it for the people and not just for themselves.
To believe the latter can exist is the most powerful antidote to everything rotten in politics.