The Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta has enjoyed one of the longest continual political reigns of modern times, give or take Castro’s Cuba.
They have been able to fend off all challengers in the post-Peter Lougheed era, a period when Don Getty was handed the political football of a party in decline after they exhausted their “best before” date under Lougheed’s leadership.
Lougheed effortlessly guided the party through the rise of Alberta’s fortunes in the period following the Arab oil embargo and subsequent rise in value of Alberta crude during the search for a secure North American energy supply.
However, he was unable to face down Pierre Trudeau during the National Energy Program years, when Ottawa took a huge interest in the oil industry, including an unfair financial advantage to state-owned Petro-Canada in oil plays.
The real mechanism for the end of the NEP was the end of the Trudeau era, although Trudeau had already left the political stage prior to the crushing defeat of his federal Liberal party at the polls when Brian Mulroney brought a huge Progressive Conservative majority to power at the federal level. Lougheed left the stage a little later in the 1980s, when it became clear his party was in decline, and Getty became the interim leader until the party could re-invent itself with a new dynamic leader.
That leader was Ralph Klein, a party outsider whose own political direction pointed toward the Liberal party prior to his PC years. In fact, I had a button with Ralph’s name and a question mark on it, given to me by an attendee at a provincial Liberal party meeting held in Red Deer in the late 1980s.
Instead, Ralph joined the PCs, first as a cabinet minister and then as a candidate for the premier’s chair, a job he held until his party stamped him with a stale-dated label.
His successors have been relative unknowns who have seemingly come out of nowhere to wrestle the premiership away from party heavyweights like Jim Dinning and Gary Mar. The legacy of Ed Stelmach was short-lived as premier and it appears his successor Alison Redford will suffer the same fate. Four decades of one party rule have meant 43 years and counting of a firmly entrenched system of political cronyism with few checks and balances.
The threat to the long PC reign in Alberta during the next election is very real because Alberta voters will be highly unlikely to support a party led by Redford, a premier who has even alienated her own party supporters.
I would guess the PCs’ political opponents would dearly love to face her in the next election, but they will likely face a new PC leader.
The PCs in this province are a political force and they will not likely place their election fortunes in the hands of one of the most unpopular leaders in Alberta’s history. Instead, they will find a new leader and I would guess that person will come from well outside of the current hierarchy in the party.
They cannot win the next election with anybody inside the party because Alberta voters will paint them all with the same brush.
I would take a page from the past to define the party’s future and recruit Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi as the new PC leader. Nenshi’s political leanings are clearly left of centre, but he is a charismatic tour de force who enjoys rock star status in Alberta’s political arena, despite his unwillingness to rein in spending and his relentless pursuit of more taxation powers at the city level. Poor fiscal direction aside, Nenshi could carry the crucial urban vote in both Edmonton and Calgary — enough votes to win a majority for the PCs.
Rarely will you see a political figure with the kind of overwhelming charm possessed by Nenshi. He is the right guy at the right time for the PCs, just like Klein during a previous makeover of this political powerhouse.
Most voters are shallow-surface-scratchers who rarely take the time to examine their vote choices beyond an emotionally-charged, superficial understanding of the candidates. Naheed Nenshi might be the perfect choice for these people.
Jim Sutherland is a local freelance writer.