Has the new Alberta dawned today?
That’s up to Alison Redford and her rejuvenated Progressive Conservatives, whose vision for the future suggests a return to the governance of Peter Lougheed.
Albertans, by choosing Redford over the Wildrose Party under Danielle Smith, have rejected the stripped-down, less-is-more version of the early years of the former Progressive Conservative government of Ralph Klein. But Redford should also understand that we can’t tolerate the Alberta of Don Getty nor that of Ed Stelmach.
Redford becomes the premier of a province today that is fat with economic potential, yet crippled by a decade of uninspired leadership, myopic decisions and a resounding failure to listen to Albertans.
The recent Progressive Conservative track record was never Redford’s platform.
Of all the party’s sins, the worst was its lack of accountability to Albertans. Bad decision after bad decision seemed to have been made in a vacuum.
It was enough for Albertans to flirt with the Wildrose. And that flirting, and the popular support Smith’s party gathered, should be enough to clarify for Redford how important it is to create a responsive government that shows both vision and strength.
Alberta’s political history, of cataclysmic shifts every four decades or so, is only slightly less obvious today. Certainly the Conservatives remain in power, but Smith’s Wildrose uprising will change the tone of political debate in this province, and create a new necessity: if Redford and her team misstep, Albertans won’t likely be as tolerant of the Conservatives in four years.
Smith’s Wildrose Party offered a message that was simplicity itself: she argued that the tired Conservatives had lost their way, sliding to the centre of the political spectrum; the true right could only be delivered by Wildrose.
In the end, the fact that Smith’s team of prospective MLAs was largely unproven (and, in some cases, capable of raising huge alarms), probably helped scuttle Wildrose hopes. Certainly Smith’s apparent intent to create an American model of governance raised the worrisome spectre of private delivery of public services, particularly in health care.
But Smith’s vision of a provincial government that is lean yet effective in the delivery of services won’t be forgotten. And if she can build a more capable team of candidates over the next four years, and the caucus she has now gains the necessary political savvy, Wildrose might be able to deliver the vision more convincingly in 2016.
For now, however, it is up to Redford to deliver the goods. Albertans wanted a government in the centre, despite Smith’s suggestions otherwise, and they got it. She sways from that at her peril.
And Albertans, after a decade of muddled government, will be looking for proof in a hurry that she intends to deliver.
It won’t be enough to take the slow road to change. All Albertans know the status quo is no longer acceptable. Neither Redford nor Smith projected an Alberta tomorrow like the one Stelmach left for us.
It’s time to get to work, with vigour and commitment.
Albertans invested more in this election than they have in a generation, because they want change.
We shall see if Redford can truly restore Alberta’s advantage.
John Stewart is the Advocate’s managing editor.