Weighing our options

The four Alberta byelections on Monday were a major win for now-elected Premier Jim Prentice. Prentice now also has both an elected education minister and health minister — and a mandate to continue the Progressive Conservative Party dynasty in this province. The byelection results were a loss for the Opposition Wildrose Party.

The four Alberta byelections on Monday were a major win for now-elected Premier Jim Prentice. Prentice now also has both an elected education minister and health minister — and a mandate to continue the Progressive Conservative Party dynasty in this province.

The byelection results were a loss for the Opposition Wildrose Party. Not as disastrous a loss as may seem (though repeating this result in a general election would be a disaster for the party). But enough for leader Danielle Smith to see the need to convene a leadership review.

Wildrose did not even come second in two of the races. In Edmonton/Whitemud, the health minister and former mayor Stephen Mandel outpolled a doctor, Bob Turner of the NDP, by about 3,000 votes, with Wildrose candidate Tim Grover another 470 votes back.

In Calgary Elbow, the closest of the races, Education Minister Gordon Dirks beat an unknown entity, Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark, by a scant 800 or so votes. In former premier Allison Redford’s riding, that’s called a squeaker.

So a distant second in two races and a more distant third in two others for Wildrose. Hardly the stuff of growth.

For their part, the NDP is calling their nearly two-to-one defeat in former premier Dave Hancock’s riding a moral victory. It’s a doubling of support since the last election. No such silver lining for Wildrose.

I will suggest these results may be more a reflection of the big-city/smaller-centre divide than the party’s actual performance as an opposition.

You can’t call this an urban/rural divide, because in Alberta, that doesn’t really exist anymore. Alberta is Canada’s most urban province now, with around 80 per cent of the population living in cities. Twenty per cent of the electorate scattered around the province dotted by growing towns and small cities won’t qualify too many Alberta ridings as “rural” anymore.

Only four of the 16 Wildrose MLAs represent totally urban ridings. Two are in Calgary, one is in Airdrie (which is big-city in flavour, if not in size) and one is from Medicine Hat.

Nothing wrong with any of that, but a political party that can’t resonate widely in both Calgary and Edmonton will never form the government.

Thus, what I am calling Smith’s rather courageous call of a leadership review. She got 90 per cent approval at the last leadership review, just following the last election. And after the next general election, there will be another.

One measure of leadership is willingness to withstand some scrutiny, and Smith seems up for all of it.

But you can expect some big adjustments in platform from the party to follow.

Smith has already hinted at the biggest among them: Wildrose needs to stop being the party of grievance and start being the party of positive alternative.

Albertans already know very well what happens to a political party that holds power for too long. Complacency and a sense of entitlement result. So is the notion that what’s good for the party is good for the province.

Insider-ism is another result. Why would so many Alberta towns have spent municipal tax dollars to send their councillors to Tory party functions and not even think it to be morally offensive, never mind illegal? Because of the perception that they needed to be seen with the group in power, to get their local issues on the government agenda, that’s why.

This sort of nonsense would bring down a government almost anywhere else in Canada. But on Monday, voters in four Alberta ridings said that as little as they may trust the government, they trust the opposition even less.

Voters will need to hear how Wildrose will build schools and long-term care centres, in an environment of declining resource revenue — without raising taxes.

The NDP have come out and said they would do away with our ridiculous flat income tax rate, and raise business taxes slightly (to still remain among the lowest in the industrialized world) to accomplish their agenda. At least a moral stance on things like this can lead to a moral victory, on occasion.

But the activist agenda of Wildrose remains largely undeclared. Beyond griping about Tory excesses (which I can do myself, sitting in my chair) we don’t know all that much about Wildrose solutions.

Smith and her advisors are smart enough people. I suspect she’ll do OK at her leadership review.

What people will need to see after that is something to vote for, rather than a reason to vote against.

If negative reasons to cast a ballot were enough to win an election in Alberta, Prentice and his party wouldn’t have swept four byelections on Monday.

Greg Neiman is a retired Advocate editor. Follow his blog at readersadvocate.blogspot.ca or email greg.neiman.blog@gmail.com.

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