Now that Alberta Progressive Conservatives have succeeded in dumping an unpopular leader, all is right with the world. The party can go about finding a new face to front the PC brand and lead them to victory over the Opposition Wildrose in a couple of years, thereby assuring that the Tories’ time in power is extended to almost 50 years.
Or so goes the wishful thinking.
While the next few months of political conversation in Alberta will be dominated by the race to lead the province’s natural governing party, there is also a parallel discussion taking place. What if Ms. Redford’s demise was ultimately the demise of the political institution she represented? What if it sowed the seeds of a new centrist option, to spring forth in a few years’ time, replacing what was there?
Many old-time Tories scoff at the notion. With economic good times having returned to Alberta, the party’s survival is simply a matter of just getting the next leader right, they believe. All it needs to do is pick someone who has a common touch – an up-to-date, more progressive version of Ralph Klein perhaps, someone who Fred and Martha and their 40-something children can relate to. Then the party will be just fine.
Maybe. But it’s just as possible that the problem isn’t merely the leader, but the party itself – that the sense of entitlement Ms. Redford was accused of possessing was merely an extension of the party’s own sense of entitlement. Donna Kennedy-Glans, a bright energy lawyer who was elected for the Tories in the last election but recently quit the caucus amid the Redford expense scandal, said as much when she gave her reasons for leaving.
“This is way more than just leadership,” she said. “My sense is change just cannot be done from within.” That was a direct shot at the Progressive Conservatives as a political entity. The party has become hidebound in its ways – its old ways. Ms. Kennedy-Glans arrived in the capital, perhaps naively now, expecting a more collegial, open-minded approach to decision making and discovered just the opposite existed.
She’s right. That isn’t just about leadership. It’s about the way things have been done in Edmonton for a long, long time. So who will take over for the Tories to change that culture? The short list of the top candidates to replace Ms. Redford are all old political hands: Jim Dinning, a provincial treasurer from the 1990s; Gary Mar, a long-time former cabinet minister now out of politics; Doug Horner, finance minister and four-term Tory MLA. There are more but you get the idea.
This is why discussions are being revived about the need for a fresh, middle-of-the-road option to replace the Tories – a party with a modern set of principles and a leader who boldly represents both the party’s values and the changing face of Alberta itself. Of course, any conversation along these lines inevitably leads to one door: that of Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi.
Mr. Nenshi will come under fresh pressure to take his reformist political act to the next level, although he despises the notion that provincial politics is any more important than what he does municipally. Unquestionably, there is something about the type of politics he espouses that resonates with people. It eschews easy labels. Is removing snow a right-wing or left-wing idea? he has asked. He has railed against the hard partisanship that seems to define politics at all levels in Canada.
Mr. Nenshi blamed ruthless partisanship for Ms. Redford’s departure and suggested that people ask themselves whether that’s the kind of politics that best serves Albertans. While he usually laughs off questions about running to become premier one day, he will be under increasing pressure to reconsider.
Imagine this scenario: The Tories dig into the past to find a replacement for Alison Redford. It’s not enough to convince Albertans they need four more years of the Tories, who are reduced to a rump in the next election. From the ashes of that electoral disaster rises a contemporary, moderate alternative, led by someone promising to deliver a new brand of politics, unburdened by the conventions and expectations that bind political institutions that have been in power for decades.
Never happen? Don’t be so sure.
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