Paul Fairie is a political scientist based in Calgary.
Alberta is well into its third decade of being at the very centre of right-wing national politics in Canada, but the current federal Conservative leadership race suggests that its unprecedented domination will soon come to an end.
Every major conservative leader since the realigning election of 1993 has had close connections to the province: Reform Party leader Preston Manning was a Calgary MP and the son of a former premier, Canadian Alliance leader Stockwell Day had served as one of Ralph Klein’s finance ministers, Stephen Harper was a Calgary MP and prime minister for nearly a decade and the current interim leader is Edmonton’s Rona Ambrose.
There is trouble on the horizon for the prospects of Alberta’s continued stranglehold on the national conservative leadership. Of the eight registered and declared candidates for the 2017 federal Conservative leadership race, just one – Calgary’s Deepak Obhrai – is from the province, and few observers would rate his current chances of winning as good.
None of the dozen or so other candidates who might jump in represent Alberta either. The province’s most likely chance for success, Calgary MP Jason Kenney, has chosen to instead run to lead the Alberta provincial Progressive Conservatives, and potentially a united right in the province.
This leaves Alberta’s last hope for claiming any connection to any new leader other than Mr. Obhrai on Pierre Poilievre’s shoulders, as the Ottawa-area MP was born in and later attended university in Calgary.
This dominance of one party’s leadership by a single province is highly abnormal. Our first federal Conservative party and the Progressive Conservatives that followed drew leaders from all around Canada: Robert Stanfield from Nova Scotia, Brian Mulroney from Quebec, John A. Macdonald from Ontario, John Diefenbaker from Saskatchewan and Kim Campbell from British Columbia.
Such a firm grasp on power by one province isn’t found in other federal parties either, spare the Bloc Québécois. The NDP has seen leaders hailing from across the country, while various political scientists have noted an unofficial tradition in the Liberal Party of alternating between leaders from English and French Canada.
If Conservative Party members do choose a leader from outside Alberta, how will the province’s voters react? Alberta has often been seen as the epicentre of the “West Wants In” movement that spawned the Reform Party, among others. However, this feeling of alienation has almost uniformly manifested itself in support for a right-of-centre party. Whichever candidate takes the party’s reins from Ms. Ambrose will probably feel the need to make Alberta feel central in the party’s power structure.
While it might be tempting to conclude that some kind of backlash might occur, it may turn out that this won’t be a problem at all, and Alberta may not mind its not having an MP in control of the leadership of a national right-of-centre party.
Opinion polls, such as the Canadian Election Studies, which are surveys conducted by academics during each federal election, have repeatedly shown that while Alberta’s voters have undoubtedly supported conservative parties at the ballot box, they do so despite not having more conservative economic or social views than voters in other provinces.
This finding might have been more surprising to many Canadians before the most recent federal and provincial elections. In last fall’s national vote, Calgary elected its first Liberal MPs since 1968, and Alberta currently has two Liberal cabinet ministers. Perhaps even more strangely, the province is currently home to the sole NDP government in the country.
Indeed, the fact that there may be no Albertans leading any major conservative party in Canada for the first time in decades might not even be noticed by the province’s voters at all.
Editor's note: A previous version of this story incorrectly said Deepak Obhrai is from Edmonton. In fact, Mr. Obhrai is the MP for the riding of Calgary Forest Lawn.Report Typo/Error
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