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Get ready for the political Stampede (ELLIS NEEL)
Get ready for the political Stampede (ELLIS NEEL)

Ken Boessenkool

Get ready for the political Stampede Add to ...

The chute is open and Albertans are strapped in for what promises to be a wild ride. But this ride will be in the political, not rodeo, arena because politics in Alberta is about to mimic one of our famous Stampede bull rides.

One of the most enduring myths about Alberta politics is that we replace our government with a shiny new one every 40 years. There are those hoping that's so. The telegenic, energetic and very conservative Danielle Smith leads the Wildrose Alliance. Her fans are hoping she's a modern-day Peter Lougheed - poised to displace a decades-old dynasty with young new leadership and a shiny new party. They hope she will do to the Progressive Conservatives what the Lougheed Progressive Conservatives did to the old Social Credit party almost 40 years ago.

Replacement of one party with another. After all, it's the Alberta way. Or is it?

There are those in Alberta who point out that the Conservatives have done what Social Credit failed to do - namely, reinvent themselves. They did so when the swashbuckling Ralph Klein took over in the early 1990s, cleaned out the Augean Stables by dismissing most of the cabinet he inherited, bringing in his own band, getting conservative religion and keeping the then-surging Liberal Party at bay.

And so many conservatives in the Conservative Party (and there remain plenty, to the chagrin of Ms. Smith) are looking at the current Conservative Party leadership race as a way to do what Mr. Klein did - namely, reinvent the party. So expect to hear leadership contenders claiming the Klein mantle.

Reinventing the Conservative Party. After all, it's the (recent) Alberta way. Or is it?

Preston Manning, Stockwell Day and Stephen Harper all cut their political teeth in Alberta. And the path they took to power - albeit federal - was about political realignment through growth, moderation, consolidation and, ultimately, merging many streams into one. As a result, Mr. Harper is at the head of the most powerful political force in Ottawa - replete with money, a hardened campaign team and, of course, in office.

And so there is another group of Albertans - lots of unaligned conservatives but also a significant number of partisans within the Conservative and Wildrose parties - hoping for some sort of realignment of conservatives within those two parties.

Realignment between the right-of-centre parties. After all, it's the Alberta way. Or is it?

There's another possibility in addition to replacement, reinvention and realignment, and that's retrenchment.

Alberta has seen the rise and fall of a number of parties on the right - parties hoping to ride a wave but finding only a ripple. Some of them discovered decent levels of public popularity and even elected an MLA. The Representative Party of Alberta and the Western Canada Concept are two examples from the past 50 years. And so another possibility is that Wildrose follows this path. Like those two examples in their heyday, Wildrose has elected members and strong pockets of public support. But the lesson, of course, is that having MLAs and some public support is sometimes not enough.

And so we have the prospect of one or more of political replacement, reinvention, realignment or retrenchment in Alberta in the coming months. And these are just the scenarios playing out on the right side of the political spectrum.

On the centre-left side, there's also a shiny new party - the Alberta Party, with some of the players who surprised almost everyone (including themselves) by bringing Naheed Nenshi to the mayoralty in Calgary. And the leadership of the perennially moribund but eternally optimistic Alberta Liberal Party is also vacant.

Alberta is likely to have an election in the spring of 2012, but must have one in the spring following that. About the only thing that's guaranteed is there'll be more twists, turns, jumps and dumps in Alberta politics than anywhere outside a rodeo ring. So if political bull riding is your thing, tune into Alberta politics. It's gonna be a wild ride.

Ken Boessenkool is an executive fellow at the School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary.

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