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For all intents and purposes, the United Conservative Party Jason Kenney helped create is dead. And yet, after its recent convention, attended by about 3,800, it’s probably more united than ever. That’s because Kenney’s attempt to merge the Alberta Progressive Conservatives with the Wildrose Party has ended in a de-facto takeover of the former by the latter — one that was on full display in Calgary over the weekend. “The moderates never showed up,” longtime Alberta political watcher Graham Thomson wrote. “Or the few that did were steamrolled by a juggernaut.”

Kenney’s vision of a pro-business, small-government, big-tent party, well-represented in both urban and rural parts of the province, is as irrelevant today as the Alberta Liberal Party’s electoral chances. In its place is a coalition of rural grievance merchants, COVID-19 skeptics, anti-LGBTQ activists, and social conservatives determined to mire Alberta in rearguard cultural battles and own-the-libs policies. “The mere presence of expertise annoyed some delegates,” Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid wrote. “There’s no place in this group for anybody who smacks of the old establishment or doesn’t believe key systems like health care and education are hopelessly polluted by moderation and woke-ism.”

This is more bad news for wishful thinkers who, like Braid, wanted to believe Premier Danielle Smith would govern more towards the middle and implement sensible small-c conservative policies. They’ve already had to reckon with her decision to nationalize a major health-care company, shut down an entire part of the energy sector and embark on a pension plan gambit she promised voters would never happen under her watch. Anyone who counts themselves as a more progressive kind of conservative has to reckon with the reality that their political party is being run almost exclusively by people who are hostile to expertise, suspicious of science, and indifferent towards things like jobs, the economy, or pipelines, the holy trinity that helped elected Kenney and the UCP in 2019.

Despite her popularity among the faithful this past weekend, it’s worth wondering whether Smith can avoid the same fate as Kenney. Remember, he was just as beloved back in the early days of his first term as premier, and had the benefit of governing with a far bigger majority than she has today. And while Smith told reporters that policy resolutions passed over the weekend needed to be put through “the lens of what is best for Albertans as a whole,” the people who now control her party’s executive and membership base don't see it that way. “Those who do not listen to the grassroots, or attempt to thwart their involvement in the decision-making process, will be removed from power,” Take Back Alberta leader David Parker tweeted.

That will be an increasingly difficult line for Smith to walk, as the obvious desire of said grassroots to litigate culture war battles over pronouns, public health measures and even “15-minute cities” runs up against her need to appeal to a broader segment of the Alberta public. Parker, for example, might think rural Albertans constitute a majority in the province, but that’s more a reflection of the math skills he was given by his home-schooled upbringing than reality. The populations in the census metropolitan areas of Edmonton and Calgary are larger than the rest of the province, and that’s before removing the hundreds of thousands who live in cities like Lethbridge, Red Deer, Fort McMurray and Grande Prairie.

Smith’s first test will be her handling of so-called “parental rights” and transgender students, which earned her the biggest standing ovation during her convention speech. In the past, as the CBC’s Jason Markusoff noted, she’s talked about this issue and her personal relationship to it in a way that sets her apart from the far-right culture warriors in her midst — and her audience over the weekend. “But with her party so clearly driven in one direction on this,” Markusoff writes, “she's opening the door to some kind of action.”

That action will almost certainly disappoint some of the hardliners running her party who view the issue with almost messianic clarity. The big question then becomes how many of those disappointments they’re willing to tolerate before they start looking for someone willing to govern more in alignment with their values, and how far Smith is willing to go to avoid that outcome.

None of this is good for the millions of Albertans who live in its cities and suburbs and want to see their government focus on things like the economy, education and health care. But as the UCP made abundantly clear over the weekend, they’re just not interested in what those people want anymore. Time will tell whether that matters to voters in the next election — and how much damage this version of the UCP can do in the meantime.

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Need more right of center parties in Canada. Big Tent parties have always been controlled by a small elite which makes it easy to be taken over by another small elite. Pius Manning & his unite the Right was wrong, which is on par for his record.

We had one. It was called the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada. Preston Manning, Stephan Harper and Peter MacKay are solely responsible for it’s demise and the rise of the farther right party that sprang up in it’s place and the creation of even more right wing parties because that’s EXACTLY what Manning and Harper have been working for for decades!
As for Alberta, well, that old saying applies, “you get the government you deserve”! And in this case Alberta as a whole absolutely deserves this! I hope they really enjoy the pain suffering and idiocy that is about to erupt over them!

True, that. I liken their cumulative effort to the creation of the federal government of Alberta, which ruled for a decade under Harper. You'd think a decade would have been enough to mold the country in their ideological image, but nope. Out came lunatic policies like the tattle line on "barbaric cultural practices" and silencing truthtellers otherwise known as scientists. Since then we've had lots of barbaric cultural practices regarding healthcare conspiracies, puritanical holier-than-thou views on sexuality, convoys that occupy an entire city centre for weeks, etc. etc.

No, none of that was enough to satiate their thirst for placing the entire populace under their small minded ideology. On the right, the tail is clearly wagging the dog, especially in Alberta. They, like the oil industry, have made a powerful investment -- they've taken over a government at the citizen's peril.

Just checked the electoral results from last May's general election in Alberta, and hadn't realized how completely the province has devolved into a strictly two-party political divide.  At least fourteen officially registered parties, but none besides the UCP and the NDP attracting more than 1% of the vote.  Of the 1,764,906 total votes cast, the centre-right Alberta Party won fewer than 13,000.
Of course none of this is unusual under winner-take-all electoral systems like ours, which hugely advantage big-tent parties at the expense of smaller ones.  You can hardly blame the voters for concluding that unless they vote for either of the two frontrunners, their votes won't count for anything at all.  But the consequence is usually single-party rule by only one or the other contender, each controlled by a small elite usually comprising as many unelected individuals as elected ones.
Voters in Alberta and everywhere else in Canada emphatically don't get the governments they deserve; they get the governments our winner-take-all electoral system gives them.

Except when it's become binary like it is now where one side is widely agreed to have lost its mind, in which case any rational person should simply vote for the side that's NOT crazy.

Well, agreed, insofar as when your choice is reduced to either of two evils, choose the lesser one. But that only demonstrates my point: that voters would be far better served by an electoral system that doesn't limit their options to only one or the other. It's our winner-take-all electoral system that's binary; our preferences as voters are anything but. In any case, voting for the lesser of two evils by no means precludes any of us from also advocating for fair and equal representation.

Israel is an example of proportional representation though, so no guarantee. Clearly, giving people too many choices in government (or anything for that matter) means that paralysis is more likely to occur and/or frequent elections in order to try and reach some consensus.
And right now, the choices are absolutely binary, like it or not.
Voting should be deemed a societal responsibility, not just another form of personal expression.

As an example of proportional representation, Israel is an extreme outlier by any reckoning, hardly comparable with New Zealand, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, The Netherlands, Germany, Ireland, and a host of other proportionally representative democracies. Paralysis? Thanks to their consensus-based politics, most of those countries are much further along than either Canada or Israel in addressing just about every policy issue most CNO readers would claim to be concerned about. Indeed in this context paralysis hardly results from having too many choices; rather, it results from rejecting even the possibility of seeking any broad consensus between them.

Presently in Canada, in every election, about half of all votes cast elect no one. The folks who cast them end up without due representation. Turnouts are dropping below 60 and even 50 per cent, raising very real concerns about democratic legitimacy. Make voting mandatory? Nope. Not if all that achieves is to force people to cast votes that elect no one. If voting is to be deemed a societal responsibility, it follows that voting should be of real societal consequence. That's what elevates one's vote above mere personal expression.

I'm agreed, as I said, that an Albertan's electoral options these days appear to be binary. My point is simply that this isn't a good thing, and that it could be better if enough citizens want it badly enough.

@ David Erland, you nailed on proportionate electoral models. Isreal's truly is an outlier. One analysis I read in the Globe described their model as structurally flawed, which gives too much power to small fringe parties.

Missing the point. If there were proportional representation, there could be multiple viable sides, and it could be logical to vote for various different non-crazy sides as long as they could get enough of the vote to be represented at all. Without vote-splitting, the existence of a crazy side does not force everyone else to coalesce to be effective.


It's beginning to look like we might end up with a lot of activism in Alberta. This crew only won the recent election with a very slim majority of votes. Already buyer remorse is setting in for that moderate old guard wo believed Smith when she said she wouldn't touch our CPP. What's more, the paranoid fears of some rural Albertans aren't shared by those of us who live in Alberta's cities.

Religious bigotry still exists and is tolerated perhaps more than it should be. But few of us expected Sexual Puritanism/fear of the other gendered to be setting the agenda for our schools....or our universities. WE are culturally and ethnically diverse in Alberta, and Smith's fantasy of our growing to 10 million strong in the next few years has to be accompanied by inclusion....turning on anything ressembling affirmative action is a rear guard movement...

It won't stop immigration....and so far, all Albertans can vote.

I suspect many of us are going to step up our political education in the next few months and years......and rise up to reject this old white settler bigotry. It wasn't very pretty in the fifties but for sure, its out of step with reality in the 21st C, but perhaps this is how white power implodes.

It is reasonable to conclude that a party promoting exclusion will lose population over time, not gain it.

"ALMOST messianic" clarity?
There's the problem. Out of some well-founded fear AND a well-meaning but muddled attempt to both include AND suppress the batshit crazy "lake of fire" potential of religion, we don't even say the word out loud, choosing instead to relegate and hopefully defang it as mere "social conservatism."
Not surprisingly, it seems we have instead managed to galvanize the "true believers" in these religious doctrines who have always found a political home in the more traditional right wing mindset, but here in bible belt Alberta the Reform Party inspired further hope for the ACTUAL power of governance. This was probably seen as a highly desirable public sanction of their alternate reality AND its attendant alternate authority, i.e. their god idea.
So that well-founded fear is now staring us in the face via the UCP and now even the CPC. In both acronyms the word Christian could now be interchangeable with conservative. The current Middle East war is the most recent example of how religious creeds/cults in governance of any modern society will always threaten it in its entirety via disregard for the rule of law and democracy itself, not to mention outright barbarity.
Human rights in 2023 trump religious rights, so it's way past time to banish religion from public life, especially government, separate church and state for real, and relegate it back to private life where it belongs. Churches can stay, schools shouldn't. We can't hope to address the growing threat of religion until we can at least openly identify it when and where it rears its destructive and crazy head. It's a classic example of given an inch....
The chickens have come home to roost.