Alberta’s next cabinet: Bigots and Theocrats?

After Naheed Nenshi became mayor of Calgary and Alison Redford won the Progressive Conservative leadership race, becoming Alberta’s first female premier, I thought things were turning around for my homeland.

Moderate, pragmatic, and relatively progressive ideas were starting to take hold. Plans were on the way to improve the Alberta School Act and mass transit was taking precedence over freeways.

But now polls are suggesting that Danielle Smith and the Wildrose Party are on track to a majority government. Of course, polls can be wrong, and things can still turn around for Redford (or for that matter for Brian Mason or Raj Sherman), but we’re sitting in dangerous territory.

Much ink is starting to spill on Smith’s dangerous flirtations with so-called conscience rights whereby marriage commissioners and physicians would be free to discriminate against gays, lesbians, interracial couples, and women. Dave Cournoyer took a closer look at some of the candidates carrying the Wildrose flag, showing that a Wildrose government could very easily put homophobes, Christian extremists, and bigots into cabinet.

I think the key to understanding Albertan politics is that it’s not so much about left or right, conservative or liberal, but about pure populist tribalism.

In over 100 years, the province has been represented by 4 different governments. The leaders change, but the governments are routinely re-elected, so long as they maintain the air of competence (actual competence is not required).

When government change occurs, it seems a bit like dominos falling. Once a certain threshold of legitimacy is crossed by the opposition – or perhaps illegitimacy by the current government – voters move en masse to the new choice.

This is why the federal Conservatives win with more than 60% of the vote in many Alberta ridings and arguably even how Linda Duncan increased her share of the vote in 2011. It also explains the quick rise of Naheed Nenshi, the rising support of Stephen Mandel, and the lasting strength of other mayors like Dave Bronconnier and Al Duerr.

It’s this key that also worries me most. With the Wildrose is seen as the alternative and the PCs looking like corrupt crooks, it could very well shift even more. Hence, my bets (and fears) for the final result are Wildrose – 50%, PCs – 19%, Liberals & NDP – 11% each, Alberta Party/EverGreens – 4% each, others – 1%.

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