Alberta opposition parties may finally be starting to figure this whole Alberta politics thing out
After decades of Progressive Conservative government, Albertan politics may finally get the breath of fresh air that it so desperately needs.
As reported in the Edmonton Journal, the Alberta Federation of Labour -- one of the organizations behind Albertans for Change and the aggressive attack ad campaign against Ed Stelmach -- has proposed a "unity pact" between the Alberta Liberals and NDP.
"We are proposing an agreement that would stop centre-left parties from running candidates against each other because vote splitting is keeping the Conservatives in power," wrote AFL president Gil McGowan, who drafted the five-page proposal almost immediately after the 2008 provincial election.
In essence, the pact would combine three agreements:
First, the Liberals and NDP would decline to run candidates against one another, in theory allowing each "centre-left" candidate (as McGowan describes it) to monopolize the "centre-left" vote.
Secondly, the two parties would campaign separately, but agree on a core list of principles they would work in favour of if elected.
Thirdly (and finally), the two parties would institute major electoral reform should they form a government, including possibly a proportional representation system.
"I'll be blunt, it's deliberately provocative because after the election in March it became clear to me that we need to do more than the usual post-election navel gazing," McGowan insists. "We have to start thinking about new approaches because if nothing changes we're looking at another 40 years of one-party rule."
For their part, both NDP leader Brian Mason and Liberal leader "Cowboy" Kevin Taft have agreed to consider the pact.
"Everything's on the table at least for the Alberta Liberals," says Taft. "Everything from the name of the party, the leadership of the party, policies, the structure of the party, and the possibility of reaching out to supporters in other parties, all of that is on the table right now. There's a lot of conversations going on."
"I have my own views," added Mason, "but I think at this stage what I want to do is encourage party members to have that discussion and we need to work through this as a party to come up with an idea of where we want to go as a party."
Mason has also noted that the NDP are willing to work with the Albertan Green party.
Of course, there's no guarantee that Liberal or NDP candidates would manage to capture the entire left-of-centre vote in any one riding across the province. In fact, experience with the Conservative Party of Canada -- which has never totalled the combined vote of the Canadian Alliance and Progressive Conservative parties since merging -- in fact suggests otherwise.
But a non-competitive pact, particularly in urban centres such as Edmonton and Lethbridge, could make a few seats worth of difference. Based on 2008 results, not quite enough to form the government, but enough to strengthen the opposition enough to look forward to better results in the future.
"From the right of the political spectrum we will be accused of trying to hijack the political process," admits McGowan. "And from the left we will be vilified for 'selling out' and abandoning core principles. Harsh words will be spoken and more than a few relationships and friendships will be broken. But it still needs to be done."
Of course, forming a "unity pact" is only part of the strategy Alberta's opposition parties need to employ. Another part of a winning strategy for the Albertan Liberals and NDP is a good, hard second look at their respective policy platforms to evaluate whether or not Albertans are likely to favourably respond to.
The other side of the equation that will still need to be addressed is leadership. Brian Mason is irrelevant in Albertan politics, and will remain so indefinitely, unity pact or no unity pact. Meanwhile, Kevin Taft has taken on all the characteristics of an embittered, facetious little wannabe who is slowly beginning to realize he never will be. Neither one of these two men is capable of leading the province, and eventually their parties will have to address the sad state of affairs in their front offices.
Without better policy, more relevant to the interests, concerns and needs of Albertans and better leadership, the unity pact -- if adopted, and there's no guarantee of that yet -- will remain a moot point.
Alberta's opposition parties need to open their minds, close their mouths, swallow their pride, and repeat as necessary.