Thursday, September 17, 2009

Is Revolution the Big Idea in Alberta?

Paul Hinman's victory brings expectations of rolling Tory heads

Albertan conservatives discontented with Ed Stelmach's Progressive Conservative government seem to have a new star in town.

The town is Calgary. And the star is Paul Hinman.

If Doug Firby is to be believed, Hinman's victory over Progressive Conservative candidate Diane Colley-Urquhart indeed represents the first shot in what Dan Arnold describes as "Alberta's revolution" -- and leading the revolutionary are magnates of the Albertan oilpatch.

"[It is] a resounding indictment of besieged Premier Ed Stelmach, who has failed to win the hearts of Calgary’s oil patch power elite – the same group who backed Jim Dinning in the December 2006 leadership contest that Stelmach won," Firby writes. "Stelmach will now almost certainly face serious questions about his ability to continue much longer as political head of the province."

Firby notes that what truly makes Hinman's win special is that it was done without much of the traditional partisan infrastructure in place.

"All the more remarkable is that Hinman won the seat, even though he had lost the party’s only seat in the last general election, bringing to an ignominious end his largely ineffective term as leader of the Wildrose Alliance," Firby continues. "In fact, the party was still nominally leaderless when the grumpy voters of Calgary-Glenmore went to the polls this week."

Adam Daifallah worries that Hinman's victory may be the first step in a long-overdue "political realignment" in Alberta.

The Alberta Conservatives, who have governed the province uninterrupted since 1971, look tired, complacent and vulnerable like never before," he writes. "To finish in third place, behind the normally irrelevant Liberals, in a Calgary riding is a serious embarrassment."

"Alberta is Canada's most conservative province; Calgary the country's most conservative big city," Daifallah reasons. "This fact partly explains the loss: Ed Stelmach's Tories have abandoned any semblance of conservatism. (One could argue that conservatism in Alberta was abandoned after Ralph Klein's first term as premier, but I digress.)"

Daifallah notes that the leadership candidacy of Danielle Smith is particularly troubling to the Alberta PCs.

"There is a clear constituency for a fiscally conservative message in Alberta at present -- not just due to Stelmach, but also because of what's happening in Ottawa," Daifallah continues. "As standard bearer for conservatives' sense of discontent, Smith would instantly become the darling of the Canadian right and make the Wildrose Alliance a serious challenger for power."

In the wake of Hinman's victory, the Wildrose Alliance seems to be drawing more than just media attention -- speculation is that their caucus in the Legislature may double with the addition of spurned former Tory Guy Boutilier.

Boutilier was recently ousted from the PC caucus for being too vocal about the government dragging its feet on a retirement home in Fort MacMurray.

"He represents true conservative values," Boutilier said of Hinman. "Right now, I represent my constituents of Fort McMurray and true conservative values."

To compare Hinman's victory to the 1988 Deborah Grey victory in Beaver River that foreshadowed Preston Manning and the Reform party's 1993 arrival as a political force in Ottawa may be a bit of a stretch.

But in the wake of the victory, Hinman and whomever winds up leading the Wildrose Alliance may be well advised to take Preston Manning's advice to the founding convention of the Canadian Alliance -- "Think big".

Right now, the Wildrose Alliance is a party with no leader, little money, and no track record of success.

In 1993, the Reform party had a leader with little public recognition, little money and no track record of success. That year they elected 52 Members of Parliament and four years later they were Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition.

They were able to do this because Preston Manning had the courage to think big. If the Wildrose Alliance elects a leader who shares that courage, they may yet be able to shock Albertans -- and Canada -- by unseating Canada's longest-serving government.

Other bloggers writing about this topic:

Albertosaurus Talks - "Glenmore: Changeout or Old Fashioned Switch?"

Dan Shields - "Paradigm Shift in Alberta?"

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