Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Wildrose Alliance Makes The Scene

Alberta's number two conservative party makes bid for relevance

When Alberta's political history books are written, one may wonder how Ed Stelmach will be remembered:

As "Steady Eddie" Stemlach, or as Ed "Stalemate" Stelmach?

Political pundits and historians alike may be leaning toward the latter as the Progressive Conservative party lost its seat in Calgary-Glenmore, a riding the party has held since it first won power in 1971.

The loss is a shock, but a different shock from the one incurred in 2007 when the party lost Ralph Klein's former seat, Calgary-Elbow, to Liberal Craig Cheffins.

This time around, the Conservatives have lost out to the Wildrose Alliance, its conservative competition in Alberta, as Paul Hinman has chipped a little piece off of Stelmach's dominating majority government.

Just as was the case when Cheffins won a longtime Conservative seat away from them, Hinman's victory is being treated as a protest vote against Stelmach.

"Diane Colley-Urquhart took the bullet, but this was aimed at Ed," mused University of Calgary political scientist Duane Bratt.

Hinman seemed to echo Bratt's sentiment.

"I was talking to strong Tory supporters. They said, 'We need to deal with Ed, but we've got to remain loyal (to the party),'" Hinman said. "I said, 'Well you've got to make a choice because if you vote for Diane, it's a vote for Ed and you're endorsing his leadership.'"

Hinman insisted "that they're fed up with the way things are run, the divide and conquer from north to south, east to west, rural vs urban, one industry against another, people do not like it."

"We want an equal, level playing field across the province," Hinman added.

It seems that a lot of high-profile Albertans are giving the Wildrose Alliance a good hard look. Tom Flanagan and Phil Klein (father of Ralph Klein) are both supporters of the party.

Many of those people are looking at Hinnan's victory as the first step to big things -- maybe even supplanting the Progressive Conservatives as the government.

Bratt's U of C colleague Doreen Barrie, however, isn't in a hurry to exaggerate the by-election's significance.

"In byelections, you kick the tires and you don't damage the vehicle," she said. "I think people are being a bit premature when they see this as the first tremor in a political earthquake that's going to dispatch the Conservatives and install a new party."

"The Alliance is going to get a big bounce out of this because their leadership race is coming up in October," Barrie added. "It's going to attract more attention."

Which it will. But Liberals expected big things after their party's victory in Calgary-Elbow. In the next election the Conservatives reclaimed that seat with a victory by Alison Redford.

In other words, one electoral victory does not mean that the Wildrose Alliance has definitively arrived.

But it's a big step toward bigger things if they can maitnain their momentum.

Other bloggers writing about this topic:

Leight Patrick Sullivan - "Message Sent!"

Earl Amsterdam - "Wild Upset in Alberta"

Rusty Idols - "Talk About Mixed Feelings..."

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