They can be called a centre-right party, inasmuch as a party whose name is an oxymoron can have a coherent position. But it’s not very accurate to call the PCs a party. A party is a faction, a group of like-minded individuals who band together to better compete against other groups of like-minded individuals. The PCs are an institution. They are the Blob, inexorably absorbing every sentient being within reach.
For starters, they haven’t just governed this province for 43 years, they’ve done it with overwhelming majorities. In the last election, the PCs won 61 seats, and all three other parties combined won 26. That's less than three-quarters of the total, which is well below average for the PCs. Every twenty years or so, another party actually tries to win an election in Alberta. The rest of the time, they try not to lose every one of their seats.
But that by itself kind of understates how dominant the PCs are. The second-biggest party was the Wildrose, a sort of right-wing protest group. Rather than progressively conservative, they were straight-up 160-proof conservative. (You'll see in a moment why I'm using the past tense here.) Several Wildrose members were former PCs who’d grown disaffected with the government’s unaccountability and ideological incoherence. Another party, the Liberals, are led by another disaffected former PC. So our legislature consists of the governing party, the governing party's castoffs, and a smattering of other politicians who spend nearly all their time complaining about how nobody ever pays attention to them.
You see, the PCs are what they call a ‘big-tent’ party, meaning that they have colonized a wide swath of the political spectrum. PCs come from right and left, but they are all united by one belief: they want a share of power, and the way you get power is by joining the party that’s had it all since before I was born.
With that in mind, let’s move to recent events. Three years ago the PCs were facing a major threat from the Wildrose, who had a likeable leader, Danielle Smith, and a clear message.
Danielle Smith dreams of power
The first problem the PCs were having was that people were getting tired of being governed by a dynasty about to enter its fifth decade. The other problem was that the premier at the time was Ed Stelmach, the blandest politician ever to live.
Ed Stelmach’s official portrait
This was a serious threat to a job security that tenured professors envied. So the PCs sent Stelmach back to his farm (I am not making that up) and cast about desperately for anyone who might win them the election. They settled on Alison Redford.
Alison Redford suspects we’re talking about her
Redford came from the left wing of the party; rather than progressively conservative, she was progressive, though conservatively. She cozied up to leftish types in the big cities. Her strategy was to portray the Wildrose as a bunch of grumpy old white men who hated everything invented after 1900 and a great deal of things from before then.
It worked mainly because of an almost unprecedented twist, which was that what she was saying was more or less true. One example among many was Wildrose candidate Allan Hunsperger’s blog, which described in detail what he wanted God to do to gays. (Hint: it’s like what the server does to a baked Alaska, but longer-lasting.) The Wildrose party’s attempt at damage control was just to say that raging homophobia wasn’t official party policy, which is like the cable company saying that, yes, some of our customer service representatives are assholes, but we don’t require them to be that way.
It was an interesting election, with the PCs basically running under the slogan “Corrupt and Out of Ideas, but Not Evil” and the Wildrose riposting with “Honest, Fresh, and We Might Not Hate You Specifically”. The Wildrose swept the grumpy old white man vote, but the PCs won the election through a last-minute surge of liberal urbanites voting for them out of sheer terror at what the Wildrose might wreak.
But things didn’t go swimmingly for the new government. The main problem was that Redford spent most of her time in office circling the province in a taxpayer-funded private jet sending out tweets like “what up, alberta? just cracked a fresh bottle of dom perignon. btw have 2 cut all higher education funding by 20% :( ”
The fun finally ended when her own party went after her with torches and pitchforks. She was replaced by Jim Prentice, a former federal politician, then vice-chairman of a large bank.
Jim Prentice gets ready to bring the pain
In one of those quirks of the Canadian parliamentary system that is not endearing, Prentice became leader first and was then elected. That is, he was chosen as party leader and then ran for office in a byelection in a safe district, one where a majority of people would vote for a genital wart if it was running for the PCs – not that anybody shows up for byelections anyway, since they’re roughly equivalent to inviting all your friends to the bar on a Tuesday afternoon. Prentice won with 6 898 votes. This was 58% of the people who bothered to show up, 15% of the population of the district, and a resounding 0.189% of the people of Alberta.
Meanwhile, the leader of the Wildrose, Danielle Smith, had been fighting for her party to officially agree to equal rights for everyone regardless of race, religious belief, or sexual orientation – because, as she repeatedly pointed out, it’s hard to win an election when you come across as bigoted against most of the electorate. And the party of course agreed, since no political organization not actually run by Archie Bunker would be so committed to bigotry that it would rather give up the chance of ever governing than compromise on the issue.
No, I’m kidding. They refused. And so what happens? Well, the Wildrose leader and ten other legislators from her party figured out their best route to power was, as always, to join the Blob. So they – and this is the majority of the Wildrose caucus we’re talking about, including the party leader – defected and joined the PCs.
So let’s review. Who governs Alberta now?
- A bank vice-chairman who got almost 7000 ordinary citizens to vote for him.
- A party one-sixth of whose representatives were actually elected as members of a different party.
Is this undemocratic? Well, let’s compare it to, say, Russia. On the one hand, Vladimir Putin won the presidential election in part by jailing all his serious opponents. On the other hand, he actually bothered to hold a fucking vote.
I suppose we did vote, in a way. We voted for the Blob, and they’ll keep us posted on who exactly we elected. Isn’t that so very nice of them.