By Medicine Hat News Opinon on October 5, 2017.
Provincial politics in Alberta was once a complete void of much worth noting between elections, but no more.
Admit it: The PCs had their majorities, the legislature sat for notably few days, and two-thirds of voters were content to be woken up every four years or so to return majority mandates to Lougheed, Getty, Klein, Stelmach and Redford.
Without much of a viable opposition during most of 40-plus years of Progressive Conservatives, Albertans didn’t really know what provincial politics could look like.
We’re now getting a dizzying view of a governing party wrestling with deficits and unpopularity, not to mention an all-out knife fight for the leadership of the official opposition.
The governing New Democrats have long taken the position that they’re doing the best with the hand they’ve been dealt. That’s cold comfort for large numbers of Albertans concerned with debt and adverse to interventionist government.
Likewise, the United Conservative Party — born of an idea to deliver common sense as regular Albertans see it — is now mired in politics as usual.
How long will voters put up with either is now the question after MLAs from both sides are leaving their respective parties to sit as independents.
For decades Alberta operated on near autopilot, so much so that in 2013 when suddenly a numerous block of Wildrose MLAs were elected — Alberta was suddenly gripped with the question of who should attend local cheque presentations.
Similarly, after the NDP election win in 2015, nobody knew what a change of government should look like.
Fast forward to Wednesday, when an NDP MLA, Karen McPherson, left government caucus saying answers, not political fallback positions are needed.
As a newly minted independent, she joins Rick Fraser, former PC energy critic who says the UCP race is too polarizing. There, an all-out war between Brian Jean and Jason Kenney risks alienating more than just party insiders.
MLA Richard Starke still holds PC affiliation after losing the leadership of the party that really doesn’t exist anymore.
Counting him, non-affiliated members who oppose their former parties are now the third largest group in the legislature.
The Liberals have one seat, as does the Alberta Party, which has long been considered such a good idea that it couldn’t possibly not gain traction with Alberta voters.
Yet for at least a decade it has basically failed to gain traction, and leader Greg Clark is still struggling to get noticed.
And, the machinations of the United Conservative Party leadership contest also sped along on Wednesday.
Contender Jeff Callaway dropped out of the race, and endorsed Jason Kenney, throwing darts on his way out the door at former Wildrose leader and UCP hopeful Brian Jean.
This should surprise no one. Callaway entered the race on the same day that vocal UCP supporter (and more vocal Jean detractor) Derek Fildebrandt entered the political wilderness as the result of an expense scandal.
Callaway’s major contribution to the race was a steady stream of criticism of Jean, and even on Wednesday he accused Jean operators of trying to intimidate him over internal party budgets.
The leadership vote is later this month, at which point Albertans will be able to take the temperature of the UCP party members, and notably some semblance of party unity, or whether they’ve retained die-hard progressive conservatives.
That may settle things once and for all, or it could only be the leadup to a full-throttle, 18-month run towards the next scheduled provincial election.
(Collin Gallant is a News reporter. To comment on this and other editorials, go to http://www.medicinehatnews.com/opinions.)
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