With its recent election results, writes veteran journalist Peter Menzies, Alberta has ended its four-year hard-left flirtation and returned to being a place of community without collectivism, where all are welcome, and no one asks “Who’s your daddy?”
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The AM signal from Calgary’s Newstalk Radio CHQR stretches across the Prairies as far east as Maple Creek, Saskatchewan.
And that’s how, driving into the sunset towards Alberta on the evening of its recent election, I first experienced the end of that province’s four-year experiment with being governed by hard left politicians.
As the evening broadcasts wore on, all the old shibboleths were rolled out by both pundits and partisans. I switched back and forth between CBC radio where former federal Conservative cabinet minister Monte Solberg bravely maintained against others more skeptical that a victory by Jason Kenney and the United Conservative Party (UCP) he leads was unlikely to result in a wave of socially conservative pogroms, and CHQR, which was broadcasting Global’s television coverage.
Global/Corus, which has taken on a bias even more progressive than that of which the CBC is commonly accused, was for a while gravely concerned with the campaign impact of Mark Smith, the UCP candidate in Drayton Valley-Devon. Smith had given a sermon a few years ago before entering politics in which he made unfavourable comments – to pews filled with Baptists if you can imagine – regarding gay love. The comments were described by blogger David Climenhaga as having been delivered in a “smug preacher’s voice.”
Corus’s Ryan Jespersen, a Trinity Western graduate, seemed particularly convinced Smith’s comments were reflective of a widespread, irrational fear harboured against the LBGTQ community by people considering voting UCP.
Others such as Danielle Smith, a former newspaper colleague and once leader of the Wildrose Party, eyed the possibility of vote-splitting due to the presence of Derek Fildebrandt’s narcissistic Freedom Conservative Party, and/or separatist party candidates.
Mount Royal University’s Duane Bratt, seemingly the only political scientist worth consulting by media in Alberta, noted that none should assume the marriage of Wildrose and the old Progressive Conservative (PC) party would hold fast. One plus one doesn’t always equal two, he said, noting that 1.8 would still likely work out well for UCP.
Another question to be answered was whether the Alberta Party would find favour with former PCs uncomfortable in the company of Kenney Conservatives, and with Liberals too sensible to join the majority of their colleagues in supporting the NDP and Premier Rachel Notley’s socialism.
And finally, as pundits had noted throughout the campaign, the big test would be whether Albertans, whom most agreed had shown dubious levels of social sophistication prior to Notley’s election, could possibly return to their troubling former ways. After all, no governing party in Alberta history had failed in its first effort to be re-elected. And Notley’s election, according to the accepted newsroom verities of the day, was a sign that Alberta had changed; that all those interprovincial migrants from the East had at last infused it with the liberal-progressive values commonly associated with the educated and urbane.
As it turned out:
One plus one did not equal 1.8 or even two. It equaled closer to 2.2.
Mark Smith got more than 18,000 votes, almost 14,000 more than his nearest rival.
Fildebrandt and his odd Libertarianism got less than 1,700 votes in his riding, about half that of the NDP candidate. UCP Deputy Leader Leela Aheer won with 15,000 votes.
Overall, UCP won 63 seats to the NDP’s 24. No other parties had a candidate elected.
Notley’s hometown of Edmonton remained almost entirely orange, the one hint of the UCP’s feared harbouring of white supremacists being the election of its candidate in Edmonton South-West: Kaycee Madu, a Nigerian immigrant.
In other words, Alberta’s historic political aesthetic was restored, hopefully without the suffocating hubris and entitled cronyism that blew it apart and brought an end to 44 years of PC rule in 2015.
Which leaves us to wonder what became of the vaunted influence of the young, urbane interprovincial migrants that so many were convinced had, through their wise counsel, changed Alberta forever?
Of course, newcomers have had an impact on Alberta. Calgary and Edmonton after all, are each four times more populous than they were when I lived in those cities as a boy. Their populations, always ethnically diverse, are now even more so, as Jarome Iginla, Madu’s election and Naheed Nenshi’s term as mayor in Calgary have illustrated.
But what so many fail to comprehend is that Alberta exerts its own influence on those who choose it as their home, often even before they arrive. Its culture selects its newcomers in the same manner that the Canadian and American dreams drew millions of immigrants such as the Irish from oppressive and aristocratic European societies in the 19th and 20th centuries and draws them still. People go to Alberta because they are looking for a place where they will be free to succeed regardless of which side of the tracks they grew up upon, which school they went to, what their daddy’s name is or which house of worship they attend.
These values of rugged individualism are not exclusive to conservatism, although while embracing community they eschew collectivism and its efforts to link non-compliant thought to extremism. (For context, studies generally show Albertans’ public policy instincts to be roughly the same as those held by the Massachusetts mainstream).
Notley’s campaign was, by all accounts, vicious. Her allies and researchers were relentless in their efforts to paint her opponents as bigots and worse. Yet as distasteful and reminiscent of McCarthyism as this campaign was, it didn’t quite reach the depths of the tactics adopted by Alison Redford’s PCs in 2012 when Wildrose’s Danielle Smith was forced to publicly discuss her reproductive challenges.
In the end, Alberta is Alberta again. Landlocked along with its little buddy Saskatchewan, misunderstood and bracing for its expected portrayal in the months ahead as the symbol of all that’s wrong with Canada: it remains the place where people who don’t fit, go to fit.
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