Battle brewing between “true” conservatives and PCs

The wise editor I have become once said in an editorial quickly consigned to the bottom of a birdcage, that the demise of Alberta’s dynastic Progressive Conservative government would not come from its traditional opposition on the left but rather from those now disenfranchised on the right.

By George Brown, editor

The wise editor I have become once said in an editorial quickly consigned to the bottom of a birdcage, that the demise of Alberta’s dynastic Progressive Conservative government would not come from its traditional opposition on the left but rather from those now disenfranchised on the right.

Cue the Wildrose Alliance party.

It’s not so much the party machinery itself that the Stelmach government needs to worry about, after all, the Wildrose Alliance party has less than two years’ experience attacking the government under its belt. It’s how the party evolves under its new leadership that should concern Premier Ed Stelmach, himself now under personal and political attack.

It’s a matter of “true” conservatives versus “progressive” conservatives.

North of Calgary, we didn’t hear much about the Wildrose Alliance until interim leader Paul Hinman’s Calgary byelection victory last month. Defeating Diane Colley-Urquhart, the government’s so-called star candidate in a Calgary byelection during a worldwide recession with Alberta facing a $7-billion deficit and hospital bed closures is not the stuff Goliathian legends are made of. This was a party “surprised” when the premier pulled the plug and called the last election when he did and couldn’t muster a full slate of candidates.

That was then, this is now.

It’s not like those few Calgarians who bothered to vote in March 2008 all changed their minds and decided this time to vote against the government; it’s that more of those disgruntled with the PC government went to the polls than those who would excitedly proclaim their support for Stelmach. That, and many Calgary-Glenmore residents disapproved of alderperson Colley-Urquhart’s municipal politics.

The Wildrose Alliance find its strength in those now senior Albertans who saw the old Social Credit dynasty as their parents’ party and have grown up with the Progressive Conservatives over the last 40 years but who now find the party has moved left and abandoned them. Abandoning fiscal responsibility, family values, property rights, environmental stewardship…

What the Wildrose Alliance needs — what every successful political party needs to rejuvenate itself as social policy evolves — are fresh, credible candidates. And the quality of those candidates, the future success of the party actually, will depend on which of the two leadership candidates snatches the brass ring.

Media darling Danielle Smith is the frontrunner in the race that concludes Oct. 17 with a leadership convention in Edmonton. She stopped in Ponoka recently to meet the people but fringe parties are strapped for cash-strapped and volunteers were too busy bringing in the sheaves to arrange publicity, so she spoke to only a dozen Grumpy Old Conservatives who would be right at home at a Reform party founders’ meeting.

She’s a social moderate and more libertarian than what we consider a conservative in Alberta today but she believes in small government, fiscal conservatism and lower taxes. Big city media tell us she’s “telegenic” — which is politically correct speak for cute as a bug’s ear. We don’t know why she didn’t run for the nomination in the Calgary byelection instead of Hinman, who doesn’t live in Calgary, but with Hinman in the legislature, she should have more time to gather financial support from among the Calgary business community and garner policy ideas from Alberta’s grassroots.

Should the growing list of Grumpy Old Conservatives with Wildrose memberships park their votes with leadership candidate Mark Dyrholm, the party will be consigned to political fringe as the Wilderness party. If the party yields to the temptation to focus on abortion, hanging criminals and queers, Alberta’s separation from the rest of Canada and climate change mumbo-jumbo it will quickly fizzle out, leaving Hinman to be remembered as the Gordon Kessler of the new millennium.

The smart money’s on Smith to win the leadership of the Wildrose Alliance party because of the change it could shepherd for Alberta. It’s rumoured as many as 10 PC MLAs might cross the floor to join the Wildrose Alliance, instantly boosting the party’s credibility, even propelling it to official opposition status — as long as the right assortment of “true conservative” MLAs abandon their constituents and make the move.

With Albertans’ incomes suffering and with threats to their children’s education and parents’ golden years, Stelmach’s Progressive Conservative government can no longer take for granted rural Alberta’s unflinching support at the polls.

And with his own leadership review coming up next month, Stelmach cannot count on the loyalty of his MLAs nor the party’s membership to preserve the Progressive Conservative political dynasty .