As the political dust settles from the United Conservative Party’s (UCP) leadership race, questions are arising on the effects upon Alberta’s politics: will we see a return toward more ideologically based parties for the next election?
As the political party system evolved within Canada, it moved from a format of coalitions, primarily with the old Conservatives of John A. Macdonald, to a more pluralist model that looked to use a plethora of platform promises in a bid to appeal to the masses, bridging the gaps between the multitude of groups within Canada. The Liberals from the 1920s onward were quite effective at this. Known as a “brokerage model” this means of mass appeal later saw itself adapted into provincial politics, and, here in Alberta, the old Progressive Conservative party mastered this stylized system. One of the hallmarks of this system is that in order to appeal to the greatest number of voters, one needs to be centrist in perspective (which is relative from province to province).
Ideologically modelled parties, however, look to appeal to specific groups within the electorate, and the best examples have been the New Democrats (NDP) of the past or even the Green Party, but they too adapted to the political realities within Canada, becoming more centrist in mindset, adopting the strategies of the main parties nationally. Even within provincial politics, the NDP has followed suit, which partially explains their current success.
The demise of the PC party in Alberta was precipitated by the fracturing of its Conservative factions, which has led to the rise of the new UCP. This party has all the hallmarks of an ideologically based party, appealing to a specific group within Alberta. Can they move from this position to become a “big tent” party, or has the die now been cast? Alberta has traditionally been a conservatively minded province within Canada, and, earlier this year, Jared Milne gave a succinct account of this history (Gazette, Aug. 16). However, there are many Conservatives who have now been orphaned by this new party, and they are looking for a new home. Will they join the Alberta Party, the NDP, or further fracture, which is the wont of ideological parties, to create more parties within Alberta?
This is an important question to understand, as ideology affects the attitudes, values and behaviours of our political institutions, including parties, and this tells us how they will make future decisions as our de facto representatives. Do they believe in individual freedoms or do they believe in a collective position for us. These fluctuate between the parties, offering insights into private and public morality, into economic policies, as just two examples on how the UCP and the NDP could respond to governance, and we need to be cognizant of this. Because, when the election is called, they will make us platform promises to win the election, but there is no guarantee that they will be kept. What interesting times that we live in!
John Kennair is an international consultant and doctor of laws who lives in St. Albert.