A few weeks ago I received an intriguing email from someone claiming to be long-time member of Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives. With the condition of anonymity, he offered to open up and give me is thoughts regarding the present state of the party.
After checking into his background, I decided to go with it. Given that anonymity naturally brings credibility into question, feel free to come to your own conclusions about the following phone conversation. We’ll run with a cliché and refer to him as ‘John’.
LS: How long have you been a member of the PC party of Alberta?
John: Over twenty years. I bought my first membership when Getty was premier.
LS: What part of the province are you in?
John: I’ll say I’m in Southern Alberta. I’m a member of a CA board of directors and have been on and off for years.
LS: Okay. Let’s get to the heart of it.
John: Well..(chuckles)..not all is well. To be honest and obvious, things have been rocky for a while.
LS: For how long?
John: There’s always issues in every political party. Things started to go south near the end of the Klein years. Then we endured Stelmach. At the start, it was kind of difficult to unify. As you know after a leadership race the most important move for membership to make is to get behind the new leader. The problem was so few members actually supported Stelmach – we just didn’t know him. The saving grace was the election. We benefitted greatly from the lack of opposition.
LS: That helped to solidify the party?
John: It went a long way. Members took the results as the public showing faith in Ed. We read it wrong.
LS: Okay. We’ve gone through the Stelmach era. We have seen the maturing of the Wildrose party into a viable alternative in the minds of many voters, the Liberals now have a former PC MLA at the helm in Raj Sherman, the ND’s still maintain their core support, the Alberta Party has arrived on the scene, and Alison Redford is now the PC leader and premier. The landscape is in flux --
John: -- the situation is totally different now, and that’s really the issue here. Redford hasn’t exactly set the world on fire. Yes, the polls showed a nice bump upwards after she won, but let’s remember our numbers improved after Stelmach announced he was leaving. He was the focal point of Albertan’s anger, so that’s no surprise.
LS: They have since slipped a bit.
John: Sure. Alberta voters aren’t naïve. They’re not dumb. It’s still the same MLA’s, the same party in power. It’s not the feeling of renewal like when Ralph took over. I think many PC members were hoping for that to happen again – counting on it or expecting it even.
LS: And it hasn’t happened with Alison Redford?
John: The spin doctors say it has. The picture they are working hard to paint is another renewal of the party under a strong, female leader. There are a few problems with that.
LS: Such as?
John: (chuckles) There’s already a conservative party in Alberta with a strong female leader. As well, Redford had little choice but to fill her ‘new’ cabinet with the same old faces. Instead of a reborn party, the image is that of a new face on an old group. Her habit of flip-flopping certainly isn’t helping, either.
LS: You’re saying there’s a confidence issue at the membership level?
John: Absolutely. You must keep it in perspective, however. I’m not saying that the entire membership feels this way, not at all. But there are enough card-carrying party members who hold serious doubts about Redford – and our chances at the ballot box – that it has become an issue within the ranks.
LS: Are there any specific moves by the government that has caused this, or is it just a general wariness?
John: The fact she came into power so close in similarity to the way Stelmach did was unsettling. When questions about how she won – I’m talking about allegedly getting support from unions – it raised some eyebrows. Then the flip-flops. But what some of us in the ‘trenches’ are talking about is the policies. It hasn’t escaped out notice that many of the very issues the Wildrose has been bringing up, the position that party has taken, are now ‘priority’ for Redford’s clan. You’d swear they were lifting some of these ideas straight from the Wildrose platform. As one member said to me: “if they are going to follow Danielle’s lead, why not just vote for Danielle?”. Then there’s the other side…
LS: Some members feel the PCs are copying the Wildrose?
John: Yeah. But then there’s the other side of the coin. It’s almost comical to watch the PC’s try to defend Redford against allegations that she is a ‘big government liberal’. That’s common knowledge. That’s what scares some of us. A good example is the .05% drunk driving law. Cabinet members and Redford claim that ‘this is what Albertan’s have told them’. Bullshit. A good portion of their own membership disagrees with this idea. Some see this – I see it as window dressing. They want to look like they are doing something, even if the statistics aren’t on their side.
LS: I recall hearing the Minister responsible saying ‘…we have to change the culture’. That struck me as a little too close to social engineering.
John: Exactly. Of course a government wants to look like they are always acting in the public’s best interest. The problem is when boundaries are crossed. The fact is, this government is fighting the growing public impression that they are liberal. All progressive, no conservative. Their words might say one thing, but their actions are telling a whole different story.
LS: What do you see happening in the next provincial election?
John: Right now, polls show one thing. But polls are fluid – they can swing 20 points or more just in one campaign, let alone half a year. Redford is still riding the post-Stelmach wave, but that will not last much longer. We still benefit from an opposition that hasn’t outgrown us, but let’s be realistic: the Alberta party is a non-factor. The Libs are the Libs, Sherman or no Sherman. The NDs are static. The only reason many Progressive Conservative members are overconfident to the point of arrogance is that they discount the Wildrose. Alberta voters, however, could very well see things differently. They are still young, but they are growing stronger.
LS: With all of these questions and a lack of confidence in your leader, what keeps you in the party?
John: The same thing that has kept many of us here while so many others have left. I don’t know, maybe the belief that the PCs are still the best choice. Maybe it’s hope that the party will survive Redford like it survived Stelmach and Getty. Maybe it's because the Wildrose party hasn't won me over - yet. Or perhaps I’m just stubborn (chuckles).
LS: You have no intentions of leaving the party then?
John: Never say never. I never thought I’d consider it, I’ll say that. I intend on continuing to support the PCs. I plan on voting for them the next time around. But, of course, a lot can happen between now and then.