It appears some well-deserved cracks are finally emerging in the squeaky-clean facade of political righteousness that punctuates Alberta’s Wildrose Alliance Party.
The provincial grassroots conservative party was once considered to be the veritable definition of a fringe political movement, generally inhabited by such political luminaries as the Marxist-Leninist Party of Canada or the Animal Alliance Environmental Voters Party of Canada.
In its inception, the Wildrose was not exactly a party predicted by outsiders as destined to bestride the political landscape of Alberta as a colossus. But it proved from the outset to be something more than just a flash in the pan right-centered political movement. Those have been something of a dime a dozen down through the decades of Alberta’s first century. The Wildrose, managed to secure a solitary MLA and a voice in the legislature, but this was hardly the sweeping political change desired by party stalwarts.
Fast forward to the ascension of former journalist Danielle Smith as party leader, and the fortunes of the Wildrose really began to flow ever higher. Years of ineffectual PC leadership and the public perception of a growing sense of entitlement festering in the PC ranks was drawing more and more voters away from the long-standing political powerhouse. During the ensuing 2012 provincial election, it appeared as though the Wildrose was about to topple their foe and form the next government of Alberta.
The results instead made a mockery of the pollsters and ushered in a further era of PC majority domination.
This defeat, if anything, should have been considered the first crack in the facade of the Wildrose. Although it captured 17 seats and managed to spin the campaign as a dry run for a subsequent election, the disappointment for Wildrose candidates and party supporters must have been immeasurable at the prospect of facing the PCs from across the floor for another four years.
To be fair, the party has since been efficient and diligent in performing the admittedly limited duties of an opposition party, taking to task the PCs on a variety of issues and probably playing no small role in the abrupt departure of former premier Alison Redford. It appeared to be admirably maintaining its choice status as the apparent favoured alternative to the ruling party.
In the past few weeks, however, that united front has began to show some notable flaws. Four by-election losses to star PC candidates would appear, on the surface of it, to be a heavy blow to the Wildrose’s election rhetoric and constant bashing of the PC record, be it fiscal or otherwise.
Closer examination would suggest the Wildrose was probably optimistic in considering victory in the ridings, all being previous long-time Tory strongholds. There’s little question that there are still ridings in Alberta where a fencepost painted Tory blue would have a better chance at election than any number of other flavours of the political spectrum.
Hot on the heels of this defeat, Wildrose leader Danielle Smith was seemingly troubled enough to call for a review of her own leadership, signaling if nothing else that perhaps the party’s leader isn’t as confident as she might seem when the cameras are rolling.
Now the defection of Wildrose MLA Joe Anglin (curiously the former leader of the provincial Green Party) has cracked open a glimpse into the inner workings of a party that touts itself as the only reliable alternative to the PCs. Anglin has cited internal infighting and a blurring of the party’s once purportedly unclouded grassroots vision as the reasons behind his decision to sit as an independent.
It is a paradoxical quirk of this province that dissatisfied voters seem to gravitate to more radical conservative solutions to the ruling party. The pattern is well documented in Alberta — first the United Farmers of Alberta, then the Social Credit Party, followed by our now-mainstream Progressive Conservatives. Politically, it represents an anomaly that is hard to quantify to any factual sense, and bizarre in the extreme when considering the vibrant political history of our neighbouring provinces across the country. No one else has had the same political experience, which has led to a fascinating phenomenon of voting patterns. When Albertans want change, they don’t look to the left. They usually charge headlong even further to the right.
The Wildrose — whatever its flaws might be — still inhabits that slightly more radical right of centre in Alberta that should leave it poised to offer up a strong alternative to the PCs in any coming election. For the PCs, four by-election wins shouldn’t convince them that the majority of Alberta’s voters are now ready to welcome them back with open arms.
Nevertheless, recent events at least seem to prove that the Wildrose are hardly perfect. That fact might represent a nascent weight when provincial voters again head to the polls.