Yesterday we talked about how this all works. But that didn’t give you any information on how to make a choice, just why that choice matters.
So today I’m going to spend some time introducing the major parties. I’m splitting it up into three posts because I have very little faith that the three people reading this can handle more than 1000 words before re-watching The Office for the 10th time. In part 1 we’ll tackle the two biggest parties. The current opposition and the current government (who will probably swap places next month). First the UCP, then the NDP because we’re going in alphabetical order in Spanish. Why Spanish? To be inclusive, that’s why.
The United Conservative Party
Who they are: The UCP is kind of a new party… but not really. The Progressive Conservatives ruled Alberta for more than 40 years. Then a new party emerged called the Wild Rose party, which found a way to be more conservative. This really split the vote among conservatives with many voting for the PCs and many for the Wildrose. It cost both the election. After that debacle, conservatives across Alberta wanted to unite the conservatives again. That brought in Jason Kenney, a former federal cabinet minister, who ran for the leadership of the PCs on a platform of “merging” with the Wild Rose. It was a merger in name only. It was more of an invited hostile takeover and the new party found ways to move further to the right than either of the two that merged to form it. Their old leader even thinks so. Kenney cleverly named his newly united conservative party… The United Conservative Party.
Why people love them: This will come as a huge shock to everyone who lives here, but Alberta is really conservative. Seriously, we all have that one co-worker who won’t shut up about the commie parties. When he says that, he means everyone who isn’t the UCP. Alberta is basically the Texas of Canada. Or is it Mississippi? Honestly, no it’s Texas. But spelling Mississippi is fun because you can sing a little song while you do it. Most conservatives in Alberta will tell you that we don’t need fancy government programs, we just need to be left alone to do our jobs. The problem is that recently there haven’t been very many of the jobs people want to be left alone to do. The UCP is promising to force Ottawa to build a pipeline… somehow. By magic, I guess. No really, this isn’t something that provinces get a say in. One way they want to “pressure” Ottawa to build the pipeline is to cut transfer payments to other provinces. Again, this is not something the province gets a say in. The UCP is also promising to cut spending drastically to try to balance the budget (Alberta has been in a deficit for years). The only thing that all conservatives can seem to agree on is that things used to be better. When and how they were better… that is the sort of question that will start a hootenanny. But they are the only major conservative party available. And in a conservative province, that counts for a lot.
Why people hate them: They’re conservatives. Honestly, for a lot of people, that is more than enough reason. What’s that, you wanted more information? Well, aren’t we demanding of a free blog that we are only half reading? Ok… um… As the most conservative province in the country, the conservative party of Alberta is naturally going to be as conservative as they come (with apologies to the totally legitimate juggernaut that is The Freedom Conservative Party). Most people who take issue with the UCP go after their social policies as opposed to their economic ones, after all conservative economic theory is just “don’t spend money”. Seriously, even the CBC doesn’t know what else their platform is. They want to mandate that school teachers inform parents when their child joins a gay/straight alliance. Look for a post on that issue in the coming days, because I have many thoughts. They want to roll back immigration (which is another thing that provinces don’t get a say in). When the NDP tried to pass a bill restricting abortion protests within a certain distance of clinics, the UCP didn’t even vote against it. They got up and left. People hate the UCP for the very reason that other people love them, they want to return Alberta to a “different time”. Much like the folks who want to see that happen can’t say why that’s good, the people who are scared of it generally can’t pinpoint why that’s bad.
The bottom line: Let’s just be honest here: The UCP is going to win. There isn’t much mystery here. They’ve tapped into real anger among Albertans toward Ottawa. They’ve made all sorts of promises they have no power to keep. But tapping into anger is usually a smart political move because people want to feel like their anger is valid. Some people will undoubtedly vote for them because they support the slashing of services to keep spending down. These same people will be complaining in two years about how the government never does anything to help the average family. These people will be mostly white and mostly men. Please feel sorry for them. They have it hard.
The New Democratic Party
Who they are: A bunch of commies. Just kidding. They’re not. Well maybe some. The NDP has existed at the federal level for more than 50 years. The provincial version has existed under various names for almost 90 years. At both levels they are the most liberal major party. But saying they’re the most liberal party in Alberta is like saying they’re the nicest customs agent. It’s a pretty low bar. The Alberta NDP would be considered much less extreme in almost any other context. But in the Texas of Canada, they are what passes for the extreme left. Aren’t you glad I didn’t mention Mississippi again? Oh. I’m sorry. Did you just get that song out of your head? Until four years ago, the NDP was mostly an afterthought in Alberta politics. They’d win a couple of seats in the Edmonton region and everyone would pretend that they mattered. Then when the conservative vote was split in 2015, that left a vacuum that the NDP was more than happy to fill. They walked away with a majority government.
Why people love them: For more than forty years, the same conservative party ruled Alberta. Before that a different conservative party ruled Alberta. Imagine being someone who isn’t conservative and living here. That would not be a lot of fun. Progressive minded people across Alberta were thrilled. Sure, everyone knew it would be over as soon as it started, but it was fun to have some change. Rachel Notley and the NDP brought in economic and social reforms that progressives had been waiting for forever. A price on carbon was brought in even before Ottawa forced us. The revenue from it was funneled into renewable energy. Low cost daycare was piloted. They banned corporations and unions from donating to political parties. The minimum wage was raised. They reviewed the share of oil revenue that Alberta gets from companies that extract it. In short, the NDP enacted all of the legislation that liberals dream of as a starting point.
Why people hate them: Did you read the list of things they did in the last section? All of those liberal dreams (and many more) are conservative nightmares. Many people hate them because they’re tired of “having other people’s views forced on them.” These people will forget to point out that this is how democracy works. Sometimes other people win. And when they do, they often do the things they campaigned on, though not often enough. It’s no secret that the Alberta economy is driven by one thing. Oil. Again, Mississippi of Canada. Sorry. Texas. For some reason the spelling of Mississippi is stuck in my head. You know what people who work in oil and gas aren’t ever going to like? Trying to curtail oil and gas production. Even if it is indirect and needed diversification, it hurts actual people trying to put food on actual tables. It doesn’t help that the NDP took power during a global downturn in the price of oil. People will naturally blame them for all of the problems facing that sector. Even if that is an exaggeration, the NDP’s record on this is decidedly mixed.
The bottom line: The NDP is headed for a big defeat. This has been known since the minute the conservatives united. The only question is whether they can hold the UCP to a small majority or even a minority government. The progressive minded people in Alberta will encourage each other to unite on the left the same way that people on the right united. Unfortunately for them, there aren’t really any people left on that side to unite. A sizable group of people will vote NDP in the hopes that something unexpected will happen. These same people vote progressive because they believe in fairy tales.