Thursday, May 18, 2017

Merge you say? Well, here we go again...

Like no one saw this coming, the PC Party of Alberta and the Wildrose Party have agreed to merge.

It seems every time a conservative party strays from its principles and essentially becomes a liberal party, conservatives of the social and fiscal stripe backlash and create their own party, only to see the original party burn down to then return to pick it up again with fresh policies.

Some history... which I was involved in a lot of it.

CANADA

Refooooorrrrm!
The creation of the Reform Party of Canada led by Preston Manning in the mid-1980's soon had 1 MP in a by-election (Deb Grey) and 1 Senator (Ray Speaker) in the first ever senate election. In 1993, the party would in jump to 52 MPs across Western Canada and a couple in Ontario, although just falling short of official opposition, which went to the new Bloc Quebecois.

1993 Election
This triple-split decimated the PC Party of Canada led by Canada's first woman prime minister, the Rt. Hon. Kim Campbell, to see it reduced to only 2 seats, one held by Jean Charest who would go on to the lead the party tthrough the 90's to 20 seats in 1997, until leaving the federal scene to becoming Quebec Liberal leader and premier.

1997 Election
For Reform, after that momentum, in 1997, it only gained 8 more seats, but saw popular support drop.  It was at that time some soul searching needed to be done.  It was also at this time that Stephen Harper, seeing that Manning's preferred populism failed as he predicted, left politics to lead the Citizens Coalition.

Few remember, but the Reform party had embedded a "sunset clause" that it would dissolve after 10 years.  A proposal was voted in favour to remove that clause.

CRAP!
It didn't really matter because, soon, Manning would hold more meetings to bring together the Mike Harris Ontario PCs, which he called "THINK BIG", to then create the "United Alternative" movement. Then there was a party vote to dissolve Reform and create yet another party, the Canadian Conservative Reform Alliance Party, or Canadian Alliance.  And for you acronym-saavy folks, that meant CCRAP.  Oh what a hey-day it was for the other parties and media.  Seriously, who was at the table when this was agreed upon?  HE-LL-O?

2000 Election

After 10 years, Manning had to step down from the leadership because it was a new party, but he ran for the leadership of the now re-acronymized CRCAP or CA for short.  Former Alberta PC finance minister Stockwell Day also ran and won.  That was a very fun leadership race and convention in Calgary, let me tell you. Stock was an excellent public speaker, used no notes or teleprompters and was totally fluent in French.  However...

"Stock" then tried to gather the long-standing troops in the party, but began doing things his way. His first "splash" on the federal scene was when he rode-in on a Seadoo on to the beach in the Okanagan, in his wet suit, where he gave a short speech and answered media questions.

It was then, Prime Minister Jean Chretien, seeing a prime opportunity to "kick him when they're down", and seeing the Paul Martin camp circling, got permission from his trusted wife Alaine, and called an election only 3 years into his second term.  Gutsy move to say the least.  The scrapper from Shawinigan was at it again.

Many thought the federal PCs would support the Canadian Alliance, but the PCs, still around, now led again by former short-lived prime minister Joe Clark, held on only to 12 seats in 2000.

The Canadian Alliance though, only gained 6 seats from the previous election and this was deemed as a big huge failure--a poorly run campaign by Day and an excellent one by the Liberals saw them hold on to a majority.

Meanwhile... the drama was just getting started...  hoo boy...

The DRC


Over a period of several weeks, a group of pro-Manning MPs led by Deb Grey and Chuck Strahl began publically questioning Stockwell Day as leader of the Canadian Alliance.

They would leave the Canadian Alliance caucus and form their own awkwardly named "Democratic Representative Caucus" or DRC for short.  Or Rebel Alliance (which then-Stockwell Day question period speechwriter, former Sun News Network political pundit, Ezra Levant would use in his web-based show The Rebel.)

The DRC then began talks with the Joe Clark PCs to form a unified caucus and begin agreeing on policies, including senate reform to a double-E senate (no equal rep per province, redistributed by region).

With the mounting pressure, Stockwell Day stepped down to have a leadership race.  Stephen Harper returned and won on the first ballot and said "The Canadian Alliance is strong and the Canadian Alliance is here to stay."  Which really meant "As long as Clark is leader of the PCs, the Canadian Alliance isn't going anywhere."

The PCs

Clark, seeing his party in financial shambles, and pressured to get out of the way of uniting the parties, stepped down a leader and the PCs held their classic convention-style leadership race.  This race saw long-time PC guys Jim Prentice go up against Peter Mackay, pro-merger candidates, and oh, and David Orchard, an outsider environmental conservative. Mackay, not being able to fully secure the win, approached David Orchard, who agreed in spirit to support Mackay as long as Mackay didn't try to merge the PCs with the Canadian Alliance.  This agreement, literally written on a napkin, then saw Mackay win the PC leadership.  It would also mean, soon, Mackay would never campaign in an election as a party leader.

Paul Martin

Meanwhile, the Liberals saw long-time finance minister Paul Martin wanting to take the reigns from Jean Chretien. Martin essentially took over riding associations coast to coast.  Chretien stepped down and Martin easily won the leadership and became prime minister.

The Merger

With Harper leading the CA and Mackay leading the PCs, getting grassroots support from each riding association proved easy and the PCs agreed in a "phone convention" to merge with the CA.

Negotiations ensued with Belinda Stronach of Magna Corp. at the table as a mediator.  A foundation of policies was agreed upon and a new name, simply, "The Conservative Party of Canada" was created and the caucuses merged with Joe Clark leaving politics and Scott Brison joining the Liberals.

The Conservative Leadership

The leadership race saw Stronach go up against Harper with Harper winning, who would go on to lose the 2004 election to Paul Martin's Liberals, but putting parliament in a minority government situation it hadn't seen since none other than Joe Clark was prime minister.

2006 Election
The Sponsorship scandal demoralized the Liberals and in late 2005, the three opposition parties smelling blood, called a vote of non-confidence. With the government defeated, Paul Martin stepped down and the Liberals held a leadership race which saw Harvard professor and author Michael Ignatieff (a.k.a. Iggy) win.

The 2006 election saw Harper's Conservatives win another minority government and in 2008, seeing that the opposition parties might yet again call a vote of non-confidence, Harper asked the Governor General to dissolve parliament anyway and call and election.

2008 Election
This time, Canadians tired of minorities and not knowing Ignatieff well, Harper disseminated the Liberals, bringing them to below 40 seats for their biggest defeat in history and the first conservative party majority win in 20 years.

This victory essentially closed the loop on losing and regaining conservative federal power.

Ok, now take a breath.... because it happening again...


ALBERTA

PCs: Steady Eddie
Now, let's look at the Alberta conservative history--seemingly going through a similar phase.  With Ralph Klein stepping down after receiving an unexpected leadership grade at a convention, a new race ensued and Ed Stelmach shot up the middle to take the leadership on the second run-off ballot.

Alberta/Wildrose Alliance?:  Danielle Smith
With Stelmach's centrist liberal-like policies, the Alberta Alliance was born.  Oh, man, here we go again.  Then I think the Wildrose.  Then they merged as the Wildrose Alliance, but then shortened to just Wildrose.  I can't really remember, because no one really cares.  They have a leadership race and TV news anchor Danielle Smith wins on a libertarian-conservative platform.  She tries to hold the party together.  An election sees them become official opposition but the PCs have a massive majority.

They become a small, but effective group and Smith's Wildrose are confident they'll win a majority. Polls don't look good and internal PC party folks force Steady Eddie to step down.

PCs: Redford Files
The PCs hold another leadership race that sees Alberta's first woman premier with Alison Redford winning, again, in the run-off vote.  An election is called and she surprisingly wins a majority with big support from the teacher unions.

But her term is a disaster with PC expense scandals and favours finally being brought to light.  It was at this time, many saw the PCs really become a true Liberal party.  But again, seeing possible defeat, the PCs force her to step down to have yet another race.

PCs:  The Prentice
Enter again Jim Prentice, former federal Progressive Conservative party leader candidate, now a minted former Harper cabinet minister, deemed as a dauphin to unite the parties, but his political time runs short.

So, now looking back only a few years to late 2014, after the Wildrose members stupidly voting against a motion on supporting equal rights, saw a mass floor crossing by 9 Wildrose MLAs, including leader Danielle Smith to the Jim Prentice-led PCs.  While this appeared to be some sure-fire method to merge the parties, it failed and the Wildrose wasn't going anywhere.  Rumblings are that it was planned by Preston Manning, so much so that he admitted they should have got the grassroots word on it.

Wildrose:  Brian Jean
With Smith out, the Wildrose held a quick leadership race and saw another former Harper MP, Brian Jean, become leader.

NDP win?  Wait, what just happened?
With the massive instability, a poorly run PC and unknown leader Wildrose campaigns, and Albertans tired of the drama, they elect, for the first time, the Rachel Notley NDP into power with a majority after an absolutely perfectly executed campaign that appealed to the Alberta populism.  In one debate, Notley responds to Prentice saying "I know, math is hard", and that buzz alone may have sealed the deal.  Prentice steps down, not only as leader of the PCs but as an MLA as well.

PCs:  Kenney's Unite Alberta

Shocking to us all, the former, yet brief Premier of Alberta suddenly died in a plane crash in BC.

The PCs finally hold a leadership race and with the federal conservatives essentially taking over the party at the riding level, see long time Reform/Canadian Alliance/Conservative Calgary MP and another former Harper cabinet minister, Jason Kenney bulldoze his way into winning the leadership, campaign rules be damned.

So here we are, again, about 10 years later after seeing your own conservative party turn liberal, that creating a breakaway conservative party doesn't lead to power--it only leads to opposition, which everyone realizes was stupid, so they all come back again to a new old party, only with a slightly different name,

I bet you hand grenades and horseshoes that it'll be called "The Conservative Party of Alberta" with permission from the federal party who, I believe, owns rights the name in order to have had candidates in the senate elections.

What will happen before the 2018/19 Alberta election?
Both Kenney and Jean will run for the leadership.  So will others, but I'm not hearing anything.  Jean will win.  Kenney will run as an MLA to be a cabinet minister of intergovernmental affairs.

Even with this merger, I'm guessing all the liberals and former progressive PCs will join Notley's NDP, like Sandra Jansen, into a party whose policies line up with Trudeau's federal Liberals, for the most part, to form a "progressive union" party to go up against the Conservative party.

So there you have it... the progressives vs. the conservatives, which as we know, was the name of the former party that held power for 42 years.

Who wins, I actually couldn't tell you right now.  Seriously.  But it wouldn't surprise me if it was a minority conservative government.

Just like Harper's in 2004.

Thanks for reading this modern history of the western Canadian conservative movement, which, it has appeared, as expected, to repeat itself.



2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Small correction, Stephane Dion became Liberal Party leader after Paul Martin, though I'm not sure if anyone noticed.

Dollops said...

Ah, that pesky word "progressive." It meant "populist" back when the then Conservatives hyphenated with it, but now means "leftist." Conservatives have to stop apologising for being conservative and go all-out fighting the good fight as Trump Party (not Republican) supporters are doing in the US. "Ooh, but it's so hard" doesn't cut it with common-sense voters who want to be inspired to support a party not of the left; conservatives lose because they think they are fooling the public with what comes after the hyphen (whether it is in the party name or not).
Buyer's remorse will likely be enough to win AB away from the NDP, but how the next government frames its policies will decide whether the socialists will remain at the gate or return to obscurity.