Political change has come atop the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party

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iconsTHUNDER BAY – Editorial – Political change has come atop the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party. Alison Redford beat out percieved front-runner Gary Mar in voting last night. The move will likely shock many in the party, as Redford was seen by many as an outsider. The notedly ‘Red Tory’ used a similar path to victory that Calgary’s Mayor Naheed Nenshi took to winning power.

Social media was at the core of the Redford campaign.

After her win, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi tweeted, “Congratulations to Premier-Designate Alison Redford. I look forward to working with you for a strong Calgary and Alberta”.

The new PC leader followed a similar political path to victory as Nenshi, using social media, and an activated base to win the election.

Redford had the backing of only five of Alberta’s elected PC Members of the Legislature. The new Premier-designate for Alberta will have the opportunity to form her cabinet without a lot of favours owed to the party’s traditional power base. That of course could lead to internal battles as the province heads toward its next election expected in 2012.

So what message is Alberta sharing with the rest of the country? And how might that message echo in the leadership race underway in the federal Liberal and New Democratic parties?

First, Alberta appears to be slowly shifting from the perceived ‘far-right’ image that many, especially in Ontario have held of the province.

The election of Nenshi as Mayor of Calgary marked what could be the start. The selection of Nenshi and Redford is a sign for politicians that reaching past traditional supporters is a path to success. It is also likely an impact of tens of thousands of new Albertans importing their views from their former home provinces into Alberta.

As Alberta has grown, many of the new Albertans are from the Maritimes, and Ontario. Fitting into many of the older-established political parties, like the Progressive Conservatives may have seemed difficult.

Voters while supporting the PCs in Alberta, who have held power since 1971, have not really embraced the ‘far right’ ideology that many in the rest of the country have believed. Premiers Peter Lougheed, Don Getty and Ed Stemach were hardly right-wing leaders. In Ontario they would likely have been called ‘Red Tories’.

Former Premier Ralph Klein who many tagged as a ‘neo-con’ actually started in politics as a Liberal. Perhaps the real difference from Alberta politics to Ontario could be that populist politics and more grassroots polticial activism seems to take hold in Alberta.

Of course for many it is easier to use a paint-roller than a paint-brush, and declaring all Albertans as ‘Right-wing neo-cons’ was simple and easy. It just isn’t and wasn’t true.

Second, to all political leaders, it is a demonstration that Social Media, the Internet and engagement of constituents is a critical component of political success.

The changes happening in Alberta are likely to echo across the political spectrum. At the federal level, leadership candidates for the Liberals and New Democrats are likely to embrace social media and the Internet as tools to reach out to supporters and voters. The costs are far less than many of the traditional methods. Liberal candidates seeing how Stephen Dion, Ken Dryden and other unsuccessful candidates in past leadership contests are still struggling to pay off their campaign debts are likely to embrace the new ideas.

At the provincial level, what is happening across Ontario during this election is likely to see, post-election that some of the older-style candidates will be replaced with MPPs with newer ideas and more of a connection to new means of communications.

At the civic level, where it is increasingly critical for City Councillors and Mayors to communicate with voters, it is very likely that the next civic election will seen many of the long-serving and familiar faces stepping aside as the next and newer generations step up to take control.

One might wonder, did it all start with a tweet from a once political unknown in Alberta named Naheed Nenshi?

James Murray

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