CALGARY, AB – POLITICS – It’s a lot easier to show how and why the Alberta Progressive Conservatives lost than what the victory of the NDP might mean.
The seeds of destruction were planted during the last half of Ralph Klein’s premiership when his “Ralph Party” had replaced the last of the Lougheed PCs. After balancing Alberta’s finances, the government lost its way and, by the end of Ralph’s term, the party had become a machine devoted to providing the mechanics who greased it with handsome emoluments.
Kelly Charlebois, possibly the last PC executive director, perfectly embodied the spirit of the mechanics. His most famous caper was to accept $390,000 to deliver verbal advice to a minister, Gary Mar.
Thus did a party that once inspired loyalty and enthusiastic supporters become a vehicle for self-promotion. The final ignominy was the abrupt and shameful departure of Jim Prentice, “without so much as a look back or the decency to stick around,” as Robyn Urback wrote in the National Post.
The importance of oil in the provincial economy has over the years given the corner-office boys in downtown Calgary, whom we may call the oil-patch oligarchs, an elevated sense of their own significance. They are good at making money, especially in a buoyant oil market, and generous in their support of the government and the machine, which understandably they often confused.
Unfortunately, the oligarchs were closet Marxists. In the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels wrote that “the executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.” To update their quaint 19th-century language, for “bourgeoisie” read “oil patch.”
Thus the oligarchs fired former Premier Ed Stelmach, purged Alison Redford, and recruited Prentice. Then they turned management back to the mechanics to invent the fantasy of yet another new party. They considered the recruitment of narcissistic Wildrosers into the PCs as a corporate acquisition, the way Petrocan took a piece of Syncrude or merged with Suncor. And after every merger the superfluous had to be let go. Goodbye Danielle.
Marx, Engels, and the corner-office boys were wrong. Politics is not subordinate to economics and business.
“A state without the means of change,” wrote Edmund Burke “is without the means of its own conservation.” Had the oil patch oligarchs a clue about politics, they would have understood that the stench coming from the operation of the PC machine imperiled everything. The only way to conserve their interests was by repudiating the corrupt machine that endangered them and switching support to Wildrose.
This failure of political imagination and aversion to political risk means four years of the NDP. Maybe more.
In fact, things will not likely be as bad as the closet Marxists in the oil patch fear or as good as the real ones hope. The new government has a PC legacy of a $7 billion debt and the highest paid bureaucracy in the country to deal with. Fiscal and political prudence does not depend on party labels. In the 1990s, Saskatchewan under the NDP was a lot more prudent than Alberta. Already the Alberta NDP had the prudence to remove their platform from their website.
An amateur caucus and cabinet will surely make mistakes. But unlike those of their predecessors, they will be honest mistakes. If Rachel Notley can discipline the neophytes and ignore the advice of zealots, especially angry Tom “Dutch Disease” Mulcair, then things may be, as she said, “A-OK here in Alberta.”
It will be fascinating to see what a serious audit of the past 15 years turns up. Albertans voted for reform. Maybe we’ll get it.
Barry Cooper is a Research Fellow at the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute.
© 2015 Distributed by Troy Media