This Implosion Began in 2006

Hindsight games are usually amusing to play.  What would have been, what could have been had a decision had been made differently.  It’s fun to speculate – unless you are a member of Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives.

Walking closer to the edge of oblivion than they ever have before, the P.C.’s are scrambling to repair the damage caused by a seemingly endless list of money scandals and unethical behaviour. 

Alison Redford

Ground-level party members are voicing their disgust.  Some constituency associations have called for the resignation of leader Alison Redford.  It is unfamiliar, unfriendly territory.

But how did they get here?

Former Premier Ralph Klein famously quipped that when the P.C.’s inevitably lost control of the province, the ‘threat’ would come not from the ideological left, but from the right.  At first blush, that seems accurate considering the rise of the Wildrose party.

Upon closer inspection, however, it is clear that the P.C.’s current troubles haven’t been caused by any other party, left or right.  The Wildrose, exhibiting ‘real’ opposition not seen for decades in the Legislature, have certainly kept the government’s feet to the fire on many issues.  But they did not cause the mess.

The Progressive Conservatives did it to themselves.  In 2006.

After unceremoniously showing King Ralph the door, the race was on to find a new leader.  The field was full of experienced MLA’s, but the frontrunner was a former Minister and the man responsible for the province’s economic turnaround in the 1990’s, Jim Dinning.
Jim Dinning

A close first-round voting result was not surprising, as it indicated the natural split in the PC party.  Dinning led, but was followed closely by far-right Ted Morton.  So on to the next round.

And here’s where the downfall of the P.C. reign began.  Using a system of ‘preferential voting’, third choice Ed Stelmach ended up with a razor-thin lead over Dinning.  Supporters of failed leadership candidates parked their votes for the instant run-off vote and Stelmach won the race.

Suddenly, the P.C. party’s third choice became the ‘accidental Premier’ of Alberta. 

While Stelmach could still be arguably called a conservative, his era in charge was more milquetoast than effective.  Not a great leader, not a horrible one. 

History will be kind to Stelmach due solely to the fact his time at the helm will be mostly overshadowed by the Redford years, which began in identical fashion in 2011: a third choice winning the P.C. leadership vote.

But they tempted fate once too often.  This time (thanks in part to an influx of votes from teachers), they ended up with a leader who stood on the big government, entitled progressive side of the fence, and things immediately began to unravel.  The 2012 provincial election was seen as a great come-from-behind victory for Redford’s P.C.’s, but in actuality it was a warning.

If it had not been for the Wildrose party’s self-inflicted wounds, the Tory reign could already have been over.   The more scandals that hit the news, the more Albertans wish for a do-over.

So let’s play the hindsight game.  If Jim Dinning had won the P.C. leadership race back in 2006, how would things look today? 

It is my opinion that the Progressive Conservatives would not be in the situation they are currently in.  The debt monster would not have reappeared and the province’s books would be in much better shape.  Hell, we might have had a real balance budget.  Infrastructure would not have been neglected to the point it was.  Civic-provincial relations would be stronger.  It’s doubtful there would be the instances of infringement on personal liberties, as well.

Also, it is conceivable that the landscape would be so different that the Wildrose and Alberta Alliance parties might never have merged.  If Dinning was the Alberta premier from 2006 on, would the Wildrose see the poll numbers they enjoy today?  Would they be close to the Official Opposition?  I think not.

Things played out the way they did.  The ruling P.C.’s made back-to-back errors with their leadership choices and have no one to blame but themselves. 

While they avoided the consequences of their actions with the improbable Stelmach victory, they cannot escape them twice.  The right choice eight years ago and the Progressive Conservatives – and the political scene in Alberta – would be far different today.

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