Monday, January 04, 2010

Forsyth and Anderson Cross the Floor on the Stelmach Government

So another shoe drops on the heads of Alberta PC government with two Progressive Conservative MLA defections to the Wildrose Alliance Party today. My guess is this is just the start and we can expect some more MLAs to be evaluating their future with the current government.

Rob Anderson is a social conservative and has been pushing buttons in the government for a while now. His head and heart is more aligned to a far right political philosophy. He was a big proponent of the Bill 44 that was push through in spite of protestations of progressive Albertans. The raw political power push to pass that draconian social conservative legislation was a tipping point event for progressive Albertan’s attitude about “their” government. It made many progressives in the PC party realizes they were no longer being listened to, including me.

I was surprised that Heather Forsyth being one of the early defections. I know and respect Heather and know her to be a quality person and conscientious MLA. She is a political realist too. From listening to her reason to cross today, there was the usual stuff about representing her constituency but there was more. She listed a lot of serious issues and concerns about the Stelmach government’s approach to many social and economic concerns she has been dealing with at the door steps. She said the “government has lost its way” and commented that “Albertans need to feel proud of their province” again. I think she is right and those realities resonate.

These decisions are never easy. Both of these MLAs have to be taken seriously and I respect their decisions. But I sense this is just a beginning not the end of Stelmach’s woes with the Wildrose Alliance. I would not be surprised if more PC MLA defections are in the Wildrose plan but don’t expect anything until after the Cabinet Shuffle.

Reality in politics is about perception and just because that’s a cliché does not mean it is not true. Perceptions come from stories and narratives more than facts. The emerging narrative is that the PCs are in disarray. They are scrambling for relevance and respect and squandering what they have left of both qualities. The WAP is getting organized and has been an effective place to park ones protect about the PCs.

Today the narrative changed – dramatically. Today the cracks in the brain trust of the Stelmach leadership are being discussed by disaffected former party and government loyalists like Heather Forsyth. The light is shining in and what we are seeing is not helping the plight of the PC government or its leadership. The defector’s new conference comments today about the Stelmach government being undemocratic, authoritarian, intimidating and bullying inside the caucus reflects badly on the government. These same innuendos and coercion tactics have been happening from the government about many vulnerable but courageous people outside politics too. I know this from direct experience and reports from the not-for-profit community based social service sectors, most recently in the Persons with Developmental Disabilities area.

Here is another narrative that is totally speculative but as plausible as any other in the volatile and variable world that Alberta politics in now all about. Consider this story line. What if Ted Morton is not happy with his Cabinet position in the coming shuffle? Why would he stay in the Stelmach government? I don’t think he will cross the floor however. He will resign and return to the University of Calgary. His leave of absence from the U of C must be running out and if he does not return could he lose his tenure? He is not going to be Premier via the PCs or the WAP route so why stay in politics? He resigns and causes a by-election just outside of Calgary that Danielle Smith wins. She owes Morton big time as a result and he can then become anything he wants to be in advising and directing the future of the WAP.

Even the plausibility of this narrative will smoke out the rest of the disenchanted social conservatives in the PC caucus to jump to the WAP in the coming weeks. The internal politics will preoccupy and destabilize the government for some time to come. The more serious question is what will Stelmach do in response?

That is fodder for another blog post at another time. For now I think Albertans will be watching for big internal changes in the Premier’s office and in the Cabinet as well as with the fiscal, social and environmental policy agenda this month. Realistically, I see no scenario emerging today that would see a rebalance of the PC government towards a fiscally conservative and socially progressive and a resource stewardship and conservation mindset. That was the hallmark of the glory days of the PC party in Premier Lougheed’s day. To my mind we need to restore that kind of political culture so we Albertans can be proud of our province once again.