The task of keeping the torch of Canada's most dominant political dynasty aflame has suddenly become considerably more daunting.
Either Gary Mar, Alison Redford, or Doug Horner—a trio of unabashed "progressives"—will be chosen by those with Progressive Conservative memberships on Oct. 1 to replace Ed Stelmach as Alberta's premier.
Pundits are portraying this as a dream outcome for those on the centre-right who have moved to Danielle Smith's Wildrose Alliance. The candidacy of Ted Morton, widely viewed as the conservative standard-bearer within the P.C. party, was perceived the greatest threat to the Wildrose, and he is out of the race. His 2011 leadership run attracted approximately half the votes as did his 2006 run. His 2006 platform has since been mostly taken over by Wildrose. It was Mr. Morton, too, who as Finance Minister dug in his heels last winter and precipitated the crisis that led to Stelmach's retirement.
One of the idiosyncratic legacies of four decades of uninterrupted P.C. power in Alberta is the process it uses to select its leaders. Candidates may sell memberships right up to within two weeks of leadership votes and, in a fashion similar to a general election, voting occurs at polling stations within each constituency. This process gives people from all political backgrounds the opportunity to select their premier. And they do.
Many Liberals, New Democrats, and others have taken the approach that if their movements cannot gain power in elections, they can at least exercise their influence by selecting their opponent's leader. It is they and their enthusiasm for this opportunity that makes them into two-night-stand Conservatives and convenient, if temporary allies, for leadership candidates. Unable to win power from without, they gain it from within. There is certainly no shortage of conservative thinkers in Alberta today who suspect the P.C.s have been the victim of a bloodless, albeit democratic, coup. The fact that long-time Calgary Liberal heavyweight and bagman Daryl Fridhandler is associated with the Mar campaign has done little to dispel these suspicions.
It is impossible to track the extent to which this strategic voting takes place but there is no question it is a feature unique to Alberta P.C. leadership campaigns. (It is a pure anecdote, but as an example I was told last week of a left-of-centre Alberta Party [one M.L.A.] supporter who purchased a Tory membership in order to vote for Mr. Morton, hoping that a Morton victory would position the Tories to the right of centre and therefore leave more room for the Alberta Party to win votes on the left of centre in the next election.)
In the midst of all this, long-time conservative activist Ken Boessenkool and a small but influential Blue Committee are searching for a way to re-unite the now defeated conservative wing of the P.C.s with Wildrose in order to avoid the split-right scenario that guaranteed three consecutive federal majority governments for Jean Chrétien's Liberals. The fear, as Mr. Boessenkool puts it, is that a split right could lead to Alberta being governed by a centre-left party.
Some will suggest that after Saturday's result, that horse has left the barn. The P.C. dynasty lives on, but 40 years of conservative rule in Alberta may have come to an end.