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Progressive Permafrost

The Globe and Mail, in all its monocled Eastern imperial condescension, declares in a headline that the saw-toothed first-cousin-lovin' rubes and boobs from the backwoods of Confederation have put down their one-string banjos and likker-filled fruit jars long enough to "step into the present." But the reality, available to anyone capable of opening even a modest primer on recent Canadian history without obliterating the text in drool, is that Alberta's political much ballyhood "step into the present" is really a step back to its past.

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Topics: Journalism, Leadership
Progressive Permafrost October 4, 2011  |  By Peter Stockland
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Huzzahs roll across the land from Alberta at the selection of a fortysomething Progressive—defiantly progressive—Conservative lawyer as premier.

The Globe and Mail, in all its monocled Eastern imperial condescension, declares in a headline that the saw-toothed first-cousin-lovin' rubes and boobs from the backwoods of Confederation have put down their one-string banjos and likker-filled fruit jars long enough to "step into the present."

It is, of course, too much to expect that reality should play at least a part in the fantasy worlds of journalistic amnesiacs.

But the reality, available to anyone capable of opening even a modest primer on recent Canadian history without obliterating the text in drool, is that Alberta's political much ballyhood "step into the present" is really a step back to its past.

Those at the Globe (and elsewhere) going ga-ga over the choice of 46-year-old Calgary lawyer Alison Redford to lead Alberta's Progressive Conservatives would do well to remember what happened forty years ago this August.

A 43-year-old Calgary lawyer named Peter Lougheed led the Progressive—defiantly progressive—Conservatives to power. The first act of the new government was the introduction of a "progressive" Alberta bill of rights. Fourteen years later, one of the Lougheed government's last acts was the release of a white paper on science and technology that advocated a "progressive" government "picking winners and losers" in the economy. The white paper was reviled as antithetical to Alberta's conservative spirit. Yet it formed the core economic policy of Lougheed's successor as Progressive Conservative premier. The result was the debt-ridden disaster of the Getty government years. Its implementation, however, was perfectly consistent with Lougheed's "progressive" vision of deep and constant state involvement in the lives and well being of citizens.

Ralph Klein's government in the mid-90s was forced, for political and financial reasons, to briefly depart from the Progressive Conservative path laid out by Lougheed more than 20 years earlier. But Klein himself, as anyone who spent five minutes around him could discern, was never, ever a conservative. He temporarily cut debt, yes, but permanently cut genuine fiscal and social conservative thinkers out of his administration.

(Klein was once asked how a particular policy fit with Friedrich von Hayek's thinking in The Road to Serfdom. His reply: "Do I look like a guy who reads books?")

The selection of Redford to lead the party of Lougheed into its fifth decade in power, then, is simply the past replicated into the present. It is the triumph of propaganda and packaging over memory.

Journalists who couldn't find change under the sofa cushions but are obsessed with booming its advent to their audiences are once again shouting that it has come to conservative Alberta. But the reality is that Alberta has been ruled for 40 years, give or take a few months in the 1990s, by dyed in the wool Red Tories. Redford is just another in the line. Forward we march, standing still.

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