Alberta’s United Conservative Party leader says he stays in job to block “lunatics”

Quite a juicy report about the governing party of Alberta today. Premier and United Conservative Party (UCP) leader Jason Kenny has been recorded having told a caucus staff meeting that he does not need the job and could just walk away. However, he says the party is at risk of being taken over by conspiracy mongers and other fanatics, and he is trying to stop them. “I don’t say this stuff publicly, these are just kooky people generally,” he said, and “I will not let this mainstream conservative party become an agent for extreme, hateful, intolerant, bigoted and crazy views … the lunatics are trying to take over the asylum.”

The backstory is that the UCP is itself a merger of the old Progressive Conservative Party and the Wildrose, which is indeed a far-right “populist” and conspiracy-motivated group. This division on the right is what enabled the NDP to win government in 2015, but the two parties did not draw from the same voter pool and hence the merged party has always been a fraught marriage of convenience. The UCP has a leadership review coming up, which might cost Kenney the job he does not need but is fighting to keep. From the recording–released obviously by an opponent inside the staff–his remarks on party leadership fights make for amusing reading. From the above-linked CBC story:

At a normal convention, he says, “1,300 hungover [Progressive Conservatives] would wake up at a convention hotel on Saturday morning and they’d grab a coffee and they’d stumble in to cast a ballot in the leadership review. 

“And 15 or 20 per cent or so — the people that didn’t get the appointment, didn’t get the funding, or the premier didn’t send flowers on their birthday or whatever — they would come and vote against the leader. And then everything was fine. And if that was what I was dealing with, no problems. No problem. Normal internal politics I can handle. I can handle that. There’s nothing normal about this.”

The leadership review itself has been changed to mail-in, after the number of new registrants for party membership greatly exceeded the capacity of the hall the party had booked for the planned in-person vote.

Alberta election follow-up

The ThreeHundredEight blog has a follow-up on the recent Alberta election. Key point of interest:

The idea that the PCs and Wildrose share the same voter pool is simply wrong. The right wasn’t divided. Rather, the anti-PC vote was divided between the New Democrats and Wildrose.

I suspect this is a more general phenomenon: when it appears that some party won due to divisions in its main opponent’s base, things are quite likely not as they appear.

Alberta 2015 election

5 May is provincial election day in Alberta. It really is hard to exaggerate just how tectonic a shift the result of the election result will be–if there is not some major polling error or late swing.

The Conservatives have ruled since the 1971, sometimes with massive majorities. They are now clearly in third place, according to the ThreeHundredEight projection. The NDP–yes, Canada’s most leftwing major party–is poised to win. The farther-right (almost tea-partyish for you south-of-the-border folks) Wildrose is in a clear second.

Yes, an NDP government in Alberta! One of the biggest oil-producing jurisdictions of North America, and the political base of the Canadian Conservative PM, Stephen Harper.

Wildrose led polls late in the 2012 campaign, but not by as much as NDP leads now. On the late collapse and the tea-party parallel, see a Weekly Standard article from just after the 2012 election. I like how that article says, “It’s as if the Tea Party movement here in the U.S. had been more of a real revolt, with tired taxpayers and fiscal conservatives fed up with overspending by Republicans and Democrats alike forming their own party.” Yes, just like that–and then the voters saying, forget both the old and this ‘new’ right, and while we are at it, forget the old center-left, too; let’s give social democracy a try!

There has been a discussion in the comment thread to the post about the 2012 election that has been going on for a while now. But it seemed about time to start a new one related to this election.

The fall of a hegemonic party?

In the chronicles of elections, ever noteworthy is the vote that results in the fall of a long-time hegemonic party. Tonight we may see such an outcome.

Somewhere in Africa? Asia, perhaps? No.

Canada. Or, to be more specific, Alberta.

The province has its legislative assembly election today, and the opposition Wildrose Alliance has been on track to win a majority. However, late in the campaign, the incumbent Conservatives have closed the gap. That we are witnessing a potential for alternation is momentous, for the Conservatives have governed since 1971, a string of eleven consecutive general elections.

During this string, the party has been genuinely hegemonic at times, winning more than 85% of the seats five times, and under 70% only twice (65.3% in 1971 and 61.5% in 1993). Its vote share has been under 50% only four times (1971, 1989, 1993, and 2004), with a low of 44.5% in 1993.

In the most recent election, that of 2008, the Conservatives managed 86.7% of the seats on 52.7% of the votes. Clearly, the party has benefited handsomely from the First Past the Post electoral system. At the same time, it has been more dominant in votes than most ruling parties under FPTP systems.

The challenger, the Wildrose Alliance, has attacked the Conservatives from the right. In 2008, Wildrose won only 6.8% of the vote and no seats. According to the ThreeHundredEight projection, Wildrose should win 43 seats out of 87, on 38.4% of the votes. The Conservatives should win 39 seats on 35.8% of the vote. Such a result would mean a balanced assembly, and likely a minority government. However, there is a great deal of uncertainty in the projection, with the estimate for Wildrose ranging from 22 to 62 and that for the Conservatives ranging from 20 to 62! Obviously there are a lot of closely contested ridings (districts) and this one may go down to the wire!

As has been usual in Alberta, the New Democratic Party looks set to come in third. The Liberals, who have been the second party in every election since 1989, with vote totals ranging from 26.4% to 39.7% in those elections (but only once more than 25% of the seats) might fall to fourth place.

With Wildrose hoovering up votes from disaffected right-wing voters who think the provincial Conservatives have gone soft, the Conservatives themselves may have to rely on tactical votes of NDP and Liberal sympathizers in urban ridings if they are going to hang on.

The Wildrose surge invites comparisons to the “tea party” south of the border. This is a party that does not accept climate science, wants to privatize (at least parts of) health-care delivery, and has had its share of gaffe-prone amateur candidates who were a bit too honest about their views on such topics as gays and South Asians.

Of course, the difference between Wildrose and tea-partiers is that while the latter have engaged in a takeover bid against the existing right-wing party, the former is challenging it head-on. Part of the difference is the dominance of the right in Alberta–even a split right will still result in a right-wing government of some flavor. And part of it is parliamentary democracy–operating as a tendency within a party is less attractive when you can form your own and thereby potentially take over the government.

Federalism and resource revenue equalization

In my Institutional Engineering and Democracy course, we have been discussing federalism and the problems of agreeing on an instituional design and revenue-allocation formulas that satisfy both a resource-rich unit of a federation and the central government’s desire to redistirbute to more populous units (thereby potentially increasing the power of the center, especially if its redistirbution is discretionary).

Of course, we have been discussing these challenges of federalism mainly in the context of cases like Iraq, Nigeria, and Russia. However, from CBC comes a reminder that these questions loom very large in Canada. Continue reading