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If Alberta’s Conservatives won’t take on Ottawa, why are they there? Print E-mail
Written by Link Byfield   
Monday, 28 November 2005

Not much attention was paid two weekends ago to the election of Paul Hinman as leader of the Alberta Alliance Party.

This is understandable. Though the Alliance is the biggest of Alberta’s centre-right splinter parties, it drew only 9% of the vote last year, and Hinman (from the rural southwest) was its only successful candidate.

By comparison, 47% of the vote went to the Tories and 29% to the Liberals. Even the NDP got 10%.

Still, I’d give the Alliance better odds than the Liberals or NDP of becoming Alberta’s next governing party.

The three unofficial rules of Alberta’s political road are that voters never signal a lane change, a winning party passes on the right not the left, and it remains in power until it runs out of gas and is permanently abandoned in the ditch.

The Liberals governed Alberta for 16 years, then the United Farmers for 14, and then the Social Credit for 36. The Conservatives have governed for 34.

Each previous party had three premiers and then vanished into history when the province-wide political consensus suddenly changed. Klein, be it noted, is the third Conservative premier, and the party vehicle has been losing momentum.

Hinman and the Alliance have the best opening they will ever get.

The next election is three years away, and Klein says he will linger as premier for another two. It isn’t clear why. He seems to have nothing else to do.

This means the Tories must survive two long years with no leadership, no agenda, a generally hostile federal political environment, and all the internal strain of an undeclared leadership campaign.

Stalled and distracted, the Tories are studiously ignoring an issue that is increasingly preoccupying Albertans.
As they traveled the province, the four Alliance leadership candidates say they encountered one overwhelming question: what should Alberta do about Ottawa? “Should we separate?” “How can we get the feds to back off?” “Why won’t the Conservatives do anything?”

Albertans want lower taxes, less federal government, and lower transfers to other parts of Canada.

The provincial Conservatives, except for Ted Morton and a few others, aren’t interested in any of this. They blandly brush it all aside as “separatism.”

Sitting on the fattest government surplus any province has ever seen, and talking to corporate supporters who are richer than they ever dreamed possible, the Tories think everything in Ralph’s World is fine.

Well, it isn’t. Most people don’t own oil companies and have to struggle as hard as ever. Boom-time costs rise as fast as boom-time incomes.

I got a call out of the blue recently from a long-haul trucker in central Alberta who asked, “How can I start a tax revolt?”

He said he works like a dog for $65,000 a year, loses a third of it to governments that waste it like criminals, can’t support his family and is at his wits’ end.

And all he hears from Klein and Paul Martin is that he’s never had it so good. He thinks they both live on Pluto.

I sense there are a million Alberta voters like this trucker, who are as tired of the provincial Conservatives as they are of the federal Liberals.

If Paul Hinman and the Alliance are smart enough to offer a credible alternative three years from now, a new chapter in Alberta history will open.

- Link Byfield

Link Byfield is chairman of the Edmonton-based Citizens Centre for Freedom and Democracy, and an Alberta senator-elect.
"Just Between Us" is a feature service of the Citizens Centre for Freedom and Democracy. The purpose of the Citizens Centre is to enhance freedom and democracy by enabling ordinary citizens to become active and effective on important issues outside the normal processes of party politics.

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