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Enough talk.
It's time to go political.

Since we began the Citizens Centre four years ago, we have been officially nonpartisan.

We have advanced certain political policies – and even politicians who champion them. But not political parties.

Parties bring a lot of complications with them. So we have stuck to policy and principles: provincial rights, Senate reform, and judicial restraint.

With your help, we have done this through newspaper columns, our web site and weekly emails, speeches, mass email campaigns, newspaper and radio ads, billboard campaigns and a national congress.

But we think we’ve taken it as far as nonpartisan advocacy can.

We think the time has come to switch strategies, and enter the political arena.

The key to reforming Canada lies in the Legislature of Alberta

Alberta, as everyone knows, gave birth to the Reform Party a generation ago.

That era is gone. It ended in January, 2001, when six noted Reformers in Calgary penned a famous “firewall letter.”

This was the first admission by Reformers that federal reform can’t come from Parliament. The initiative must come from provinces.

Best-known of the six were Stephen Harper, Tom Flanagan and Ted Morton, three of the best public policy minds in the country.

The firewall letter urged Premier Klein to use all the constitutional means at his disposal to distance Alberta from Ottawa, by opting out of the Canada Pension Plan, ending the provincial RCMP contract, collecting provincial income tax directly, and more vigorously challenging Ottawa in court over environmental and health interference.

Since they wrote that letter, the whole structure of “fiscal federalism” (federal subsidies to weaker regions) has come increasingly under attack by policy groups across Canada.

They say regional wealth transfers are bad for all provinces, not just the stronger ones. They also kill any incentive for have-not regions to take responsibility for their own future.

Ontario is even more harmed by the federal system than Alberta, but is too politically mired in left-liberal conventional thinking to force the issue.

The only province with the spirit and resources necessary to force change is Alberta.

But it must come from the Legislature. That’s where the constitutional power of the province resides.

Alberta - Land of periodic political earthquakes

Everything about Alberta is unusual – even odd.

The province probably has more hydrocarbons than anywhere else on earth, and the most entrepreneurial culture in Canada. Among all the provinces, it’s more inclined to think for itself, is more conservative, and more consensus-driven.

Albertans remain unique in electing only one political party for thirty years at a stretch (more or less), and then switching to a new one they’ve never tried before.
Despite a century of inmigration, the pattern has never altered. First came the Liberals (four straight wins). Then the United Farmers (three straight). Then the Social Credit (nine straight).

And, since 1971, the Progressive Conservatives (ten straight).

Alberta’s last upheaval was federal, not provincial. In 1993 Alberta switched in one election day from nearly all-Conservative seats (25/26) to almost all-Reform Party (22/26).

There are signs another shift may be building. It’s not inevitable. But with Ralph Klein gone and the Progressive Conservative Party is in a state of malaise, it’s distinctly possible.

The Alberta Conservative leadership race

During the four years that Klein lingered too long in office with nothing to do, the Conservatives began to quietly come apart.

Factionalism built up, unity broke down. When the leadership campaign commenced last fall, the bond between Calgary and rural Alberta – the alliance that has kept the Tories in power for 36 years – snapped. Calgary went en masse for candidate Jim Dinning. The rural areas voted heavily against him. That division remains a chasm.

At the Citizens Centre we threw our support to Ted Morton, co-author of the fi rewall letter – though we prefer to call it the Alberta Agenda.

Of eight leadership candidates, only Morton was pushing it.

He did far better than most people expected. He ran a strong second behind lead candidate Dinning in round one, drawing almost 26,000 votes province-wide (26%) to Dinning’s 29,000. Ed Stelmach was well back with 15%.

In the second and final round a week later, Morton rose to 41,000, Dinning to 51,000, and Stelmach to 52,000 on the first count. Stelmach won only when Morton’s second preference ballots were divided between the front-runners; but nearly one-third of the party would have preferred Morton.

Unhappy campers everywhere

Alberta’s political seismography is always hard to read. It’s never clear when occasional quiet rumblings from the right – such as the strong Morton showing in the leadership contest – prefi gure an earthquake.

Normally they don’t, so when the earthquake comes – as it eventually does – it’s always unexpected.

Still, certain things are clear enough.

Ed Stelmach is a weak leader who is focused on the Liberal threat, not on what could hit him from the right.

This is understandable.

The only right-wing party of any note, the Alberta Alliance, is virtually paralyzed. Leader Paul Hinman, though a good MLA, lacks the horsepower to take the province. Randy Thorsteinson, the party’s founding leader and current president, still acts like leader and controls the board.

Members quit in droves after the 2004 election.

Stelmach’s Tory leadership rivals are all waiting for him to lose Calgary seats to the Liberals in next year’s election so they can push him out and try again.

The annual Conservative convention last month was listless and poorly attended. Among the hundreds of no-shows were former premiers Peter Lougheed, Don Getty and Ralph Klein. The youth wing has disintegrated. Public approval ratings of both party and leader, though still high enough, are steadily eroding.

Few now expect much caucus turnover with the next election.

Most Tory MLAs are comfortably staying put, overdue democratic reforms within the party will not inconvenience them until after they’ve all been re-elected, and the Liberals seem to be winning Calgary by default.

Provincial operating spending will rise 12% this year, almost double the combined rate of infl ation and population increase, and credible people have warned that a Gettystyle provincial deficit is looming.

Resource activity is slowing down alarmingly, partly due to uncertainty about the new carbon taxes being introduced by Alberta and Ottawa.

Hanging unanswered above everything is the Alberta Agenda. And Morton is zipped up in Stelmach’s cabinet as minister of forestry, and can only talk about pine beetles.

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