Next week could see a right-wing Wildrose Alliance Party government in Alberta—and with it, a more contentious relationship between eastern and western Canada.
Tim Hudak must be gnashing his teeth in envy. While in Ontario, the middle-left Liberals and NDP bicker genteelly over the budget, Albertans go to the polls on April 23 in a two-party race between the right-wing Progressive Conservatives and the more-right-wing Wildrose Alliance Party. Polls show the upstart Wildrose and leader Danielle Smith are within lasso distance of ending 40 years of Tory rule, an outcome that could have a knock-on effect here in Ontario.
The Wildrose Party represents an assertive and combative Alberta, energized on full employment and resource royalties and not afraid to take maximum advantage of their economic clout. Having declared the Conservatives too pink and prissy for the land of Stetsons and dirty oil, the party is musing about changes to their relationship with the federal government and the rest of the country. These changes could include, among other things, reduced transfer payments from Alberta to other provinces under the equalization program, greater control over immigration, and opting out of the Canada Pension Plan in favour of an Alberta-based model.
While leader Smith describes herself as a libertarian who wouldn’t legislate social issues, recent embarrassments imply that some Wildrose candidates hold views more aligned to those of south-of-the-border Tea Partiers. Alan Hunsberger got flak for a blog post last year warning that practicing homosexuals would “suffer the rest of eternity in the lake of fire” (curiously, while many in the media criticized the remark as homophobic, few pointed out that it’s also insane), while another candidate opined that as a Caucasian, he was better equipped than visible minority citizens to represent constituents. Even Smith herself isn’t immune to some Yankee-style crazy, saying in an online debate last week that the science behind climate change “isn’t settled,” an assertion that puts her at odds with pretty much every major scientific organization on the planet.
What impact could the success of the Wildrose party have on us poor wretches still trying to eke out a living here in the Rust Belt? For one thing, if Smith does form the next Alberta government, it’s likely that there will be some serious discussion with Stephen Harper about keeping more of that oil-sands cash in-province, with potential reductions in payments to newly have-not Ontario. An isolationist Alberta might also be harder to work with on issues demanding provincial cooperation, such as health-care funding and cross-border commerce.
Moreover, if the ramping up of right-wing rhetoric wins the day out west, we could see more of the language of division that’s already been piloted with mixed results by certain politicians here in Ontario. Toronto mayor Rob Ford rode into office on synthesized outrage and a largely imaginary gravy train, and the last provincial election proved there’s a market for political platforms based on bombast and regressive social policies. The last thing Ontario needs is a new role model to encourage them.
Radicalism and short-sighted provincialism can be appealing on the campaign trail, but the real world experience of governing often has a moderating effect. If the Wildrose do win their election, we should hope this is one of those times.