Ed Stelmach has taken an awful beating since he was elected Premier of Alberta. Trying to handle the economy when oil took a nose dive, the Greenpeace protests over the tar sands, and rising unemployment.
But history seems to be repeating itself as a new party is emerging on the provincial scene.
The Wildrose Alliance recently won a bi-election, and have been making a lot of noise in rural communities, following the pattern of their predecessor, the Reform Party; who also started out as a Western protest movement. (what was even more interesting about that bi-election was that the Liberals placed second and the Tories third!)
In fact, their platform is not unlike the one that Stephen Harper wrote for the Reformers ... privatize everything ... end social programs ... end public health care ... no abortions ... no rights for gays ... same old, same old.
But I'm not sure what to make of these guys, and certainly not ready to dismiss them. I made that mistake with the Reform Party back in the day, never believing that Canadians would ever accept a party with such bigoted views. But guess what? They are now running our country and poised to get a majority next election if we don't smarten the hell up.
It's difficult to determine though, how this will play out on the national scene. Many of the old Reform base have been upset that their agenda has not been met. Abortion is still legal, homosexuality is not a crime. But more importantly, they are blown away by the increasing deficit, bailouts and growing debt. This is Brian Mulroney all over again.
With Harper up in the polls right now, they may hang in knowing that all he needs is a majority and then look out. But if he doesn't get one, he'll be gone and the Reform-Conservatives could have a contender for the right-wing vote. Then again maybe the Ref-Cons are providing support for this new Social Conservative party, looking for an ally when they start their 'slash and burn' agenda.
Crack emerges in Alberta Tories' rural fortress
By Don Braid,
October 5, 2009
CALGARY - From northeastern Alberta comes the first solid sign of rural movement away from Premier Ed Stelmach to the Wildrose Alliance.
It's poetic justice, really, since Stelmach's people always blame Calgary for nearly every sign of dissent, and the little town of Bonnyville should be blissfully calm for the Tories.
Bonnyville is in the heart of Stelmach's northeastern power alley, flanked by the ridings of Treasury Board president Lloyd Snelgrove and Municipal Affairs Minister Ray Danyluk. The premier's own constituency is just down the road toward Edmonton.
But now the mayor of Bonnyville, Ernie Isley, has joined the Wildrose Alliance, along with an outspoken town councillor named Gene Sobolewski. For good measure, so has a former Tory MLA named Doug Cherry, who used to represent Lloydminster and now lives in Calgary.
"Too many things have happened with the leader," says Cherry, MLA from 1986 to 1993. "I just can't support him any longer. "They're not serving the purposes I stood for over many years. The Wildrose seems to be more my style."
There are dozens more like them all over Alberta -- former and current conservative politicians who are moving to Wildrose.
Some are staying silent for now, but Sobolewski, Isley and Cherry are glad to speak out.
"I've been Tory blue since I was 18, but I can't believe this government," says Sobolewski. "Are they out of their bleeping minds?"
"I travel all over Alberta and everywhere I go people are saying the same thing -- they can't believe it." If Stelmach wants him back, Sobolewski says, he'll have to "fire the health minister -- just get rid of Ron Liepert."
Sobolewski says he was startled last week when Isley revealed he'd bought a Wildrose card. After the mayor explained his reasons, though, he went out and got one of his own.
Isley was a Tory MLA and cabinet minister from 1979-93. His loss to the Tories -- if he really is gone -- is the highest-profile defection yet.
Like many other Conservatives, though, Isley still hasn't made a final break.
Much depends on the outcome of the Wildrose leadership this month, and Stelmach's own performance at the leadership review in early November. Isley will go to both party conventions and make up his mind.
And he might just back the premier -- but only if Ed meets his conditions:
"Number one, kick the health minister into the backbenches and change the whole direction of health care.
"Number two, cancel the proposed drug changes for seniors."
Heating up, Isley soon abandons his numbering scheme. "The money wasted on severance payments is obscene," he says. "It's obscene when an official in the premier's office gets a bonus equivalent to a nurse's salary."
Since Stelmach shows no sign of backing up on anything, Ernie's vote appears lost forever. Isley is making life very uncomfortable for local MLA Genia Leskiw.
"There's never a dull moment with Ernie around," she sighs from her legislature office. "He'll always say what he thinks. "I've known him for 38 years and I love him, but this is one time I just don't agree with him. I'm a very strong supporter of our premier -- he's the only reason I ran.
"The premier has a plan. We're in tough times and we have to make tough decisions."
That is exactly what every Tory MLA is expected to say. The problem is that even in rural Alberta, some influential Tories now think the decisions aren't just tough, but bad.