In 2012, it seemed as though Alberta’s long-running Progressive Conservative dynasty was finished. The Wildrose Alliance party, led by Danielle Smith, was set to form government. Hence it was all the more shocking that the Wildrose lost the election.
In the aftermath of the election, Danielle Smith said that her party needed to do some “soul-searching” in regards to policies that were rejected by Albertans. Over the next two years, the Wildrose would begin moderating its political positions. It came out in support of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and denouncing intolerance against gays, even as it dumped other ideas such as having Alberta collect its own taxes, form its own pension plan and police force, and giving “conscience rights” to allow health-care professionals to not perform abortions if they don’t want to.
This was broadly seen as a move by the Wildrose towards the political centre, especially after the statements made by former candidate Alan Hunsperger about gays being condemned to burn in a “lake of fire” are widely seen to be one of the main reasons why the Wildrose lost in 2012. What’s less commonly known is that the Wildrose Alliance has long had elements in its platform that are not what one would typically expect from a conservative party.
As far back as 2010, the Wildrose Alliance had said that it would respect the federal Canada Health Act in delivering health care. The act has been criticized by conservatives who would prefer to see health care left entirely up to the provinces.
The alliance also talked about reducing price spikes in the energy market and supported providing incentives for the oil and gas industry to refine more of Alberta’s bitumen here at home. These policies don’t exactly mesh with the conservative mantra of governments not interfering in the marketplace.
Even though these policies are not typically associated with conservatism, they did not prevent the Wildrose from sweeping southern Alberta in 2012. Nor is it likely that moving towards the centre on social and environmental issues will hurt the party in the next election either. Even if you only believe that the Wildrose is making these changes to get elected, and are disguising their true agenda, the fact that the Wildrose thinks that doing this will help it win the next election speaks volumes.
This is nothing new in Alberta. Ralph Klein is widely remembered for cutting government spending and eliminating the deficit and debt, but once the books were balanced he started putting money back into the system. Similarly, when the Supreme Court ordered Alberta to include gay rights in its human rights code in the Vriend case, Klein refused to use the Charter of Rights’ notwithstanding clause to overturn the ruling, despite demands from other conservatives to do so. None of this prevented him from getting re-elected four times.
Moving to the political centre is often a key to success in Canada. In this, Alberta is no different from the rest of the country.
Jared Milne is a St. Albert resident with a passion for Canadian history and politics.