Will Alberta go Green?

Imagine the following intriguing scenario: the Green Party defeats the Conservatives to become the government in Alberta.

Farfetched? For the next election or two, yes, but not necessarily beyond that. Just ask Preston Manning. In a piece in today’s Globe and Mail (registration may be required), he argues that, based on past history, the next party to govern Alberta will not be one of the two current opposition parties:

No provincial government has ever been replaced by its traditional opposition. When Albertans change governments, the party in power has always (thus far) been replaced by a new group with a big, new idea.

The Liberals, replaced by the UFA, replaced by Social Credit, replaced by the Progressive Conservatives. There’s 99 years of Alberta political history in a nutshell — and in each case, the new government came out of nowhere.

So where’s nowhere now? How about the Greens. Manning doesn’t refer to them by name, but he does suggest that an environmental alternative is the most likely:

Recently, when pollsters ask Albertans to name their No. 1, top-of-mind concern, guess what finishes a very close second to health care? Environmental conservation.

An increasing number of Albertans (old and new, north and south, rural and urban) appear to care more and more about their province’s land, water, air, forests, wildlife, and those magnificent landscapes where prairie and boreal forest merge with the foothills and the Rocky Mountains. Alberta now has scores of well-organized, well-funded environmental and conservation groups, many disillusioned with the provincial government’s responses to their concerns and organizing increasingly at the grassroots level (just like the UFA, Social Credit and Lougheed Conservatives once did).

Alberta’s next government might be found in these groups if they coalesce politically, not necessarily under the Green banner — though the Greens won six per cent of the vote in Alberta in the last federal election.

To be sure, Manning is at pains to point out that the Conservatives could nevertheless reorganize themselves to deal with that issue — the same way that they did under Ralph Klein in 1993, when voters appeared to be turning to the Liberals in response to the Getty government’s apparent profligacy.

But parties aren’t always so lucky to have someone like Ralph Klein, who, though I almost always disagreed with him, I always figured to be a very shrewd son of a bitch with very good survival skills: he’s been very good at staying out of political trouble by changing his course when it appeared that the public mood was against him. He’s also done a pretty good job of preventing the social conservatives from fucking things up. By and large, he’s prevented most of the electorate from getting upset with the government for one reason or another.

Now imagine the political landscape when he’s gone. Who replaces him as leader? If the party selects a social-conservative mediocrity — I can’t say who; I haven’t lived in Alberta since early 1999 so I’m not up to date on my Kremlinology — they may quite simply defeat themselves, though it may take an election or two to do it.

Meanwhile, the environmental critique of natural resource exploitation continues from several fronts — from the Pembina Institute to Weibo Ludwig, when I was there. It’s not there yet, but it might be by the time that the Conservatives start to stumble and fall.