Keith Topolski examines how the world's longest serving conservative government has sold out-or been bought out.
With a provincial election looming by 31 May, Albertans are faced with a unique question: Will the Alberta Government become the longest serving democratically elected government in history?
The ruling Progressive Conservative party has ruled Alberta since 1971, and its predecessor, the conservative Social Credit Party, reigned from 1935.
Not for 77 years has Alberta been faced with a government that is not of a conservative persuasion.
But is that last statement actually true?
Last Thursday, the Progressive-Conservative Government, now led by Alison Redford, handed down its first Redford budget.
Ms Redford came to the leadership on the back of growing restlessness in Alberta with the big government ways of Ed Stelmach.
However, nothing has really changed.
The Toronto Globe and Mail has praised the Alberta budget as predicting 'a rosy future'.
As any true conservative would tell you, when the Globe and Mail starts praising you, your political hue more resembles a tomato than the ocean.
What is most telling about the key features of this budget is the lead paragraph from the Montreal Gazette, which speaks of 'no tax increases while spending a record $41.1 billion and recording the fifth consecutive provincial deficit'.
Note that the $41.1 billion in spending is a provincial record. Also note that this deficit is No. 5 and counting.
Redford claims that the deficit will be wiped out by an injection of funds from 'new energy revenues'.
However, the Gazette headline promised 'no tax increases'.
Now, either the headline is an out and out lie, or Redford is going to kick back and wait for the economy to grow so she can cash in on extra tax revenues, assuming it does continue to grow with the current Keystone pipeline drama playing out.
Now, one might argue that this is good politics, that letting the province grow out of deficit is a good thing.
Maybe, maybe not. However, what is not mentioned in these articles, but is left to the National Post to mention, is that the record $41 billion spend is an increase of 7% on the last Alberta budget, and Alberta now spends more money on each citizen than any other province, and even more than the Federal Government.
If you do the maths on this, if Alberta froze public spending for this financial year, the budget would have returned to surplus. No ifs, ands or buts.
This raises, therefore, the question of the ideas the Alberta Progressive Conservatives are now based on.
Is this really a party committed to conservative economic policies, or have the progressives hijacked the agenda?
This is a curious question because of the presence of primaries in Canada, combined with one of the longest surviving governments in history.
In Alberta, if it is blue, people vote for it. If it is red, people shoot it, politically speaking. Not since 1921, in fact, has Alberta had a Liberal Government (Liberal in the American sense).
This has not gone unnoticed by many in Alberta's less than sizeable progressive community.
Instead, progressives have now signed up to the Tories, not because they agree, but because they know the only way to be a politician with credibility in Alberta is to wear blue.
This hypothesis is often queried, but the numbers don't lie.
In the 2006 leadership race, the most economically conservative candidate, Ted Morton, polled 15,000 first round votes and 41,000 second round votes before being eliminated as part of the instant run-off.
Last year, the same Mr Morton polled just 7,000 first round votes, and last year featured just one economic conservative.
Credit where it is due to the left, they have infiltrated and succeeded.
However. This raises the question of political apathy on the part of Albertans. Given how strongly the PC party has dominated for the last four decades, what will it take for Albertans to change their government?
History is as important as ideology in this instance.
Throughout its history since 1906, Alberta has elected four governments.
No, that's not a typo. Only four separate governments have controlled Alberta over the last 106 years.
Henceforth, when Albertans decide to change their government, there needs to be a major problem for them to act.
Politically, though, as indicated at the last Federal election, Albertans are still attached to their conservatism.
Of the 28 ridings represented in Ottawa, only one is not blue.
So, what happens in there is no conservative alternative?
Well, one is created.
The Wildrose Alliance, headed by Danielle Smith, has almost moved itself into official opposition status.
It takes much searching through the history books to find a political party in any Canadian election which sat to the right of the PCs.
However, this is now reality in Alberta.
And this reality comes with a 'zero-budget' plan as espoused by the Alberta PCs, which has Smith and her classical liberals seeing red, no pun intended.
This 'zero-budget' system sees a budget built from scratch, each year, without any regard for spending limitations or deficits, although this deficit ignorance is not noted officially in the plan.
This is on top of some incredibly dodgy spending from the PCs.
I will let the article carry the words:
Earlier this month, cabinet ministers went on a taxpayer-funded tour to hear from Albertans at a cost of $100,000.
Tory backbencher Lloyd Snelgrove, long disenchanted with the direction of caucus under Redford, labelled the exercise a cynical photo-op and quit to cross the floor and sit as an independent.
That was followed up last week by a $70,000 taxpayer-funded Tory caucus retreat to a Rocky Mountain resort near the ski-getaway town of Jasper.
Critics, including the Wildrose, noted that Tory election candidates who are not in caucus were in Jasper as well. While those candidates paid their own way, critics said their presence turned the Jasper trip into a publicly-funded Tory party election readiness session.
Whether this PC Party situation speaks more of long-term governments or the merits of the primary process where 'recruitment' (Glorified branch stacking might be a better term) is indicative of a good leader remains to be seen.
However, what cannot be disputed, as written by Kelly McParland, is that 'The richest province in the country, which doesn’t need sales taxes because it has oil and natural gas, is running a deficit and siphoning money from its trust fund to pay for short-term spending bonanzas, with no guarantee the money will still be there down the road.'
Will the mix of social conservatism and economic socialism presented by the PCs triumph, or will the classical liberal, almost libertarian, policies, economic and social, of Danielle Smith win the day?
While most will ignore this election as just a small time provincial election, this could present a valuable case study into what people find more important in their politics: economic security, or social values.
Keith Topolski is a former member of the NSW Young Liberal Executive and is studying Communications.