I struggled in many ways and for weeks about the United Conservative Party leadership process and the quality of candidates. Central to my dilemma was deciding whether to buy a UCP Membership or not. I would have been driven by an opportunity for participating in the selection of the next Premier. What’s at stake is more than the next UCP Leader but also the Premiership of our Province.
The result of this internal UCP leadership selection process will determine the next Premier of Alberta, since the UCP is the current governing party. That will continue at least until May of 2023, the expected timing of the next provincial election. That’s been a significant consideration for me as a citizen. But the deadline to buy is past, so the question of to buy or not to buy, is now moot.
That consequence of the UCP leadership outcome, then, is therefore significant to all Albertans, not just UCP members. But without a UCP membership, you are cut out of the selection of the next Premier, who will be in office effective October 6, 2022. That’s the day the UCP leadership ballots get counted and the next UCP leader is declared.
Even though he or she is merely Premier for the time being, they will have personal control and influence over all the levers of political power through the Office of the Premier. With the centralization of power in the Premier, that has serious consequences on how we will be governed.
The Power of Parties vs Citizens
Remember, political parties are essentially private clubs with enormous influence on our political culture. Only the UCP membership will be selecting our next Premier, who will “serve” at least until the next general election, slated for May 2023.
So should we have bought UCP memberships and try to have some influence on who would be the next Premier of our Province? What if your analysis is that none of the UCP leadership candidates is worthy of your vote and consent to govern? Did you buy a membership anyway to vote “strategically” against the worst in the UCP barrel of bad apples?
In a democracy, there is a citizenship duty to participate in political decision making processes. Isn’t voting the minimal level of engagement one can undertake to meet that civic duty? What’s the tradeoff between that duty and one’s disdain for the political philosophy of the UC Party? What weight ought to be given to the real concern about who will become Premier as a result of the leadership contest inside the party?
Lessons From Past Leadership Processes
Back in the 1993 Progressive Conservative leadership race there were two leading candidates, Nancy Betkowski and Ralph Klein, in a very large candidate field. Betkowski came from the socially progressive side of the party and Klein appealed to the socially conservative faction. There were two distinct mindsets about how to govern, whom to trust, and little mutual respect between them.
I worked hard on the Betkowski campaign and convinced a lot of my friends, neighbors and acquaintances to buy a PC Party membership to vote for her and to show up against the hard right conservative wing in the PCs. The distinction between the leading candidates was clear, so the choices were easy. In the end, though, we on the progressive side of the party misread the situation.
Betkowski beat Klein by one vote in the first round of voting. In the two weeks, before the next vote, every other candidate, except Klein, quit and endorsed Betkowski. We rested, confident and content in our “inevitable” success. We assumed that outcome, given the support of all other candidates, and the level of personal support for Betkowski. We made a big mistake, and the result damaged Alberta, in many ways, for years to come.
What happened, was the Klein campaign woke up after the first vote. They worked hard selling memberships, especially to the social conservatives in rural Alberta. They sold a massive number of new members before the second vote. They beat Betkowski on a 60-40 split in the final vote. And the rest is history.
Organization is Still the Key to Winning Power
In the UCP Leadership there is a single vote ranked ballot process. There are multiple choices to be made and ranked but only one ballot. So candidates are presumed to be more civil and careful not to alienate the competition because they want those second votes from their supporters.
That holds true unless there is a clear and dominant front runner, and that is happening now in Danielle Smith campaign. She may win this on the strength of her first choices alone. But who knows for sure? Lots can go wrong between now and when all votes are cast. But she is the only one with major support and momentum as I write this.
Some of the also-ran candidates make claims to be “moderate” but none of them are truly center-right, in my estimation and analysis. The leadership candidate choices that I see are either bad, worse, or the worst. There is no Betkowski-Klein progressive versus conservative binary choice for leader/premier this time.
The polling shows the top three are Smith, Jean and Toews. Jean is inert and Toews is fading. Smith is getting almost all of the media attention and now more momentum from MLAs and Kenney Cabinet members shifting their support behind her. There is almost a Trumpist bandwagon forming behind her because of a growing fear in Caucus of being caught “off-side” after the results are in. We shall have to wait and see what the Rank and File Members mark their ballots. They mostly want someone to beat Notley and will ignore the obvious warning signs of decaying democracy under an aspiring separatist autocrat.
My Decision and Why
So given that is how I see the situation, I had to ask myself, why then would I buy a membership and vote in the UCP leadership at all? Wouldn’t my time, talent and treasure be better applied to defeating them in the next election? Why not forfeit my “say” and participation in the leadership? I really don’t see any significant value alignment with any of the candidates, so what would be the point?
That is the conclusion I came to. I did not buy a UCP membership. I declined the opportunity to participate in the leadership/premiership selection process. If you purchased a UCP membership for strategic purposes, good on you. I could not because I didn’t see a single candidate worth supporting.
I will instead, take the long view and work for the creation of a viable political alternative to the UCP. I will be trying to move the Alberta political culture beyond the left-versus-right adversarial partisanship. I will be encouraging a pro-social third-party political alternative that is not Separatist. My Alberta will include Canada.
I may be on a quixotic adventure, given the times. But the UCP leadership process has crystalized my thinking. I will be trying to change Alberta’s political culture by seeking more viable pluralistic political alternative that goes above and beyond the current outmoded adversarial mindsets and ideologies.
I have tilted at lesser windmills, with some successes, and many failures, before. All I can say for now is…here I go again.