Albertans Have To Accept They Live In A One-Party State

Pipestone Flyer

Roger Gibbins

Senior Fellow Canada West Foundation

CALGARY AB – As the Progressive Conservatives swallow the Wildrose, there will undoubtedly be teeth gnashing and garment rending as commentators reflect on the health of democracy in Alberta.

Certainly the Conservatives’ electoral grip will only strengthen going forward, and Premier Jim Prentice can put the champagne on ice as his party plans for its 50th year in office in 2021.

The state of the opposition is nicely described by John Cleese’s classic Monty Python parrot skit: “it’s passed on, is no more, ceased to be, bereft of life. It’s rung down the curtain and joined the choir invisible.”

This demise leaves Albertans in the uncomfortable position of living indefinitely in a one-party state, and thus we can expect a raft of proposals to resuscitate the opposition, to merge existing parties or create new ones to challenge the Conservative big tent from the left or right. All of this noise, however, may preclude a more constructive conversation about the future of democracy in the province.

The starting point for that conversation is to accept the reality of a one-party state, as Danielle Smith appears to have done, while also recognizing that a good measure of democracy can nonetheless exist. Here we can learn from the Americans who have been adept at using primary elections to replace electoral competition between parties with competition within parties.

In the South following the end of the Civil War it was next to impossible to elect anyone other than Democrats. Voters, it was alleged, would vote for a yellow dog before they would vote for a Republican. Yet democracy did not die with the death of party competition. It moved, or at least staggered, into the use of primaries to select Democratic candidates for state and federal office.

Since then, primary elections have become commonplace across the country, and in many cases are the only meaningful contests. Given that 96 per cent of incumbents in the House of Representatives win if they stand for re-election, the only true competitions take place in the primaries.

 Maybe, then, Albertans can redirect their longstanding interest in democratic reform to intra-party reform. If Conservative candidates are virtually assured of election in the one-party province it has become, maybe we have to open up the nomination process to much broader public participation.

Now admittedly, this would mean that provincial elections would be a mere formality with respect to choosing a government, and the Legislative Assembly would cease to be a significant forum for political debate. But surely this point has been reached already?

If we’re clever, we could use provincial elections as a platform for citizen initiatives and referendums, as a new way to hold the government in check.

 It is useful to note the absence of references to California, the largest state, in the recent mid-term elections. Congressional seats were locked down well before the election, leaving no hot contests to report, but there were numerous and vigorous referendum campaigns. Democracy in California has been redirected more than muzzled.

Now, some may be uncomfortable using the American south or even California as a democratic model. I would argue, however, that Albertans would be better off studying the American experience than beating their heads against the mantra “we need an effective opposition.”

A serious exploration of intra-party democracy might also counter some of the external criticism Alberta is bound to encounter as opposition parties expire. Those who describe Alberta as a petro-state will be happy to add “one party dictatorship.” We have to demonstrate that democracy is alive and well in Alberta; it has just found a new home

Roger Gibbins is a senior fellow with the Canada West Foundation. Source: www.troymedia.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

File photo
Another new high: Red Deer hits 574 active COVID-19 cases

Province reports 13 new COVID-19 deaths, 430 new cases

Maskwacis RCMP regular members, Community Tripartite Agreement (CTA) members and support staff proudly wore pink in support of Pink Shirt Day on Feb. 24, 2021. Supplied/ Maskwacis RCMP.
Maskwacis RCMP embraces Pink Shirt Day

Maskwacis RCMP engage in virtual presentations with schools on anti-bullying for Pink Shirt Day.

Minister Rick Wilson poses with Katie at the Boys and Girls Club of Wetaskiwin, both wearing her Pink Shirt Day design. Facebook/ Boys and Girls Club of Wetaskiwin.
Be kind and wear pink for Pink Shirt Day

Katie with the Boys and Girls Club of Wetaskiwin created this year’s Pink Shirt Day design.

Black Press File Photo
Valentine’s Day shooting in Maskwacis leaves one male in hospital, one male in custody

19-year-old Francis Edward Nepoose from Maskwacis has been charged with attempted murder.

Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw reported 11 additional deaths over the past 24 hours. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta
Red Deer active COVID-19 cases drop slightly

Province reports 267 additional COVID-19 cases, 11 new deaths

Bookings for COVID-19 vaccines for people age 75 or older start Wednesday. (File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Updated: Delays for seniors booking for vaccine appointments

By 9:20 a.m. Wednesday, 4,500 seniors had booked their appointments

Red Deer Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Anne Kirker is expected to sentence Satnam Singh Sandhu on Friday. Red Deer Advocate file photo
Updated: Sylvan Lake man pleads guilty to manslaughter for strangling wife in 2019

Kulvinder Sandhu was strangled and died in hospital several days later

Sentencing delayed in the stabbing death of Samantha Sharpe, of Sunchild First Nation. (Red Deer Advocate file photo)
Central Alberta man not criminally responsible for killing his father in 2020: judge

Psychiatrist testified Nicholas Johnson was psychotic when he killed his father

The cover of “Hometown Asylum: A History and Memoir of Institutional Care.” (Submitted)
Ponoka-born author writes history of old mental hospital

“Hometown Asylum: A History and Memoir of Institutional Care” covers 1911 to 1971

Todd Hirsch. (Image: screenshot)
ATB vice president gives financial forecast to Ponoka chamber

Predictions for reopening of the economy and recovery outlined

Meteor spotted over Edmonton, Alta., on Feb. 22, 2021 by several, who took to social media to share their surveillance camera captures. (@KixxAxe/Twitter)
VIDEO: Fireball meteor streaks across sky, spotted by early-morning risers in Alberta, B.C.

Videos of the quick streak of light flashing across the sky before 6:30 a.m. MST

(Canada Post-Special To The News)
Ontario Canada Post worksite hit by major virus outbreak excluded from inspections

Just this year more than 300 employees have tested positive for COVID-19 and one person has died

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at NIH. (Pool/Getty Images/TNS)
Possibility of wearing masks into 2022 to defeat COVID-19: Dr. Fauci

Despite getting vaccinated, masks will be essential

Sarah Palmer holds up a swab before administering a COVID-19 test in late December. The state announced on Tuesday that a variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 had been detected in Alaska for the first time. (Photo by Ben Hohenstatt/Juneau Empire)
Canada’s ‘long-haulers’ without family doctor need primary care: medical association

At least 10 per cent of COVID-19 patients are believed to suffer from symptoms months after their diagnosis

Most Read