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

Alberta has 3,651 active cases of COVID-19. (File photo)
432 new COVID cases sets another record Friday

Central zone holds steady at 126 active cases

"We are looking seriously at the spread and determining what our next steps should be," says Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, as the daily number of COVID-19 cases continues to climb.
427 new COVID cases is highest in Alberta ever

Central zone has 126 active cases of COVID-19

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Temporary COVID-19 testing sites coming to Wetaskiwin and Ponoka

The Wetaskiwin location will open Oct. 23, 2020 and the Ponoka location will open Oct. 29.

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
City and County of Wetaskiwin reporting active cases

Both the City of Wetaskiwin and County of Wetaskiwin have active cases.

Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw updates media on the Covid-19 situation in Edmonton on Friday March 20, 2020. nbsp;Alberta is reporting it's highest daily number of COVID-19 cases, with 364 new infections. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta confirmed 323 COVID-19 cases Tuesday

Central zone active cases at 145

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson, B.C. NDP leader John Horgan and B.C. Greens leader Sonia Furstenau. (Black Press Media)
VIDEO: One day until B.C. voters go to the polls in snap election defined by pandemic

NDP Leader John Horgan’s decision to call an election comes more than a year ahead of schedule and during a pandemic

This photo provided by Air Force Reserve shows a sky view of Hurricane Epsilon taken by Air Force Reserve hurricane hunter team over the Atlantic Ocean taken Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020.   Epsilon’s maximum sustained winds have dropped slightly as it prepares to sideswipe Bermuda on a path over the Atlantic Ocean.  The National Hurricane Center says it should come close enough Thursday, Oct. 22, evening to merit a tropical storm warning for the island.  (Air Force Reserve via AP)
Hurricane Epsilon expected to remain offshore but will push waves at Atlantic Canada

Epsilon is not expected to have any real impact on land

A voter places her absentee ballot in the ballot box, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020, at Merrill Auditorium in Portland, Maine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Robert F. Bukaty
American voters living in Canada increasingly being counted in presidential race

The largest number of Canadian-based American voters cast their ballots in New York and California

A composite image of three photographs shows BC NDP Leader John Horgan, left, in Coquitlam, B.C., on Sept. 25, 2020; BC Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau, centre, in Victoria on Sept. 24, 2020; and BC Liberal Party Leader Andrew Wilkinson Pitt Meadows, B.C., on Sept. 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck, Chad Hipolito
British Columbia votes in snap election called during COVID-19 pandemic

NDP Leader John Horgan called the snap election one year before the fixed voting date

Nunavut's provincial flag flies on a flag pole in Ottawa, on Tuesday June 30, 2020. The annual report from Nunavut's representative for children and youth says "complacency and a lack of accountability" in the territory's public service means basic information about young people needing services isn’t tracked. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Nunavut’s young people ‘should be expecting more’ from government services: advocate

‘The majority of information we requested is not tracked or was not provided by departments’

Ryen Williams, 11, with a lost miniature horse at JJ Collett Oct. 23. Photo by Don Williams
UPDATE: Owners found

Father and son found him while out for a walk at JJ Collett

A Le Chateau retail store is shown in Montreal on Wednesday July 13, 2016. Le Chateau Inc. says it is seeking court protection from creditors under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act to allow it to liquidate its assets and wind down its operations.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Clothing retailer Le Chateau plans to close its doors, files for CCAA protection

Le Chateau said it intends to remain fully operational as it liquidates its 123 stores

U.S. border officers at the Peace Arch crossing arrested two men on California warrants this week. (File photo)
Ottawa predicts system delays, backlogs unless court extends life of refugee pact

Canada and the United States recognize each other as safe places to seek protection

Conservative member of Parliament Michelle Rempel Garner, left to right, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole and Conservative Deputy Leader Candice Bergen arrive to hold a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
No-confidence showdown over sweeping Tory motion on government handling of pandemic

The Conservative motion is to be put to a vote Monday and has the support of both the Bloc Québécois and NDP

Most Read