the P.C. Party of Alberta — a many-headed hydra

Is the 2015 P.C. Party a ‘new’ party, innocent of the sins of earlier versions, because it has a new Leader? The answer is no. Premier Prentice is accountable for the Party’s misdeeds, not because he was personally involved but because he chose to assume the mantle of Leader. No party can escape its previous errors and shortcomings simply by changing its Leader, although the P.C. Party would like to maintain that wrong-headed idea.

The P.C. Party of Alberta is an interesting – and complex – institution. Basically, it has three inter-dependent parts: the Leader and caucus, the fundraisers, and the party organization. The fundraisers, by themselves, can bring down a Leader. Alternately, the other two (caucus, and party organization) working together can bring down a Leader.

The fundraisers have such power because the grassroots organization of the party has atrophied to the point that the party can no longer run a ‘boots on the ground’ campaign: it must run a cash-driven campaign.

(There are many reasons why the party can’t run a ‘boots on the ground’ campaign. The primary reason is that the purpose of the Party has shifted, from providing good government to self-preservation. Its principles of organization have evolved toward exercising power over [rather than power with], promoting fear more than hope, enforcing conformity, and operating on the principle that ‘if you aren’t with us you are against us’. Having the Leader, more and more often, choose candidates for constituencies is a good indicator of this direction. Disregarding the grassroots on matters of policy is another. Suggesting that critics are extremists, or un-Albertan, is another.)

Albertans make a serious mistake when they believe that a new Leader means a new/revitalized/humble Party.

The P.C.s 2014 leadership campaign was, arguably, the first one since 1985 (Don Getty’s election as Leader) in which Party insiders chose the Leader. Klein’s selection as leader, and Stelmack’s, and Redford’s were all accomplished with thousands of citizens who were reluctant to think of themselves as P.C.s, buying memberships and determining the outcome. Only with the Prentice election did we see such a low voter turnout that we can plausibly say the outcome was largely determined by party insiders. That implication doesn’t bode well for the renewal of the Party. And, indeed, the same person who ran the P.C. campaign for Ms. Redford is running the P.C. campaign for Mr. Prentice.

Mr. Prentice cannot change the reality that there are hundreds of people inside the P.C. party whose only interest is in maintaining their collective hands on the levers of power. Mr. Prentice cannot change the reality that the people he depends upon expect to be appointed to the Boards of universities and colleges, and to all the other Boards and Commissions to which Cabinet makes appointments.

The problems of arrogance and the sense of entitlement run far deeper than the caucus. They corrode the party throughout its being.

Mr. Prentice is riding a tiger, as was Ms. Redford and Mr. Stelmack, and Mr. Klein. One of his roles, as the rider of the tiger, is to draw others within reach of the claws. “Look how domesticated the tiger is, that nice man is riding its back.”


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