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o JASON KENNEY FOREIGN WORKERS facebookJason Kenney, the newly elected leader of PC Alberta, might well be the last leader of the party that governed Alberta for 44 consecutive years. Selected as the new leader with a mandate to effectively dissolve the party, though masked with a softer rhetoric of “Unite the Right”, Kenney will oversee the end of an era. The role is fitting, as Kenney himself was part of the Reform Party of Canada and the Canadian Alliance before it brought into its fold the ailing Progressive Conservative Party of Canada. Now he is leading the battered-down PCs in Alberta, for all intents and purposes, to be absorbed by the Wildrose Party. Reports of the death of PC Alberta are certainly not exaggerated, and in fact it has been prepared long before Kenney took over the rein of the party, as we shall see later in this “obituary”.

Following his victory, the optimistic Kenney promised that by May 5 the PC and Wildrose parties would reach a roadmap for unity. Yet date arrived without any such roadmap. This unity seems harder to achieve than many had thought, but again the demise of the PCs has also not been easy to digest by many in its ranks.

Regardless, the merger is already a reality, as the two leaders announced last week (May 18) with their agreement to create a new party, the United Conservative Party. There are only a few troublesome kinks to be ironed out in the next few months as members of both parties vote on the agreement on July 22. On one hand, Kenney wanted to bring everyone in the PCs on board with his unity plan, and make the funeral for PC Alberta as respectable as possible for those who are still having a hard time accepting this new reality. "It was a hostile takeover," said Eileen Banks, an executive member of the Lacombe Ponoka PC constituency association. "There was no respect shown for the long-term members and supporters of the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta — zero respect." What this provincial bureaucrat cannot understand is that this is a necessary takeover for the interest of the whole ruling class, which goes beyond her petty need for respect.

Meanwhile, Brian Jean had some disagreements within the ranks of Wildrose to sort out himself about how the merger should take place. “The caucus is split. There is no doubt about it,” said a Wildrose insider. Years of bickering between these two parties have definitely created some bad blood between many PC and Wildrose members. The distrust of Wildrose members against PC politicians is so high that for this unity to succeed, they have demanded the right for constituencies to recall their MLA and force a by-election, a democratic right that not even the NDP or many other labour parties around the world exercises. Furthermore, for some of the party bureaucrats and MLAs, the form of the merger could also determine their career prospects. But one thing that Kenney, Jean and the Albertan ruling class can agree on is that without this unity, they will not be able to defeat the NDP in the next provincial election and regain their throne.ae46e07c 8c5c 4640 b7c1 50c1ba01d65f

The demise of PC Alberta has been prepared for years since the 2008 financial crisis that disturbed not only the economic equilibrium, but also the political equilibrium. After more than four decades occupying the seat of power, the Albertan ruling class had become used to ruling without much opposition. Much like the kings and nobilities of the old age, they had convinced themselves of their God-given right to rule as they see fit. “L’etat c’est moi? Non, non. La société c’est moi!” the Conservatives flaunted for the longest time. However the only thing that is God-given in any sense in this province is the massive oil and gas deposit that is the source of envy of many other provinces.

The situation changed radically in 2008 with the global financial crisis that brought down the price of oil from the historical-high of $140 per barrel to a low of $40. This was a disastrous plunge for Alberta that relied heavily on oil revenue, and it happened just as the then premier Ed Stelmach was abolishing health care premiums which earned $1 billion in annual revenue for the government coffers. A projected surplus of $1.6 billion in the April 2008 budget quickly slid into the red. By the end of the fiscal year the government registered a $1 billion deficit, the first deficit in 15 years. The following year, the PC government tabled a $4.7-billion deficit budget, which was the largest deficit in Alberta’s history.

The impacts on workers were immediate and unforgiving. The drilling and oil field sectors laid off a quarter of its workers. Rural areas that depended on active drilling rigs for work were devastated.  Oil field suppliers such as truckers and caterers were not spared too as they saw their orders taking a hit.

This economic shock could not but prompt political turmoil in the ranks of PC Alberta. The premier’s public numbers tumbled and he began to lose control of his own caucus. Party infighting constantly plagued the once united PCs which finally forced Stelmach to resign in 2011. It was in this background that the fringe upstart Wildrose Party began to grow rapidly and absorbed many disgruntled PC members. Three PC MLAs defected to the Wildrose in 2010, with a rumour that as many as 10 MLAs were also considering following suit. This wave of defections gave the Wildrose four seats and recognition as an official party in the assembly.

While PC Alberta fundraising suffered, donations to the Wildrose Party skyrocketed from $230,000 in 2009 to $2.7 million in 2011. During the 2012 provincial election campaign, Wildrose amassed $3.1 million, while the PCs only received $1.6 million. The ruling class began to hedge their bet on a different horse, sensing that the once mighty and impenetrable Progressive Conservatives were sinking. Wildrose won 34 per cent of the popular vote, a five-fold increase from the meager 7 per cent it won in the 2008 provincial election. With 17 MLAs now in its pocket, it became the Official Opposition.

Alison Redford, who took over from Ed Stelmach, managed to lead PC Alberta to a majority in the 2012 provincial election, but it was a tenuous majority. The party was still fractured as it united just enough to win the election. Premier Redford never enjoyed the full support of the whole party establishment as she won the leadership race with just 19 per cent support on the first-ballot, with only one fellow MLA backing her. The leadership race also saw the lowest turnout, with just over 78,000 voting, down from 144,000 in the previous leadership race. Redford’s government was immediately riddled with a string of scandals, corruption, accusations of incompetence and open revolt among its MLAs. By 2014, two PC MLAs resigned in protest against the leadership of Redford, and 10 caucus members threatened to leave. Redford got the message and stepped down as premier on March 23, 2014.

To save the PCs, party elders brought in Jim Prentice, a seasoned federal politician and banking executive, to unite the tattered party. Unable to find a figure from within the party that could bring everyone together, the party establishment sought salvation from an outsider like Prentice, who had zero experience – and hence zero baggage – in Alberta politics. Prentice won the leadership race easily with a first-ballot vote of over 70 per cent, but with an even lower turnout of 23,000.

In the meantime the price of oil bounced back to around $100 per barrel by 2010 and held steady for the next few years. The initial economic and political shocks from the 2008 financial crisis seemed to have subsided, and Alberta was now touted as the main engine of the Canadian economy. The ruling class gradually regained its bearings and the election of Prentice with majority support coincided with this mood of confidence. There was a feeling amongst the Albertan ruling class that the worst was now over and there was no longer a need to split their forces into two competing parties. The main political vehicle of the capitalists had weathered the storm and would set sail for another 50 years of unchallenged rule, or so they thought.

danielle smithThus, on December 17, 2014, Danielle Smith, the leader of Wildrose, and eight other Wildrose MLAs surprised everyone by crossing the floor to the Progressive Conservatives. Smith said at the time that her Prentice agreed on many issues and it simply didn’t make sense for her to remain in opposition. “I don’t want to take down this premier. I want this premier to succeed,” she told reporters. Smith then asked the decimated Wildrose Party that lost a majority of its MLAs to disband and merge with the PCs as soon as possible, a cynical request that was rejected by Wildrose executives and party members. Two years later, the tables have turned, with the decimated PCs instead being disbanded and merged into the Wildrose Party.

Just as the ruling class was feeling confident, oil prices took a plunge and upset their whole plan. By early 2015, the price of oil nosedived to less than $50 per barrel and the spectre of recession was finally catching up to Alberta. “It’s going to be very hard for Alberta to avoid a recession this year,” announced Glen Hodgson, Conference Board of Canada’s chief economist, upon this sharp turn in the economic situation. This is the same economist who, just a few months earlier in November 2014, was filled to the brim with optimism about the Alberta economy and said to an audience of Calgary business leaders, “You’re frankly the superstar of the national economy. I wouldn’t be worried at all about Calgary’s economic situation.”

Prentice was counting on continued high oil and gas prices to bring Alberta’s budget out of the red, but instead he had to announce in January 2015 that his government would be posting a $500-million deficit as a result of the sharp tumble in oil prices. The PCs overplayed their hand when they thought that they had the political capital to shove an austerity budget down the throats of Alberta workers. Buoyed by the Wildrose defection, they thought they had once and for all re-established their political monopoly and called for a snap election to validate this belief. Within months the whole province shifted in a direction that no one ever thought possible, least of all the Conservatives: straight to the left to give Alberta NDP a majority government for the first time in provincial history.

And so, after serving just eight months as the premier of Alberta, Prentice exited the stage, duly humbled by the course of history that has never been kind to those who seek to bar its way. “My contribution to public life is now at an end,” lamented Prentice, who stepped down not only as the party leader but also as the MLA of a riding he just won in that same election. The captain, who had the best view from his bridge, knew full well that the ship was heading for an iceberg and he made a quick jump even before all the rats were privy to it.

The subsequent PC leadership race would be its last and was nothing but a referendum to disband the party. With 75 per cent of the vote, Kenney was given the honor to end PC Alberta. After moving back and forth between the two conservative parties, the oil barons of this province decided on the one running horse that they would place their whole bet on: the Wildrose Party, as the surest way to defeat the Alberta NDP.

The latest poll in February put the NDP dead last among the three parties, with the Wildrose at 33 per cent, the PCs with 24 per cent and the NDP at 20 per cent. A superficial look at this poll result suggests that the right could win a Wild-rose majority government or a PC-Wildrose coalition government, and that PC Alberta is still a viable electoral machine. Yet these numbers are deceiving. The internal state of PC Alberta is at odds with the poll numbers. With a completely demoralized rank and file, a non-existent leadership, not to mention its troublesome finances, it would be nothing short of a miracle for the PCs to transform these poll numbers into real votes by the next provincial election. The capitalists are sure prone to speculating, but not when it is their whole future that is at stake.

Meanwhile, the NDP still has a strong reserve of support beyond this poll that could be mobilized during the provincial election, when working people begin to pay closer attention to politics and how it affects their lives. The Alberta NDP polled just below 20 per cent before the 2015 provincial election was called and surged to 40 per cent by its conclusion. This is what worries the ruling class. Despite their incessant attempts to whip up right-wing McCarthyism-type hysteria against the “socialist” NDP provincial government in the past two years, they realize that this has only so much of an impact. They understand that they can no longer rely simply on decades-old political inertia to stay in power, as the whole political field has been turned upside down. The so-called “Alberta Advantage” that they thought would shield them from the turmoil of world politics has been smashed to bits by the hammer blow of events. Hence their determination to bring the two conservative parties together, even if it means parting with a nearly half-century tradition.

1297685184144 ORIGINALHowever, if the Alberta NDP leadership sits on their hands, thinking that they could defeat the united conservatives in the next election by appearing moderate, then they haven’t learned anything from the embarrassing debacle of the federal Mulcair leadership. The provincial NDP government has sailed through the first half of their term without much opposition from their working class and youth base, but also without much fanfare, as they simply spend their way through the crisis uninspiringly. The Alberta NDP also hopes that by not offending the oil barons the latter will be kind enough to leave them alone. Yet this hope never materializes. While the oil barons take everything they can with their left hand - concession after concession from the provincial NDP government - they are also preparing a mortal blow against this party and against the working class movement, with their right hand.

Youth, workers and rank-and-file NDP members are rightly worried about the possible return of conservative rule. However, the experience of the past two years has been an important learning experience. The approaching conclusion of PC Alberta is but one of many signs of the new era that we are entering. It has left an important mark in the consciousness of Alberta’s working class. The victory of the NDP instilled confidence in the workers that they could win. This will prepare the workers for a sharper clash which is in the making. What is needed now is to couple this new found confidence with an inspiring socialist program that has the audacity to face the oil barons and their political machine head on.