Alberta: A Cautionary Tale For #NeverBernie
A Canadian reader writes with a warning to Americans who think the US is too sensible to vote for a socialist like Bernie Sanders for president:
Normally I wouldn’t be one to share the minutiae of Albertan Provincial Politics with people who don’t live here and might not care, but because you’ve written recently about Jason Kenney become Premier, and because it acts as a cautionary tale for those who can’t see Bernie Sanders or a Socialist winning an election, here is some background on what happened here.
Alberta is the most conservative district in Canada (and potentially all of North America), and until 2015 was governed solely by conservative parties since 1935. As happens when a single party governs for too long, issues of entitlement and corruption started to emerge, and in the late 2000’s the sense that this described the Progressive Conservatives (PC) began to be widely held (one could call them a swamp in need of draining). Given our conservative nature, the strongest challenge to them came from the Right itself, and the Wildrose Party became the primary contender running on the dual message that the PCs were corrupt and had moved too far to the left on economic issues. The PCs, in a bit of a last ditch effort to hold onto power, chose a well-respected, fiscally conservative, ultimate technocrat to be their new leader, with the idea he would neuter the two talking points. The majority of Wildrose politicians actually agreed; they claimed victory in pulling the party to the right economically, figured voters would forgive them for reneging on their promise to clean up/punish the corruption, and crossed the floor to join the PCs (Full disclosure, I was working for a Wildrose politician at the time and can vouch for their mindset). Everything was fine, the province was back on the same road to financial prosperity it had always been on, and conservative political success would continue.
Less than a year later, the Progressive Conservatives were absolutely decimated in the 2015 election. They were reduced from 61 to 8 seats, the Wildrose Party that was left with no leader and apparently no hope (but still an anti-corruption message) actually gained 4 seats, and most unthinkable of all, conservative Alberta gave the far-left, socialist New Democratic Party a strong majority. Our Premier was the proud owner of a Che Guevara wristwatch, the party contained unrepentant communists, and millennial bartenders were winning seats in the heart of oil country (in short, Bernie would have felt right at home). The idea that fiscal policy concerns would drive voters more than emotional concerns was a gross miscalculation, and a generally conservative group of people was willing to forsake that because of anger, a desire to see things fundamentally shaken up, and frustration at the perceived out of touch nature of our elites.
Our socialist government only lasted one term, thanks to poor economic performance and Jason Kenney being able to get conservatives in the province on the same page, but the sense that the province has swung permanently leftward is pretty pervasive. What is once unthinkable can easily become thinkable given enough frustration, and President Bernie Sanders is far less unthinkable in my opinion than a socialist Alberta once was.
I’m going to repeat the most important part:
The idea that fiscal policy concerns would drive voters more than emotional concerns was a gross miscalculation, and a generally conservative group of people was willing to forsake that because of anger, a desire to see things fundamentally shaken up, and frustration at the perceived out of touch nature of our elites.
All those Rust Belt folks who broke for Trump — don’t be so sure that they won’t go for Bernie, just to stick it to the Man. What is once unthinkable can easily become thinkable given enough frustration…
On Tuesday night, the near-unthinkable happened here in Canada when the New Democratic Party (NDP) stormed to a commanding majority in Alberta’s provincial elections. To explain this in American terms: Imagine that Texas just overwhelmingly elected a legislature dominated by a left-wing party that opposes major oil pipeline projects; promises a core review of the obligations that oil and gas companies have to their communities; and favors fundamentally rethinking the tax structure toward large-scale redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor. Oh, and it’s going to insist that climate change is real, man-made, and should bear on any policy that involves burning more hydrocarbons.
Even this comparison is tough, because Americans don’t support a mainstream party as unabashedly left-wing as the NDP. (The Greens would be a decent analog. Or a breakaway party of Bernie Sanders acolytes.) Publicly NDP members say they’re “social democrats,” but most of its members, like Canadians at large, use that term interchangeably with “socialist.” Alberta has traditionally been unyielding soil for the NDP. The province is defined by its vast fossil fuel reserves, comparable to Saudi Arabia in its oil underfoot. Once oil was discovered there in the 1940s, actual Texans rushed up to establish companies and, concomitantly, a pro-capital, pro-religion, pro-firearm style of politics that the rest of Canada regards as distinctly American. For 44 years before Tuesday night, a span of twelve straight elections, Alberta has been run by the Conservative Party, a decent analogue to the Republican Party. Before that was nearly 40 years of even more conservative rule under the Social Credit Party.
The author of that piece is an NDP member. He blames falling oil prices for the voters’ abandonment of the Progressive Conservatives. The Albertan reader who wrote offers a much more in-depth explanation, having to do with party corruption. I just quote the NDP guy because the Texas comparison is so vivid.