The middle of the road seems to be a rather lonely place when it comes to Alberta politics.
I’m a recent arrival in this province, having celebrated my two-year anniversary earlier this week, so my frame of reference when it comes to the provincial political scene is admittedly limited. Having said that, it wasn't hard to figure out that Alberta leans strongly to the right, evidenced by the combined 80 years of Social Credit and Progressive Conservative rule that was halted in 2015.
I also recognize that right wingers in Alberta, or at least some of them, are as far right on the political spectrum as any place in the country and that if they can manage to co-exist under one tent, they’re a force that’s hard to deny. Staying united has obviously been a challenge over the past decade, and I’m not so sure the current leadership race will do a whole lot to further that objective.
A couple of the leading contenders in that race are former Wildrosers so there’s a distinct possibility the governing United Conservative Party could swing further to the right, which has the potential to make some moderates within their ranks uncomfortable. The only viable landing spot — and by that I mean another party that has a realistic chance of winning seats, let alone forming government — for these folks is the NDP, which seems like a significant ideological leap to make.
The gulf between Rachel Notley and, say, Danielle Smith is, to state the obvious, immense, so it surprises me there isn’t an alternative that falls somewhere in the middle. Yes, I realize there’s an Alberta Party as well as an Alberta Liberal Party, but neither has carved out much of a place in the province’s political landscape.
The Alberta Liberal Party got less than one per cent of the popular vote in the last provincial election and recently cancelled its leadership contest because nobody wanted the job. The Alberta Party seems to be in a bit better position, having received nine per cent of the vote in 2019, but it also failed to win a seat and doesn’t seem to hold much of a place in public consciousness.
Perhaps the outcome of the United Conservative leadership contest will change that, particularly if a significant number of moderates are in search of a new home, but it's hard to see that materially changing the fortunes of either middle ground party, although it’s not an impossibility.
I might be dating myself here, but I remember the 1991 B.C. election when a third party emerged out of nowhere to claim official opposition status, buoyed by the fact that many voters could no longer support the governing Socreds but couldn’t bring themselves to vote NDP. The right-of-centre riding where I lived elected a member of that upstart party, a candidate who entered the race with less than three weeks to go and had such a small campaign team his victory party was in his living room.
Nine months is an eternity in politics, so much could happen before Alberta voters go to the polls. It’s long enough, in fact, to make the middle of the road a little busier.