By Fabian Mayer, January 20 2017 —
Alberta’s next planned provincial election is still over two years away, but the battle lines are already being drawn.
Jason Kenney’s Progressive Conservative party leadership bid appears to be on track. He is doing well in the delegate battle and without any other high profile candidates in the race, his victory is starting to look inevitable.
Kenney stated his intentions of merging the PCs with the Wildrose at the outset. Should he win leadership of the PC party, there is little to stand in the way of that happening. He has the momentum and the support of other prominent conservatives — including former Prime Minister Stephen Harper — needed to unite the right.
By the time the dust settles and Albertans prepare to vote in 2019, the province may only have two viable political parties to choose from. The Alberta Liberals have been decimated and the Alberta Party’s struggle for relevancy continues. For voters hoping to help choose the next government, a united conservative party and the governing New Democratic Party will likely be the only options.
Recent history is unsettlingly clear about how campaigns play out when there are only two sides. The rhetoric becomes supercharged, emotions run high and things get personal.
Who will win will come down to how effectively each party can persuade centrist voters. Persuade might be the wrong word for what will be a downward spiral of negative attacks aimed at serving a dual purpose.
First, stirring up the party base to ensure they turn up on election day. And second, smearing the opposition as extreme ideologues to scare centrists into voting to keep the other guys out. Rage and fear will be the currencies of the campaign. And it’s going to get ugly, fast.
Kenney is already showing us a glimpse of the kind of rhetoric certain to dominate in 2019.
“Albertans want their province back,” Kenney said at the leaders debate on Sunday Jan. 15. — the thinly veiled implication being that progressives aren’t real Albertans and have no place running the province.
The phrase echoes the “we want our country back” slogan used so effectively by the leave side of the United Kingdom’s “Brexit” referendum. Creating the idea that something has been stolen is a powerful political tool Kenney clearly intends to take full advantage of.
In the U.K. the anger flowing from that grievance was mostly directed towards the European Union and its institutions. Without a similar external outlet, aggrieved Albertans’ anger has only one place to go — the voters who stole Alberta using the sinister trickery of the democratic process. Albertans will be pitted against each other like never before.
As the government, the NDP isn’t keen to wade into the mudslinging just yet. But once the gloves are off you can bet they will be doing all they can to paint a united right as a threat to public services and minority rights.
In 2016 Albertans watched politics around the world reach new heights of division and hate from the side. In 2019, they’ll have front row seats.