Internal conquest: what non-conservatives must do first if they want to win

Alvin Finkel, co-chair of the Alberta Democratic Renewal Project and ChangeAlberta, wrote a blog post on Sunday wondering what the next step for Alberta’s ‘centre-left’ is, and I thought I would respond with a blog post of my own.

First, electoral behavior research regularly shows that the average citizen does not think in terms of ‘left’ and ‘right’ and that many citizens do not really understand what those labels mean.

Second, if one takes Alison Redford’s policy agenda, strips out names, reduces it to general principles, and gives a summary to a class of Political Science 201 students, the class would likely be split in guessing whether that agenda was put forward by a ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’ party. Moreover, there would be similar results if one repeated the exercise for Peter Lougheed’s policy agenda. What this illustrates—besides the uncanny ability of the PC party to take the pulse of the people—is the enduring strength of pragmatic, non-ideological politics in Alberta. Redford is on the right track when she dismisses the importance of ideology.

As an aside, consider the esteem to which Lougheed is held in various circles. Within the PCs and most political observers, he has reached apotheosis. Many Liberals will also sing Lougheed’s praises. Some will even crack the joke that a Liberal premier once ruled Alberta, and his name was Peter Lougheed. New Democrats and Wildrosers, however, tend to have a more cloudy view of Lougheed, and their respective objections tend to be predictable on an ideological basis. (If you do not believe me, do your own mini-survey!)

Third, I highly doubt that Liberals, New Democrats, and Alberta Party-ers agree on 98 percent of issues. Have you seen debates between ND ideologues and ND pragmatists? Or, between pro-name-change and anti-name-change Liberals? How can there be accord between parties when there is hardly accord within parties?

While Finkel laments the ‘narcissism of small differences’, such is the reality of politics. Furthermore, the practical issues of who would get to lead and what the name would be of a hypothetical ‘grand coalition of non-conservatives’ would be even greater issues to surmount.

What is the solution to the problems of coordinating non-conservative parties and voters? It is not more dialogue. It is not strategic voting. It is not electoral reform. It is quite simple: remove the need to coordinate in the first place.

There are countless stories of feuding sibling states that were unified, and by ‘unified’, I mean ‘one leader of one sibling state conquered the other sibling states and imposed unification’. China, Britain, Italy, Germany, and Saudi Arabia are all great states in different continents and in different times that were unified by great leaders through hard-fought conquest. The parallels between war and politics need not be explicated to understand this point. The very conquering of the federal PCs by the Reform Party clearly illustrates a contemporary Canadian example.

I do not think that a formal merger needs to—in fact, I do not think it could—take place. Rather, one among the parties of the non-right needs to subdue to the others and become the dominant banner under which non-conservatives stand. Alberta’s own history has shown that there is little room for one non-conservative party, let alone two. That has been used as evidence to support Alberta’s generally conservative nature, or hostility towards non-conservatives. However, one cannot ignore the fact that Laurence Decore came closer to unseating the PCs in 1993 than the Wildrose did in 2012, and he was not only a Liberal, but a Liberal in a time when the NEP was fresh in people’s minds. The other fact about 1993, which is often overlooked, is that Decore wiped the NDP off Alberta’s electoral map, which is not the first time that one of the two main non-conservative parties has done that to the other. That shows that it is within the realm of possibility for a non-conservative to form government in Alberta, but that the removal of competition from other non-conservative parties is a prerequisite.

The solution is not complex, but quite simple: destroy your competitors for hegemony amongst non-conservatives. That the NDP moved towards the centre and the Liberals moved to the left during this election campaign indicates that both of them understand there can only be one of them. The Alberta Party, in rejecting both the NDP and Liberals, seems to have an understanding of this argument as well, though I doubt if the majority of their rather idealistic membership has the stomach for realpolitik, when their raison d’etre is to move away from such ‘old-fashioned politics’.

Of course, even if one party among the NDP/Liberals/AP were able to conquer the others, there is no guarantee they would actually be able to unseat the Tories. Alberta has not elected a ‘non-conservative’ government since 1930, but that was a different era, and the United Farmers were also agrarian prairie populists—something to which none of the non-conservative parties of today could lay claim.

I could go on, but I am already starting to ramble. The bottom line is that, if non-conservatives want to succeed, they will need to be forcibly united under one banner. If that sounds undemocratic, bear in mind that democracy does not actually ‘seek’ consensus but imposes consensus through the will of the majority. What I am suggesting is nothing more than the imposition of consensus among non-conservatives in a way that functionally reduces their political choices to one party, thus obviating the near-impossible task of coordinating votes.

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About jbsantos
Polling, politics, PR and outdoor pursuits.

2 Responses to Internal conquest: what non-conservatives must do first if they want to win

  1. alvinfinkel says:

    Interesting, John. But if it’s the voters who are supposed to impose a consensus on these squabbling parties by adopting one and firmly rejecting the other, it hasn’t happened yet. They may both sink into irrelevance before they reach either a tactical alliance or are forced into a merger in which one or the other essentially gets pushed into the backgrond

  2. jbsantos says:

    Yes, there is a chance they may both sink to irrelevance, a situation that most cynical conservatives believe has already happened. To be clear, while a tactical alliance or a merger are both possibilities, I think the practical difficulties of either mean that they exist purely within the theoretical realm.

    However, your point about one party being pushed into the background is dead-on. However, I don’t think it’s the voters that must (or even can) do that. The party elites are the ones that have to functionally reduce the number of choices available to voters to ensure that the vote pool is maximized to one party’s benefit.

    The ability of third parties to be effective in some sort of unification process is limited, so I don’t fault ChangeAlberta for anything other than not learning from the United Alternative, which had a similarly lofty, but impractical end. This will need to be solved at the party level, and the best that third parties can do is to openly work to support one and/or undermine the other.

    Emulating the “Liberals for Linda Duncan” or “Liberals for Joe Clark” campaigns, but on a province-wide scale, is one idea that comes to mind.

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