What does Alison Redford’s resignation mean for Alberta business?

Premiers come and go, but the party is forever

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Former Alberta Premier Alison Redford waving

(Chris Schwartz/Government of Alberta)

I know a doctor in Edmonton who usually votes NDP come election time. But in the wake of Premier Alison Redford’s resignation yesterday, I expect he’ll be renewing his Progressive Conservative Party membership so as to have a say in the choice of her successor.

It’s hard to tell how many do this—I know of a few politically engaged Liberals who periodically hold Tory membership cards too—but it’s a fact of life for those of other political stripes in a one-party province like Alberta: the political direction of the province is decided at the PC leadership conventions, not in general elections. It’s also true that in the last leadership contest, Redford was the non-Tory party members’ candidate. As a Red Tory, she was perceived as benign to public-sector unions. It’s quite likely these temporary Tories helped push her over the top.

That also helped put her at odds with the PC caucus, who were all elected by true-blue Conservatives.

So what does Redford’s resignation mean for the business community? Without even a front-runner in the leadership race, it’s too early to tell. Alberta’s Progressive Conservative tent is a broad one, including constituencies such as small-town social conservatives, fiscally conservative suburbanites and Calgary’s white-collar oilpatch. Oilpatch candidates like Jim Dinning have never appealed to the other constituencies, and rural nice guy Ed Stelmach was ultimately undone by challenging the oilpatch with his royalty review. Redford avoided that tarpit, but still allowed the province to rejoin the ranks of indebted provinces.

All of this masks the fact that, relative to other jurisdictions, Alberta is home to an extraordinary small-c conservative political consensus. Genuine opposition is marginalized and—freed from the expectation of ever coming to power—shrill. Pundits have been predicting an implosion of the PC edifice since Don Getty’s day, but barring the emergence of a widely popular and inclusive opposition party with a visionary leader (if you haven’t guessed by now, Wildrose doesn’t meet that standard) the PCs will stay in power. And that likely precludes any big shifts in economic policy, whether it’s weaning the treasury off its resource dependency with a sales tax or imposing the kind of greenhouse gas emissions regime that would satisfy the Americans. Expect more of the same.

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