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Cynical bulk buying of party memberships may pick new leader

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  • Cynical bulk buying of party memberships may pick new leader

    Originally posted by Edmonton Journal
    Thursday » October 12 » 2006

    What a province. Cynical bulk buying of party memberships may pick new leader

    Paula Simons
    The Edmonton Journal

    Thursday, October 12, 2006

    There are strange things pent in the big, big tent

    Where the Tories fight to lead.

    And the PC race has a frantic pace,

    That flogs memberships with speed.

    The northern lights have seen queer fights

    But the queerest they ever did see

    Was the fight to sell cards without regards

    To ideology.

    - - -

    So let me see if I have this all straight.

    Frank Bruseker, the former Liberal MLA and current president of the Alberta Teachers' Association, is asking all his Tory-hating union members to buy PC party memberships so they can help elect the next Conservative leader. Call it, if you will, the ABO campaign -- anybody but Lyle Oberg, the former Learning minister who warred with the ATA for years.

    Several major construction trade unions are bulk-buying Tory memberships, Costco-style. They're using the dues collected from their rank-and-file, and handing out party cards to all their members, with instructions to vote for Lyle Oberg.

    Now, Paul Hinman, the leader of the Alberta Alliance, a sitting opposition MLA, is urging his party's members to buy Tory memberships and vote for Ted Morton.

    Ah, the ironies are rich in a one-party province, where the lust for power and influence trumps any sense of political principal or democratic decorum. Everyone's for sale -- as long as the price is high enough.

    Back when Peter Lougheed was a whipper-snapper and the Socreds were Alberta's ruling political dynasty in decline, the Progressive Conservatives pitched their first big tent. Lougheed's genius was to create a sprawling coalition that hogged the middle-of-the-road, marginalizing dissent on the right or the left. It was a giant political amoeba, absorbing and assimilating those in its path.

    The same strategy worked wonders for Ralph Klein, who managed to maintain a tent that housed social Christian conservatives, secular fiscal hawks and Red Tory progressives.

    Klein's force of personality and his promise of power kept the coalition whole.

    The trouble with the one-party state, of course, is that it stifles debate and democracy. Forget about open, accountable government. All meaningful change happens within the stifling confines of the closed tent.

    The happy campers inside aren't just anointing their next party leader, but our next premier. No wonder so many unlikely fellow travellers are trying to elbow their way in.

    Which makes you wonder -- just how many ideologically opposed politicos can any one tent hold?

    Or -- if you'll allow me to change metaphors in midstream -- how big can a balloon get before it pops?

    It's all well and good for the Progressive Conservatives to build their party base, and their party war chest, by selling $5 memberships to all comers. But it's hard to imagine any of these leadership contenders being able to hold together this crazy-quilt coalition.

    On Tuesday, the Progressive Group for Independent Business -- a right-wing lobby group that's about as progressive as Attila the Hun -- released its own poll of 600 randomly selected Tory party members from across the province. The poll showed Ted Morton and Lyle Oberg tied for first place among decided Conservative leadership voters, with 17.2 per cent support. It put the generally acknowledged front-runner, Jim Dinning, in third place, and Mark Norris and Dave Hancock virtually neck and neck in fourth and fifth. (The poll put Alana Delong, who pulled out of the race Wednesday and threw her support to Dinning, in last place, with 0.2 per cent support.)

    The findings have to be taken with a heaping cup of salt. The PGIB isn't a professional polling company and it's a group with an overt conservative political agenda to advance. And 28.8 per cent of the 600 card-carrying PCs the group surveyed either termed themselves undecided or refused to answer the question. Even then, the results are intriguing.

    There's no way a Ted Morton or Lyle Oberg would be able to hold the Lougheed/Klein big tent party together. It's not just because their right-wing views, particularly Morton's, would alienate many of the party's moderate and progressive members. It's also a question of personality. Morton is no coalition builder. He's a natural splitter, a political purist who's unbending in his views and impatient with anyone who questions his views. Realpolitik just isn't his style. Just witness the way he turned on former allies Preston Manning and Stephen Harper as soon as they began to make the pragmatic compromises necessary to win power.

    Oberg isn't nearly as ideologically zealous as Morton -- he matured politically in his years in cabinet. But get in his way and he can be a stubborn, thin-skinned bully, who could use a few remedial classes in how to work and play well with others. Just ask his former caucus colleagues.

    But at the same time, it's almost as impossible to imagine moderates like Norris or Hancock or even Jim Dinning holding on to Ted Morton's committed backers.

    What we're witnessing isn't just an orderly hand-off of power. It's a pitched battle for the soul of the Tory party and the ownership of the PC brand. The current coalition is untenable.

    But what's bad news for the Progressive Conservative party may turn out, in the long run, to be hopeful news for the province. Maybe, just maybe, this promiscuous Tory leadership race will end in a party schism, one that could bring something like functional multi-party democracy to this place and put an end to unaccountable monopoly rule. Who will win? Perhaps, just perhaps, Alberta.

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    © The Edmonton Journal 2006

    Copyright © 2006 CanWest Interactive, a division of CanWest MediaWorks Publications, Inc.. All rights reserved.
    President and CEO - Airshow.

  • #2
    Ted Morton could bring us a new government weather he wins the leadership or not. He won't likely win, but he will be a contender and the stage is set for a subsequent defection of him and his followers to the Alberta Alliance. That could push them over the top in a dozen rural ridings and split enough right wing votes in Calgary and the small cities to elect a similar number of liberals. Add it up and you get less than 42 PC seats left.


    • #3
      i have a huge issue with non-PC people buying into PC party to participate in the elections. If you are, say, a Liberal or an Alliance member and you want to affect change in the province that is congruent with your views--the best and only way to do so is to get involved within your own party. Send your money to Liberal, Alliance, NDP, Greens, or PC according to your beliefs. We are not electing the next premier. The election is for the leader of the PC party. However blurry that line is right now, all this buying of votes is contrary to the democratic process. In addition, people are propping up financially a party that doesn't need much more financial supprt--it is the best off party in canadian politics.
      Don't! If you want a say on who the next premier is--demand general elections!