Canada’s central and eastern provinces, with the exception of Quebec, are all governed by the same two parties that date from the time of Confederation—the Liberals and the Conservatives. The western provinces have been much more politically creative. Three of the four are governed by parties that didn’t exist at the time of Confederation. But, of course, neither did they.
Of the four, Alberta has been the most inventive. Since it became a province in 1905, it has been governed by six different parties, three of them founded in Alberta.
And one of the other three, the NDP, although birthed in Ottawa, was created from its forerunner the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF, which also began its life in our province. Many think the CCF must have been created in Saskatchewan where it first formed a government and introduced Medicare to North America. In fact, it was founded at the old Calgary Labour Temple in my neighbourhood, the Beltline.
Alberta’s invention of political parties has not been confined to the province. The populist Reform Party stormed Ottawa in the 1990s, supplanting the Progressive Conservatives as the largest conservative party in Canada and becoming the Official Opposition before merging with the PCs to form today’s Conservative Party of Canada. Although the party was officially founded in Winnipeg, it grew out of Alberta politics.
Today another merger of an Alberta-formed party, the Wildrose, with PCS—the United Conservative Party (UCP)—governs the province. The UCP began with a bang in 2017. In 2018, it had more than 160,000 card-carrying members, making it the largest provincial political party in Canada. In 2019 it was elected to govern with a solid 55 percent of the popular vote, particularly impressive considering parties most often win elections in this country with less than half the support of voters.
It remains deeply popular. Twenty thousand members had signed up for a special general meeting in April, an extraordinary turnout. Yet there is trouble in the ranks. The large turnout was generated by the sole item on the agenda—a leadership review. Voting on the review has now been switched to a mail-in ballot, thus allowing all members to vote, the votes to be counted in May.
The leadership review was a result of deep divisions within the party and dissatisfaction in the province generally about the current leadership. The leader and premier, Jason Kenney, has faced intense criticism. He may simply be too controlling a leader for individualistic Albera conservatives. I have commented in the past about his compatibility with the traditions of this province. Perhaps before this current dust settles, we shall see the birth of yet another new party.