Creation of the new United Conservative Party is now a fait accompli; all that remains is the election of a leader. There are two announced candidates, Jason Kenney and Brian Jean, and one (at the time I am writing this) unannounced candidate, Derek Fildebrandt.
Before evaluating these candidates, and deciding which one to vote for, we all should remember Alberta’s economic history. Peter Lougheed ushered in what many call the great conservative revolution in Alberta. However, Mr. Lougheed was not so much conservative as he was progressive. There is no doubt Mr. Lougheed was a political success, but his economic record is somewhat questionable, having turned on the spending taps when oil revenues were high, and then leaving a bit of a budgetary mess for his successor Don Getty. With all due respect to Mr. Getty, he was an economic disaster, continuing the spending increases started under the Lougheed regime, at a time when government revenue was dwindling. When Ralph Klein became the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party, he inherited a large deficit and debt. In the first several years in office, Mr. Klein proved to be our first real conservative premier, cutting spending to balance the budget, and he also retired debt. However, towards the end of his tenure, Mr. Klein lost what he called “the fire in my belly” and he began turning on the spending taps, behaving like a progressive, rather than a conservative. Mr. Klein was succeeded by Ed Stelmach, who continued the spending spree, in spite of the plummeting world price of oil, and the mounting deficits. Mr. Stelmach was followed by Alison Redford, who gave a whole new meaning to progressive, actually behaving more like a New Democrat.
So, the economic history of the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta has been one of mostly progressive, and very little conservative. This fact gave rise to the Wildrose Party, who preached spending discipline and balanced budgets. Here we are in 2017, trying to unite the Progressive Conservative and Wildrose parties. From the above economic history point of view, this is very interesting, as both of the declared candidates for the leadership of the new United Conservative Party, Mr. Kenney and Mr. Jean, are economic conservatives, as is the undeclared candidate, Mr. Fildebrandt. If no one else enters the race, there will be no voice for the progressive wing. From an economic history point of view, I consider this to be an excellent development. The progressive wing of the Progressive Conservative Party has always been an economic disaster.
The question remains of what will happen to the progressives. In 2016, I gave a presentation on the above economic history to a room full of Progressive Conservatives and Wildrose people, in one of the innumerable unite-the-right meetings. One of the progressives in the room stormed out in a very vocal manner when he saw the economic history, and my view that the progressives were ruining the Alberta economy. He wanted nothing to do with the unite-the-right movement, if it was going to involve conservative economics. Perhaps he went back to the NDP, where the progressives belong.
Frank Atkins is a senior fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.