Wildrose Alliance leader Danielle Smith is right in saying that the Progressive Conservative party in Alberta is in disarray. It would be difficult not to come to that conclusion. Within 24 hours, Alberta has seen two of its most powerful political figures resign, Ed Stelmach the premier and Ted Morton the minister of finance.
Ted Morton and Ed Stelmach: Some one has to draw the line somewhere
“Contrary to the rampant speculation, this does not reflect a caucus divided over a budget or any other issue,” the Premier said, but he protests far too much. Stelmach is in full damage control mode.
Whatever the dignified and solemn public speeches might say, and however the protagonists attempt to hide it for the sake of appearing undivided, Alberta’s ruling party currently sits on a political fault line. The upcoming budget is a not-yet visible manifestation of the seismic activity resulting from it. Even school children in the province probably know it.
The two tectonic political plates in the Alberta Tories are smashing into one another with considerable force. Common sense and fiscal prudence is pushing against the landmass of liberality and careless spending. The resignations this week amount to small quakes. There remains plenty of opportunity for full eruptions.
The Alberta Tory seismic fissure is only partly concealed by the fact that Premier Stelmach has pledged to quit into the future, following what has become an established trend among Canadian politicians of announcing resignations months in advance. There is a political pathology in wanting to wallow aimlessly in the land of lame ducks if you ask me (Preston Manning, Stockwell Day, Jean Chretien, Paul Martin, Ralph Klein, Stephane Dion, and Gordon Campbell all projected their resignations into an unspecified future).
But Stelmach differs from some of the other retiring politicians, not in that he is taking a handsome sum with him as he leaves, but in that he is pushing to leave Albertans with a $5-billion deficit as his parting gift in an upcoming budget.
Ed Stelmach may have nothing to lose in doing so. The positive fiscal reputation he once enjoyed as a backbencher could not soon be revived. He will be content in continuing to believe as he has during his premiership that his popularity was measured by how much public money he spent.
To the eyes of responsible Albertans and to Wildrose supporters, however, the stubborn pushing of the multi-billion dollar deficit will confirm what they have been saying for some time: the premier misplaced his good judgement long ago, and that he has steadily lost the legitimacy to govern.
Morton could do nothing other than walk away from cabinet under such conditions. No surprises there. How long these internal fissures may last and how deep they might get will make the difference for the party between revival or failure.