Friday, June 15, 2007

Drumheller Bell Weather

As I wrote here urbanization and the transformation of rural cities into suburban metropolis vs. the rural roots of the P.C.'s was exposed in the bell weather by-election Tuesday.

Drumheller voted solidly Liberal despite the rest of the rural riding voting Conservative.

The Conservatives comfortably held onto Drumheller-Stettler, the rural former riding of Shirley McClellan, who retired after having served in senior cabinet jobs like finance minister and deputy premier. However, the Liberals finished second there. In 2004, they didn't bother running a candidate against McClellan.

the Liberals winning Drumheller's city vote even as it lost the overall seat, clearly signals "that the Klein era is over," Taft said.

The Stelmach government is relying upon their rural base to hold up their tired old party. In fact they even went as far as to sic their California Golden Boy Republican rabid right whingnut Ted Morton on the urban complainers.

Sustainable Resource Development Minister Ted Morton spoke to municipal leaders in Banff -- an address the mayor says included a deliberate slight at Calgary.

According to Morton's speaking notes, he said: "Calgary by itself is a good, but not a great, city. What makes Calgary a great city -- the best in Canada as far as I'm concerned -- is what surrounds it. The working farms and ranches, the Foothills, mountains and rivers."

While there was no tape of the speech, Morton provided a copy of his speaking notes

With no apology or remonstration from Stelmach, Morton supplied his notes to the media day's before the by-election. This from a government with a fetish for secrecy.

Morton like Stelmach relied upon the rural vote for his run for Party Leader. Morton's base came from the south where a strong American/Republican tradition exist's in the Mormon population and among other big ranchers and farmers who are evangelical Christians.

With a boom in the province, rapid development of bedroom communities, urban sprawl in Fort McMurray, and the million person populations in Edmonton and Calgary spill over into rural communities making them the new suburbs.

Thus the fall of Calgary Elbow, Ralph's old seat, to the new Alberta Voter.

"It's not the byelection I would put as much stock into. It's the trend line," said Duane Bratt, a political scientist at Calgary's Mount Royal College. "There's been a series of little steps, all going down."

After losing three Calgary ridings to the Liberals in 2004's election, Tory fortunes in Calgary took a turn for the worse in December's leadership race. The city's pick, former treasurer Jim Dinning, sewed up every riding in town but lost the race to Ed Stelmach, a farmer from up north and the last choice of Calgary voters. And according to some rural Stelmach supporters - who gloated afterward that they had properly stuck a thumb in the eye of the big city - that was exactly the point.

Then came Mr. Stelmach's Cabinet choices - dominantly rural, with just three Calgarians of 18 (even though the city represents a third of the province's population).

Stelmach and Morton and their rural PC base see this as a threat to their vision of "Conservative" Alberta. That rural base was originally Social Credit, and transfered its loyalty to the PC's after the Lougheed era. Ralph Kleins victory as Leader was the result of the dissident rural Social Credit base voting PC and Calgary voting PC merging in a campaign opposing the candidate, Nancy Betkowski, from Edmonton.

The old riding of Buffalo-Stettler was also the exiled home of former Premier Don Getty when he lost his Edmonton Whitemud riding to Liberal Percy Wickman. Having the Premier as your MLA meant as usual lots of government largess.

And as a result Stettler has become another urbanized suburb, complete with a Burger Baron and nice paved highways. The Burger Baron phenomena in Northern Alberta, reflects the integration of immigrants, in this case the chain is owned by Lebanese Canadians,into Alberta's white Christian rural culture.

Stettler remains a solidly Tory stronghold, as it was once a Socred stronghold. But it also suffered a low voter turn out which does not show the real intention of voters.

But the sea change in Drumheller shows that come the next provincial election, the split in the province will be between the urban centres and the rural hinterland.

And like the regime of Harry Strom, the last time that scenario was played out the Socreds went down to defeat in 1971 to the Lougheed PC's.

In 1968, Earnest Manning stepped down as leader of the Social Credit party after winning a massive majority on a very small popular vote, and he was replaced as leader and premiere by Strom in that same year. The following year, in 1969, the seat Manning had held for decades, Calgary Strathcona, fell to Progressive Conservative William Yurko.

While Ralph Klein’s history is quite different from Manning, the progress of events since he stepped down as leader is eerily familiar. In 2004, Klein won a large majority on a fairly shaky popular vote (under 50% when he’d won nearly 70% in the 2001 election). He then announced his retirement, and by the end of 2006, had stepped down in favour of his replacement, Ed Stelmach. The following year (that would be 2007, this year), Klein’s old seat in Calgary-Elbow fell to Liberal representative Craig Cheffins (in the by-election this past Tuesday).

Albertans almost defeated the lame duck PC's in 1993, Ralph's first term as premier was a race between him and Laurence Decore of the Liberals. Hindered by the lame duck premiership of Don Getty, the party was soundly thrashed at the polls, but still won. Like the defeat of the Socreds before them, they saw the 1993 election as a warning.

Today we have another lame duck premier, and one whose charisma and leadership screams Harry Strom. Lucky for him the Liberals also suffer from the same lame duck leadership.


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