Alberta Tories win, but Wildrose rise part of ominous right-wing shift
“You wake up and you realize the polls will be closing and there will be a future decided,” Alberta's premier Alison Redford said this morning, launching what some commentators predicted would be the last of the Conservatives' 41-year reign in the province – and her last day as its leader.
Those commentators, according to early media reports, were wrong about Wildrose winning the election.
A few hours later, however, Alberta's polls finally shut their doors, and BC's eastern neighbour waited on bated breath. The rest of Canada watched, too, because what happens in the oilsands-rich province affects us all – not to mention issues as diverse as human rights, national unity and climate justice.
- Danielle Smith Wildrose win in Alberta election would be “scary prospect” for BC
- Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms more critical than ever
By 8:30 p.m. in BC, the media had declared the Conservatives winners. Progressives in Alberta -- some of whom urged their fellows to vote PC to prevent the rise of Wildrose to power.
While it is fascinating that both leadership contenders in the election were female – in fact, Canada's only female prime minister, Kim Campbell, was also a Conservative – that phenomenon should not distract us from the high stakes of Alberta lurching even further right.
A pattern of intolerance
Wildrose candidates' views raised eyebrows during this bitter campaign – particularly those of Edmonton hopeful, Pastor Allan Hunsperger, who said gay people “will suffer the rest of eternity in the lake of fire, hell, a place of eternal suffering.” But rather than distance herself from his comments, Wildrose leader Danielle Smith defended Hunsperger as a “good man” whose “private, personal religious views” will not affect his job as MLA.
Here are the pastor's views, from his blog last year, which was an attack on Lady Gaga's pro-gay activism under the slogan “Born This Way”:
“The world is believing the lie that because you were 'born this way' you now have a right to live this way – the way you were born… You see, you can live the way you were born, and if you die the way you were born then you will suffer the rest of eternity in the lake of fire, hell, a place of eternal suffering. Now at this point I am not judging, I am just stating a fact!… For years I have warned Christian educators that you can't partner with public education because public education is godless. As far as public education is concerned, there is no God. The dictionary defines godless as profane or wicked.”
The other campaign trail gaffe was when Ron Leech, a Wildrose candidate in Calgary, suggested he was more likely to win because he, unlike his opponents, was white.
Some commentators, while condemning such views, celebrated Smith for respecting differences of opinion amongst her caucus. But those commentators were evidently not people of colour, nor were they lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT). Differences of opinion are always easier to stomach when you are not the one being beaten to death or discriminated against.
Expressing doubt over climate change
The other comment which has been widely condemned is Smith's own, in which she questioned the broad, global scientific consensus that climate change is a major ecological threat – that it even exists – and is caused by human CO2 emissions.
“We've been watching the debate in the scientific community, and there is still a debate,” she told a booing television audience. To be heckled by an entire live studio audience might, under normal circumstances, be considered a campaign gaffe, but Smith took it in stride and seems to have surged ahead regardless.
And while the concerns of Quebeckers are generally poorly known or respected out here in the West – but front-and-centre where I'm from in western Quebec – British Columbians ought also to worry about Smith's tough talk around Quebec: “I think we need to have a tough conversation with Quebec.’’
Decrying the province's universal daycare program and equalization payments which have long been a sore point for Albertans, the would-be premier raised the spectre of a new constitutional crisis across the country, alienating Quebec and calling federal unity into question.
On these four key areas – climate change, federal unity, LGBT rights and respect for racial diversity – many of us roll our eyes and lament the state of politics today.
A lurch to the ultra-right in Europe
But the reality is that the far right has been making substantial gains worldwide, particularly in Europe.
In France, for instance, Marine Le Pen's proto-Fascist, ultra-right National Front reached record support at third-place in the country's first round of presidential elections yesterday. After toning down some of her party-founding father's anti-immigrant rhetoric, he embarrassed her by joking at a large party event that President Nicolas Sarkozy's initials were the same as the German Nazi party's: “NS: national socialism,” Jean-Marie Le Pen quipped. “Oh sorry! I thought when I watched that square the other day that it was Nuremberg.”
His daughter did not apologize for the remark – merely distancing herself from the “bad joke.”
Sarkozy is now reaching out to the ultra-right National Front voters, in hopes of carrying himself to victory on their support.
Across Europe, the far right – with vestiges of Nazi rhetoric, racist anti-immigrant fear-mongering, and growing electoral success – has been rising for a decade. Whether you look at the increasingly mainstream British National Front, hardening racism against Muslims from Norway to the Netherlands, or France's mass deportation of more than 11,000 Roma in the past three years, the trend is toward a harder right -- and it is disturbing.
While neither Prime Minister Stephen Harper or Alberta's Danielle Smith are neo-Nazis by any stretch, the increasing acceptability of overt racism – such as Leech's white “advantage” comment – homophobia and anti-immigrant views in the political field should raise more than eyebrows.
They are, in fact, part of the same trend that has led to dramatic gains for the ultra-right across Europe – a trend equally behind the federal Conservatives gradual rise to power.
That trend – fuelled by anxieties of the financial crisis, opportunistic political leaders, and increased societal dissatisfaction with the powers-that-be – may well put a few gay-hating bigots into power in Alberta, and it has already begun filtering into the federal Conservatives' anti-immigrant legislation – which mandates automatic, indefinite detention for refugees, and implicitly threatens to incarcerate increasing numbers of Indigenous people under the rubric of law-and-order in its omnibus crime bill.
Implications of Wildrose surge to Canadian politics
So what does tomorrow look like?
Some breathed a sigh of relief at the Wildrose loss.
Alberta under Wildrose would definitely have raised tensions between Canadian provinces, take us backwards on tackling climate change and regulating the oil sands, and almost certainly roll back programs aimed to reducing homophobia, racism and the environment.
But the broader question is what the rise of Wildrose means for the rest of Canadians. Even with Alberta's Conservatives pulling off a surprise victory and holding onto power, a growing right-wing movement will pull the entire political spectrum in its direction. Look at the U.S. Tea Party movement, which has caused as much turmoil in Republican circles as it has Democrats'.
When that happens, public debate becomes shifted to how far to the right our policies are – how many we deport, how tough our prisons are, how many billions we spend on fighter jets.
Progressive Albertans were, tonight, in the bizarre position of worrying about the prospects of the Tories -- but those same progressives will surely jump into their under-reported everyday struggle to present a sane alternative on social and economic policy. That struggle continues under the Conservatives, who are still decidedly pro-oilsands and dangerous to climate action.
But before we point our fingers at Alberta, let's take a critical look at whether Canada itself is headed the direction of Europe. The good news is that, at the same time the ultra-right is on the rise, Europe has also seen millions of folks take their fight to the streets, the courts and the legislatures and stand up in greater numbers for a sane, sustainable and just world.
Let's learn at least that from the Europeans.