Resisting the pull of cynicism since 1969.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Alberta's one-party state: why you should care, and why there might be hope

We've all heard it before: Alberta is a one-party state in which conservative voices are king. To be fair, this is in large part the fault of our first-past-the-post voting system, since Ralph Klein and his caucus didn't actually win the support of 50% of Alberta voters in the last election. But it's certainly true that when your party's got a full 73% of the seats in the legislature, you can pretty much do whatever you want. Including changing the start date of the legislative session so that you can go fishing. Including...well, I've written that post already.

Now, I can see some of you out there shaking your heads and thanking your lucky stars you don't live in a place like that. But the thing is, Alberta's one-party state affects you too--and that's true whether you're sitting in front of a computer in Toronto, in Boston, or even in Europe. See, Alberta has the second-largest oil reserves in the world. Since most of that oil is in the form of tar sands, removing it from the ground wreaks havoc on the environment. The immediate impact of this is most obvious in the form of damage to the landscape, but far more damaging to the planet as a whole is the sheer amount of greenhouse gases that get pumped into the air for every barrel of oil produced. You know those Kyoto targets Canada failed to meet? Alberta's doing. These effects can be felt not only in Alberta, but across Canada and across the planet--and yet nothing's being done about it because that same Alberta government that can do whatever it wants has rejected decades of scientific inquiry into the climate crisis outright. And of course, the one-party state makes sure the opposition is too weak to stop it from happening.

Depressed yet? Welcome to the Albertaverse. But one other thing we're constantly hearing about Alberta lately is the sheer number of people flocking to this province to look for work, and I have to admit, that has my attention. When we're talking about the population growing by 25,000 people in every single quarter, aren't some of those folks going to be bringing their political culture along with them? Surely not every single one of those new residents is a die-hard conservative who fits right in with Ralph and his buddies, right?

Since I have easy access to the second-largest library in Canada, I decided to do a little sleuthing to see whether the existing political science scholarship would support this theory. And to my utter astonishment, there seems to be nothing at all published on this topic. [Political science students desperately trying to come up with a topic for your MA thesis, take note! You can thank me in your acknowledgements. :-)] But evidence from the UK (McMahon, Doreen et al., 1992, "The electoral consequences of north-south migration," British Journal of Political Science 22, 4: 419-443), Australia (Charnock, David, 1994, "Internal migration and elector turnover in Australia," Australian Journal of Political Science 29: 292-301) and the U.S. (Gimpel, James et al., 2001, "Interstate migration and electoral politics," The Journal of Politics 63, 1: 207-231) certainly seems to suggest that internal migration can lead to a change in voting patterns. The changes aren't always in the direction that we on the political left would tend to like to see them go in--many political scientists credit internal migration for the realignment of the U.S.'s south toward the Republicans, for example--but they're there.

Now, there are those who will argue that Alberta's been importing people from across Canada for decades, and that's never had much of an impact on voting patterns. The Gimpel article even suggests that because the people who move are the ones who can afford to do so, internal migrants are more likely to support the parties that look after the interests of the wealthy. But Alberta's current boom is like nothing we've ever seen, which makes comparison more problematic. Up until now, most of those "new Albertans" have been coming here to work in the oil fields, which means that they've been mostly young, working-class, and very very busy--classic nonvoters. These days, though, this province is importing not just oilfield workers, but everyone. There are labour shortages in every sector, especially in Calgary and Edmonton, and the resulting astronomically high wages are attracting people who previously would have never considered moving to Alberta. I've already met one Cape Bretoner who, when faced with the prospect of having to relocate to Alberta for work, purposely chose Edmonton because of its relative political diversity (and Edmonton-Strathcona because of its propensity for voting NDP)--and where there's one, there are probably more like him. I'm only an armchair political scientist, but as an informed amateur, I think it could be a perfect storm that just might shake up Alberta's sure thing.

Whether it will happen quickly enough and decisively enough to reverse the damage being done to the planet is another story, of course. But at the very least, if I'm right, it's going to be awfully interesting to watch.


Pete said...

"[Political science students desperately trying to come up with a topic for your MA thesis, take note! You can thank me in your acknowledgements. :-)] "

I'm a potential History MA student, and if I ever needed a research area this may sure prove to be something interesting, especially as I'm steadily moving into the critical theory school of history. Thanks!

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


Excellent! You're welcome to it.

Pete said...

I still have a few months before the Aps go out, but next month I plan on talking it (and other ideas which are very similiar to the line I'm thinking here, further back in history, though definitely along these lines. I was fliriting with Lebanon for a month or so, but that may not be the most stable place to get field work done these days..) up to some profs :) I'll have to see how it fits in with my current Unis of choice (U.Vic, U of A, and the Tri-Uni programme in SouthWestern Ontario).


Anonymous said...

Good analysis - can't disagree with anything you said. There is more than one method to piss away a boom. Best hold our noses and use the opportunity for 1 person/1 vote to show up and be sure the next PC leader and pro tem Premier for 2 years is not just Calgary oil or a firewall homophobe. A lot can be messed up in 2 years