It’s been said that the United States is a center-right country and Canada is a center-left country. Actually, given the evidence, it should be said that both countries generally prefer the center when it comes to selecting its leaders. According to nearly all the opinion polls, Canada’s oil rich province of Alberta was set to choose the Wildrose, Canada’s version of the Tea Party, as its government. Instead, this past Monday (April 23 ) it decided to keep the incumbent and mainstream Progressive Conservative party, stewards of Alberta for 41 consecutive years, as its government.
True, Alberta is probably Canada’s closest version of Texas. It has the lowest tax rate in the country, is the home of Canada’s largest reservoir of fossil fuels and generally is seen to be the jurisdiction with the strongest libertarian streak in the country. Over the decades, the governing Progressive Conservative party has become a reliable and stable fixture, despite the obvious fatigue voters are beginning to feel with 41 years of rule. The Wildrose party, with striking similarities to the U.S. Tea party including its brand of conservative populism and its economic libertarianism, seemed at the end of the day, too extreme even in the Canada’s most pro-free enterprise province.
Just as in the United States, Canada has its ideologically based parties, but when it comes to electing its prime ministers and premiers, it prefers that their leaders govern with the widest consensus possible. In a parliamentary system, governments can often be found with a majority of seats but with less than 50 percent of the popular vote. Any government that is insensitive to this reality will eventually pay a price at the next political rendez-vous. Pragmatism and compromise are preferred to rigidity and ideology.
For Canadians who have observed the rise of the Tea Party and its impact on U.S. politics in the 2010 mid-term elections, the Wildrose Party with its attractive leader Danielle Smith was on the verge of starting something revolutionary. Ultimately, however, it seemed out of tune with the voters’ conception of who should govern. Wildrose party leader Smith was unable to distance herself from the homophobic and racist comments from some of her candidates in the closing days of the campaign, and this displayed the lack of balance and discipline that voters prefer in their government.
What lessons can we take from Alberta’s last minute rejection of the Wildrose Party, and now the apparent declining influence of the U.S. Tea Party since their 2010 surge in the U.S. mid terms? It seems that general elections become less a referendum of the electorate’s mood, and more a selection of who best reflects the values voters prefer for governance. Extremes may capture the mood, but moderation best reflects the attitudes. Protest voters may be common to U.S. mid-term elections or special elections in Canada. However, choosing a government begs a higher standard. Moderation in these circumstances usually triumphs over marginal and more extremist views.
This does not mean that the Tea Party and the Wildrose Party are a passing fancy. As long as politicians are willing to exploit grievances and fears, “out of the mainstream” parties will surface and could conceivably take power. But U.S. and Canadian political culture and their stable democracies tend to settle for some stability and greater predictability in the long term. Alberta’s Wildrose Party provided neither this last Monday, and paid the price at the polls.
*John Parisella is a guest blogger to AQ Online. He is the former Québec delegate general in New York and currently an invited professor at University of Montréal’s International Relations Center.