It is not for you to know the times or the seasons

When I saw that Preston Manning had written an op-ed about Alberta for the Globe, I started a little stopwatch in my skull. Ah, let’s see how long it takes him this time to get to it. One paragraph, two paragraphs…

Is the pattern of Alberta politics about to reassert itself – a pattern characterized by long periods of one-party governance during which the governing party remakes itself several times, periods of political upheaval as Albertans become seized with a new idea and/or the need for change, and periodic replacement of the governing party (if it fails to renew itself), not by its traditional opposition but by something and someone new?

Yup, there it is. When it comes to Alberta, Manning always says the same thing in the same way. We may, in fact, be coming up on the 20th anniversary of his use of this evergreen. Here’s how it looked in an unsigned Reform Party commentary on/warning to Alberta’s Getty government, circulated in February 1990 and described in the Calgary Herald:

The document briefly outlines the history of politics in Alberta noting that it has been characterized by “long periods of one-party government” and “periodic replacement of the governing party, not by its traditional opposition, but by a new party. The governing party in Alberta must periodically renew itself from within if it hopes to continue in office,” it says.

So I guess we know who wrote that. The comic aspect of this, of course, is that lots of Albertans believe in the Explosive Change Hypothesis, and have spent those two decades looking to none other than Mr. E.P. Manning to either coach or quarterback the replacement squad.

The ECH is indisputably true—in retrospect. Every change of party identity in Alberta government, ever, has been brutally thorough in a Long Knives sort of way, has followed a long period of governing-party dominance, and has been executed by a party that never governed Alberta before. (One could add that Alberta governments have all seen their destruction coming in advance and tried to negotiate behind the scenes with the approaching revolutionaries, as Preston’s father is said to have done.) Things have reached the point at which the ECH may be something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. The Wildrose Alliance, the new right-wing alternative party led by Danielle Smith, was organized by malcontent ideologues and regime victims because everybody believes that an all-new brand is, on historicist grounds, the only possible means of putting the fear of God into an Alberta government.

The question is whether the ECH really has any predictive value. The last explosive change happened in 1971, and that Alberta doesn’t resemble the existing one very closely. (Just for starters, the Athabasca tar sands were still what engineers call vaporware.) Since then the province has occasionally had strong oppositions in the Legislative Assembly, and it almost witnessed a Liberal takeover in 1993. Show of hands: who knew that the Liberals got 40% of the vote in an Alberta election not all that long ago?

History doesn’t follow inexorable laws, although it has a rhythm. The ECH–an inherently unfalsifiable claim right up until the moment it is falsified–is starting to take on the character of the evangelical Christian’s wait for the Rapture. But then, come to think of it, Preston probably believes in that too.