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Never mind the premier's right-wing brother-in-law, this is serious!

Hey, it turns out everyone has a you-know-what right-wing brother-in-law -- even Conservative Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach, who's far enough to the right himself to be in danger of tipping over the edge.

At any rate, Alberta’s media is full of the news this week that Stelmach's brother-in-law has gone and joined the far-right Wildrose Alliance and said some uncomplimentary things about the job his sister's husband is doing as premier.

The brother-in-law in question, Allan Warshawski, farms near the village of Chipman, which is not far from the premier's farm by the village of Andrew. Warshawski marched into the Alliance's offices in his shirttail relative's Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville riding, bought a membership and made darn sure everyone knew about it.

Well, OK, the premier's brother-in-law thinks the premier is self-interested. Things are probably a little tense around the Stelmach family breakfast table nowadays. So what else is new? For once, the premier’s spin-doctors are right: What family doesn’t have to put up with a relative like this?

More significant is the news from the Highwood riding south of Calgary, where the local Conservative constituency association fired off a long letter to the world excoriating the problem-prone premier and his bumbling government.

They were fuming about the demotion of their local MLA from Stelmach's cabinet, but their criticisms went well beyond that. Signed by the secretary of the constituency association on behalf of her board, the letter rips Stelmach's government for being "bereft of policy, planning, execution, follow through and communication to the members of the party and most importantly the citizens of Alberta."

"The Alberta Progressive Conservative party is nearing the precipice of moral insolvency to govern," the disgruntled High Plains Tories warned. Plus, they added, the government’s approach "will elect members of the Wildrose Alliance." Whew!

What's significant about this development is that, historically, tectonic shifts in Alberta's political structure have been preceded by the movement of the government's local constituency associations to the party challenging the government.

Thus, in 1934 and 1935, some local chapters of the United Farmers of Alberta government openly supported Social Credit candidates. In 1970, entire Social Credit constituency associations defected to Peter Lougheed's Conservatives.

This is much more important than the oft-repeated claim that long-reigning Alberta political parties are occasionally crushed by new political movements emerging from the right. This is in fact a misreading of history, for each of the three times in Alberta history this took place, the emerging government was arguably well to the left of the government it replaced.

The location of the challenging party in the political spectrum, however, is less relevant than the willingness of party stalwarts in small-town Alberta to openly split with their government and express admiration for its principal opponent.

It is easy to speculate that the open dissatisfaction expressed in Highwood may be the first hint of a wave of wholesale defections by constituency association members, as has come before each big political shakeup in Alberta.

If that is indeed what this letter signifies, then the long Conservative dynasty that began with Lougheed in August 1971 is almost over.

With the Wildrose Alliance waiting in the wings, that is a far more important topic for consideration at all Alberta breakfast tables -- not just the Stelmach family's -- than the colourful opinions of someone's right-wing brother-in-law.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaDiary.ca.

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