In my last post I had considered expressing my suspicion that Wildrose would skid in the end because they were taking the populist route to such an unprecedented degree I wondered whether they could really drive straight into the teeth of "elite" opinion and win. I hinted at this when I noted that the federal Conservatives are not always offside with the public policy establishment and but declined to make a prediction since I did not really understand why Wildrose was riding as high in the polls as they were and my on-the-ground experience as a candidate in 2008 taught me that it's very difficult to predict without polls, never mind with them. I also thought it was a strategic mistake for Redford to make an issue about the "conscience rights" the Wildrose platform calls for and I'd stand by that in terms of keeping many traditional PC party voters home but I neglected to consider how she might pick up traditional Liberal and NDP voters to more than make up for the PC voters that might well have been long gone anyway.
I recall reading somewhere that when it comes to Canadian elections, the safest bet is on the most boring outcome and that certainly seems to be true in Alberta. The PCs go into the election with 60-some seats and they go out with... 60-some seats. La plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose...
First, the best and worst outcomes of the night in terms of riding wins and losses:
Paul Hinman's failure to get re-elected in Calgary Glenmore is surely disappointing but creates a very important thought point that might get the Wildrose braintrust to rethink the road they have gone down. We win Glenmore in 2009 even before Danielle became leader, never mind before Rob Anderson was brought in and Tom Flanagan put in charge of policy, and we lose it in 2012. Hello! By far the biggest story of the night is the way urban voters turned away from Wildrose at the last minute and aside from Heather Forsyth, who enjoyed the advantages of incumbency, the only riding inside Edmonton or Calgary city limits to go Wildrose was Calgary-Shaw. Paul's fate, and the fact that Link Byfield didn't win anyway despite the current Wildrose obsession with the land bills, ought to be cause for pause but given that the Globe is reporting that on election night "Ms. Smith said her first priority as Leader of the Opposition will be rural issues" (and, according to other sources, won't do interviews today) suggests to me that perhaps she's OK with the party's current stance and isn't going to make a serious bid for premier in 2016 after all. With an overwhelmingly rural caucus seeking its own re-election, Danielle will have to have the confidence to push back against the flow if she's going to position Wildrose as any more urban friendly going forward.
The greatest disappointment then, in my mind, is not Calgary Glenmore which might prove instructive but Todd Loewen's loss in Grande-Prairie-Smoky. Todd is no political opportunist. We both ran under the Wildrose Alliance banner in 2008 and I thought the party was very fortunate to have Todd leading the way as our organizer in the Peace Country. For a conviction politician he is still very sensible and a great guy to work with.
Doug Griffiths is by far my favourite Progressive Conservative and I would like to be non-partisan enough to say his win, which makes him the southernmost rural PC MLA excluding Banff, best result but the fact he has helped put Redford the Red (or "Alison Redflag" as my mother says) back into the premier's office restrains me. So I'm going to go with Shayne Saskiw's election as most encouraging.
As the only Wildroser elected north of Ponoka, Shayne's going to have even more influence than he already has on the party. I've boosted Shayne on this blog in the past and I'll admit that a good part of my enthusiasm is based on his resume. I just happen to think the resume is very important since legislator is, after all, a job. I haven't met Shayne personally and have heard mixed things about his character. I do know that he's no Todd Loewen when it comes to commitment to the conservative cause since after calling me in 2008 to say he supported my campaign (he lived near the Edmonton Clareview LRT station at the time) he later indicated on his Facebook page that he was a supporter of the not-very-nice and not-very-effective PC candidate who ran over me in 2008, Tony Vandermeer. That said Shayne is highly qualified to be a MLA and defies the hillybilly stereotype.
What to say about the result generally? The political career of Ted Morton should have created more doubt about whether Wildrose would triumph once voters stopped telling pollsters the uptrending newish party was their choice and actually dwelt on whether they supported a party that chose to pick a fight with the Globe and Mail and the "elite". Look at today's G&M editorial and what do they express concern about? "... public-sector pay in Alberta rose by 119 per cent in the first decade of the 21st century, a rate almost double that of the rest of Canada." We heard very little about this issue from Rob Anderson and the Wildrose, and into the vacuum entered old comments by Wildrose candidates Ron Leech and Alan Hunsperger. I understand the gameplan did not call for a vacuum and Flanagan's Five Points were supposed to be the focus of attention but if the media doesn't do it the voters at least will try to set up the election as some sort of choice and there's minimal controversy in an "Accountability Act." Who is going to choose against that? If there were any back-and-forth on any of the Five Points, it would actually work against Wildrose because the media would start quoting pundits who were not keen on the economics of what was being proposed. Wildrose was thus left in the position of having to hope to just coast through the final week of the campaign. But a flare up will be invented if necessary and sure enough social issues hit the headlines. I believe the electorate may have still understood the Leech and Hunsperger remarks for what they are, which is of marginal relevance to how a Wildrose government would actually govern, if Danielle herself had not waded into the climate change issue like she did. It may well have galvanized voters into concluding that perhaps Wildrose truly intends to go to war against the "elite" and the foreigner which would in turn have consequences for Alberta's reputation if her party formed government. I have my own doubts about the climate change "issue" if not climate change itself but I look at the facts and don't put myself into the position of looking foolish should evidence emerge that was absolutely undeniable and unquestionable. Compare here again to the Harper Conservatives. Harper gets the votes of climate change deniers without standing up and explicitly denying himself.
Too many federal Conservative tactics and policies were imported into Wildrose without consideration of the fact that the feds have government experience and a corresponding familiarity with where the civil service stands and with where public policy experts are coming from. Vitor Marciano even admitted that the $1000 keep quiet bond was demanded of candidates for the simple reason that the federal Tories demanded the same thing. Fact is regional identification is a huge issue that drives Alberta's support for the Harper team and in turn has limited Wildrose to Alberta's rural south. Consider the fact that PC incumbent Hector Goudreau edged out the Alberta Alliance candidate 3670 to 3332 in Dunvegan-Central Peace in 2004 and in 2012 edged out the Wildrose candidate 3983 to 3756. You're not winning the rural north anyway, so why not go for the urban vote, which means enough with the dumping on anyone who might be at all cosmopolitan! Wildrose was crushed in Edmonton Whitemud, 12087 to 3381, but this is an area where the left wing would never have a chance. Edmonton's southwest happens to be one of the most educated areas in the province demographically. Last summer's HST referendum in British Columbia saw the most educated ridings vote "Yes"; more and more votes were coming over the the Yes side as the months went by such that a victory there was entirely possible had their been more time. Yet the current strategists in Alberta's Wildrose party would continue to scoff at any suggestion that the party take a chance by backing an expert supported policy like the HST. Be that way then but consider whether repeating your 2012 campaign in 2016 is going to get you any closer to government.