The spring Alberta election caught me completely off guard when a sizable Wildrose Party lead evaporated in a late-game “lakes of fire” and “Caucasian” spin move by the Progressive Conservatives.
The tactic was very effective because it diverted attention away from the PCs’ actual track record of bullying, cronyism and incompetence.
It is astounding to me that the public and particularly the media failed to see the larger and more important ethical issue in this kind of activity, but it is an indicator that a party with 41 straight years of governance is probably bullet-proof with electors. Last spring proved that point because we are once again a Tory-blue province with no end in sight.
The spring election was lost because too many Alberta voters were more than willing to hang the Wildrose Party from the highest tree after the Tories were able to dig deep enough to find skeletons in the Wildrose closet and categorize the entire party by the antics of two highly un-electable candidates. The press ate it up and condemned the Wildrose as the northern branch of the Tea Party, complete with exactly the same ideology as the American right wingers.
The media people also ignored the fiscal platform of the Wildrose and their plan to investigate why the provincial civil service has so many layers of management and too few front-liners. The financial side of the Wildrose election equation was drowned in a lake of fire and few people heeded the warning that the Tory budget was at best a pipe dream. Danielle Smith called it the “Alison in Wonderland” budget and was even criticized for use of that moniker.
The inexplicable reality with the PCs’ diversionary tactics was that their game plan really worked very well. The PC party had to wear a long history of ethically challenged practices and behaviour as they went to battle an election, yet they were able to put the negative spotlight on their upstart rivals in the 11th hour.
It was a masterful stroke that sowed the seeds of doubt into a skittish Alberta electorate that was willing to accept the status quo instead of a new governing party.
Recent events have produced more allegations of wrongdoings against the Tory government and lately the legislature has become a battleground that has made the apprenticeship of Premier Alison Redford a very unpleasant occupation for the beleaguered politician. She has answered the personal attacks by appointing human shields/senior cabinet members to field most of the daily interrogations in the legislature. She has avoided contact with the same press that she welcomed with open arms when the guns were trained on red herring Wildrose issues during the spring election.
Suddenly the spotlight is directly on a party that ruthlessly underestimated the deficit to win an election and now has to borrow money to fund capital projects, despite the vast wealth produced by an oil rich province that should have been able to write a check for all of them.
Most of the Tories’ spin is now directed at damage control for a government that has spent its way to a financial crisis in a way that does not even come close to making sense.
Redford’s sister’s involvement in a Tory fundraiser while she was on company time as a well-paid senior member of a Calgary hospital board got even more complicated when the public learned that she was appointed to a new role with her next job at AHS after her sister’s PC leadership victory.
The tobacco lawsuit contract awarded to Redford’s former husband’s law firm is the latest crisis served up on her political plate. The practice is not illegal, but it once again puts the rookie premier into a questionable ethical position as she attempts to steer away from a direct link to the decision.
The post-election mood has been very ugly because the Tories have not exorcised the demons that plagued them prior to the election and they can no longer throw them into a convenient lake of fire. Few people are gullible enough to buy that message these days.
Jim Sutherland is a local freelance columnist.