You would have thought there would be nobody in Alberta politics who could make us forget Alison Redford.
The former premier’s name has appeared as a single paragraph in virtually every news story about Alberta party politics — almost like some press secretary has it to copy and paste into every news release, which is then dutifully reprinted and sent on the wire.
You’d think her political legacy bears more repetition that that of Ralph Klein. Maybe it does.
But now we have a new footnote: Danielle Smith.
For the past month or so, since the disastrous Wildrose Party annual meeting in Red Deer, and the four byelection losses that preceded it, I had been regarding her like you might regard a friend in a bad relationship.
As in: “What’s she doing with this guy?” What was Danielle Smith doing leading a party that the membership obviously would not follow?
Smith, engaging and erudite, a fierce debater with the facts at her fingertips, did her best to seem comfortable as the face of a supposedly grassroots party. But those roots contain a vigorous flat-earth faction that will never allow it to govern in a modern, secular and increasingly diverse democracy.
News flash: Bill Aberhart’s been gone a long time and there’s no bringing him back, Tea Party or no Tea Party.
That’s why the elected members of the Wildrose Party passed a caucus resolution on equality rights that effectively repudiated one passed by the card-holding party membership at their Red Deer AGM.
There was a definite rift between the elected Wildrose members as to their expectations of what will pass in society today and that of the grassroots members who expect to create party policy in their image, and bring it to power.
But, like everyone, I was shocked when she and eight other Wildrose MLAs crossed the floor to become Progressive Conservatives. Even more so when I read that negotiations to do so had been going on for a month.
To her credit, I suppose, Smith was bringing herself to leave a bad relationship. But for the leader of the Opposition to become a Tory? With expectations of a “meaningful position” in the party? What has politics become? An episode of the TV series House of Cards?
And then everyone in Canada got to look at the photo of what has got to be the most awkward political embrace of all time. Premier Jim Prentice and Danielle Smith — with their hands on each other! And smiling!
I’m not on Facebook, but I figure that almost everyone who is probably has at least one cringe-worthy photo of themselves in its unerasable archives.
Look at that photo of Smith and Prentice. Ask yourself: what’s she doing with that guy?
We can easily surmise the fates of the MLAs who crossed the floor with her. From their first meetings in their new caucus, they are going to learn as backbenchers what “transparent” means in a transparent Tory government.
It means being invisible. As in: “See right through me, walk right by me and never know I’m there.”
The fate of Smith is less certain. There will be an election, and all the MLAs who crossed the floor will be judged by the voters.
As a partisan writer, I have come to believe the bar for electability of a Tory candidate in an election (federal or provincial) in Alberta is pretty low. In a whole lot of ridings for a whole lot of years, all you ever needed was that signed nomination paper.
Wildrose changed that. More than any other party, Wildrose showed Albertans that they could vote other than Tory and the heavens would not fall.
I do regret the recent historic events. I do not see any infusion of new strength, new ideas or vitality for our province in them.
Perhaps Smith will be given the social services portfolio. Then she could become the face of government, explaining why we need more cutbacks.
Or, given the Wildrose interest in surface rights of landowners, she could be given that portfolio. Then she could explain (as Advocate columnist Bob Scammell so ably describes) how surface rights should apply to leaseholders on crown land who would be paid handsomely when land they do not own is torn up for oil exploration, but not for Farmer Brown, who doesn’t want a fracking well on property his family has held for generations.
Historic change, this. But long term, business as usual.
Albertans may never know how much they lost when Smith & Co. changed relationships.
Greg Neiman is a retired Advocate editor. Follow his blog at readersadvocate.blogspot.ca or email email@example.com.