I was one of the many surprised people who viewed the Alberta election as a fait accompli for the Wildrose Party.
The list of issues that would ensure that Albertans would have a new government on April 23 was heavily weighted against the reigning Tories at the onset of the campaign.
The PCs had run into rough water and daily reports of malfeasance dominated the headlines in Alberta. It was hard to ignore another deficit budget, but that was the least of the party’s worries as reports of municipal funds diverted to Tory fundraiser dinners began to percolate, as well as nasty letters directed at municipalities who criticized the party.
Indications that doctors were bullied into silence or out of practice in Alberta were brought to the public’s attention, and these also had a damaging effect upon the Tories’ image as they entered into an election. The allegations of bullying tactics became a trademark of a party that had clearly gotten used to running the show as it saw fit in Alberta.
The million-dollar golden handshakes offered to retiring MLAs were another point of contention, but the biggest direct hit on the Progressive Conservative Party was a $1,000 monthly paycheque perk added to committee members that never had meetings.
This fact, which was revealed by the Alberta Taxpayers Federation, sent a seismic shift in the polls prior to the election.
Suddenly Danielle Smith and her party became the heavy favorites to blow the Tories right out of the game in Alberta.
Nothing appeared to stand in the way of a new regime in the Alberta Legislature because the Wildrose Party began to poll at almost 50 per cent of decided voters in the province.
The decline and fall of the Wildrose party began as a subtle shift in the polls as the reality of a new government put them under a microscope.
The microscope included an assessment of the WR candidates, a concern that I had prior to the election, because we live in a new era in which our lives are recorded in bite-sized online information segments.
The very nature of the Wildrose Party is based upon an amalgamation of fiscal and religious conservatives — some are both and some are one or the other — in the ranks.
The first hit for WR was the candidate in Edmonton who had a fundamentalist Christian blog that indicated that he believed that gays will roast in hell. This blog managed to shake the polls up a bit as the Wildrose slid a bit in the next poll, although they still retained a majority voters’ edge in Calgary and rural communities.
The second hit was the WR candidate in Calgary who explained his potential white Albertan advantage to ethnic voters in his riding. It was an incredibly clumsy move and it spoke to his lack of political savvy, but it did not end with the one gaffe.
A Youtube interview added fuel to the fire because the man had said it on more than one occasion.
Danielle Smith defended both candidates in an effort to defuse the situation and advance her contention that all Albertans are entitled to hold their own values and beliefs in a free society. It was a fatal error by Smith in the last week of the campaign and it cost her party any chance to form a government.
The last week of the campaign included a media and phone survey attack from the Alberta Federation of Labor, as well as prominent Calgarians in full page newspaper ads in support of the Tories.
The seismic shift toward a new government was over and the polls were in freefall, according to a surprised ThreeHundredEight.com political poll analysis website.
They spotted a serious downward trend in the polls — but even they predicted a minority Wildrose government on Monday.
The continued legacy of the Tories in Alberta was aided and abetted by some crucial mistakes by the Wildrose party; they also believed the polls and were content to stand by candidates who were toxic to their chances for victory. The fear factor subsequently crept into the game and the Tories were able to secure the left-leaning vote because they have a left-leaning premier.
The next four years will likely be an expensive slap of reality for Albertans. They have chosen a leader whose incredible multibillion-dollar promises will depend heavily upon a high price for oil to pull a rabbit out of this fiscal hat.
Otherwise the promises of no new taxes will be very short-lived. Oh wait, the education portion of property taxes in Red Deer was already higher than expected, according to Tuesday’s Advocate.
Jim Sutherland is a local freelance writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.