There was a plan, sort of.
The Tory candidates have been chosen, the billboards have all been rented, the secret pollsters are all secretly polling. Ken Allred’s face smiles down upon St. Albert from beside the Trail. All that remains is for the writ to drop.
But despite the media hysteria and the creaky sound of Ed Stelmach’s election machine trying to heave itself to its feet, don’t bet on there being a spring election in Alberta.
The reason? It’s those creepy ads from Alberta Building Trades Council and the Alberta Federation of Labour that whisper Ed’s got “No Plan… No Way!”
You see, they’re working.
Yeah, I know, Albertans don’t like negative advertising, yadda yadda. Just like they don’t slow down and stare when they drive past a car wreck. But have you noticed how in a couple of weeks “No Plan, No Way” has entered the Alberta lexicon? Someone ends a conversation with “No Plan, No Way” in a whispery voice and everyone in the room laughs out loud?
That’s because we all get it – the car wreck we’ve been driving past is Ed Stelmach’s attempt to run a government. Oh yeah, he’s got a plan – like, we’ll wait 20 years, then we’ll do something for the environment! You can almost hear the Tory brain trust muttering, “Yeah! That’s it!”
OK, negative ads didn’t work before. But that time the Tories had Ralph Klein as the Great Helmsman. Ralph had a plan all right. He knew where he was taking us and, now that we’re there, we’re still suffering the hangover. Albertans get that, too.
Now, last Monday, those few of us who still read newspapers woke up to headlines on the front page of the Globe and Mail that said, “Conservatives would roll to victory despite misgivings, poll says.”
“Aw hell, here we go again,” a lot of us thought before we crawled back into bed and caught another 40 winks. We didn’t even bother to read through the story, which, if we’d noticed, was hardly a ringing endorsement of Ed Stelmach’s success in government – with plenty of folks thinking the Tories have been around waaaay too long, just not really sure what to do about it.
But that poll, by the Strategic Counsel, was taken Jan. 10-13, before the No Plan ads started running.
Then those ads hit our TV screens – in heavy rotation, during prime time. (Obviously, the union groups are spending some pretty serious boodle on this effort.)
Now comes a Leger Marketing poll, published Thursday in the Edmonton Journal. This poll was taken Jan. 16-19, a couple of days after the No Plan ads began to run. If an election had been held that day, the poll concluded, 32 per cent of Albertans would have voted Conservative. “This marks a decrease of 10 per cent from Leger Marketing’s last poll in November.”
Moreover, Leger went on to report, “more than one quarter (27 per cent) of Albertans say they do not know who they would vote for, a five-point increase since the last poll.”
In other words, as soon as the ads started running, people started moving in significant numbers from the “Aw, heck, I guess I’ll vote Tory again” column to the “Don’t know” column.
I say that with a fourth, more powerful ad in the series now hitting the airwaves, this movement is going to grow, and grow significantly. This provides a huge opportunity for the opposition, and creates a huge problem for Mr. Stelmach.
I can’t prove it, of course, but I’m certain this is happening right now. You can be sure that Mr. Stelmach’s Conservatives are polling like crazy. You can be just as sure the labour groups paying for the ads are doing the same thing. If their polls are saying what I’d bet they’re saying, the news is not good for Honest Ed.
And that, my friends, is because those ads ring true. Everyone in this province senses the Conservatives have been in power too long, and that their leader has no plan beyond getting re-elected and winging it from there. (Or, worse, that someone close to him has a secret plan, and they don’t dare tell us what it is!) Lots of good Conservatives, like Jim Dinning’s supporters in Calgary, are pondering the idea of just staying home on election day as they did last June in Calgary-Elbow, Ralph Klein’s old riding.
What’s the Stelmach Government’s response? I guess the plan is for their friends in business to take care of it. That may explain the Merit Contractors Association’s limp newspaper ad that makes the specious case unions should get each of their members’ approval before they buy a political advocacy ad. I’ll take that idea seriously the day public corporations start putting their political donations to a vote of their shareholders.
And I laughed out loud when I learned that the anti-union contractors’ group had teamed up with the National Citizens Coalition to pay for this salvo. This would be the same NCC – once headed by Stephen Harper – that went to court to challenge the federal government’s attempt to ban third-party political advertising! You know, like the No Plan ads…. (Who bankrolls the NCC, anyway? Surely the shareholders of public companies have a right to know if their money is being given to this shadowy group to topple NDP provincial governments, oppose public health care and so on.)
What’s Mr. Stelmach’s next move?
That depends a little on the opposition parties, of course. The AFL and the Building Trades have handed the Liberals and the NDP an opportunity. Now the parties have to do something with it – never a sure thing in this province. But if either party trots out a credible sounding plan in the next few days – you know, a plan that sounds as if it were planned – Mr. Stelmach’s position is going to be shakier still.
With the doubt growing, and the possibility of still more whispers of No Plan, No Way around the corner, I say Ed Stelmach and his advisors will get very cold feet – billboards, nomination meetings and all.
Of course, if he does, it’ll look like he had no plan. But still, that might be better than going back to the farm at Andrew.
And, hey, I could be wrong. Honest Ed may decide he has to pull the plug and call an election, for fear of looking like a guy with no plan.
But if he does, get used to hearing these words: “Premier Kevin Taft.”
Meantime, remember where you heard it first: There will be no spring election!