Saint City News column: ‘Opposition leaders failed at their jobs in election’

In case you missed it, the Saint City News has given me the opportunity to write a twice-monthly political column. The first installment ran in the Friday, March 14, edition. I’m very grateful to the News for this opportunity. Herewith, a reprint of Friday’s column:

Ken Allred and Jack Flaherty are cut from pretty much the same piece of cloth.

One’s a former schoolteacher, aged 75, back for a spell as a politician. The other’s a former land surveyor, aged 67, back for the same reason. Both have excellent records of service to St. Albert. They’re a pair of decent, white bread, retirement-age, gentlemen with not that much that separates them.

Flaherty, our incumbent MLA, represented a political party that said it was time for change. Allred, his challenger, represented a government that said it had the formula for change. Both were responding to a raft of polls that indicated Albertans were fed up and wanted change.

On Election Day, Jack was swept away and Ken coasted to victory. So what the heck happened?

One thing should be obvious from the get-go: It was not the relative merits of either of these fine men that carried the day so convincingly for the Conservative and ruined Monday night for the Liberal.

No, this fight was won and lost on a wider battlefield. When the dust has settled, it should be clear that the principal failure in the March 3 provincial general election belongs to the two Opposition leaders, Liberal Kevin Taft and New Democrat Brian Mason. Neither managed to conduct a competent campaign, let alone an inspiring one. Both failed to exploit a once-in-an-era opportunity handed them by a jaded electorate, a stale government, a weak premier and a rag-tag collection of unions.

The big success, obviously, was Premier Ed Stelmach’s. For a second time, he surprised everyone with a blunder-free campaign.

But what actually happened may never be clear. This is because it’s in the interests of almost everyone to believe a misleading alternate theory. To wit: that those “attack ads” purchased by Albertans for Change, the coalition of unions that should have stuck to their knitting, actually galvanized support for Stelmach. The ads — so goes this myth — were unfair, un-Albertan, and unsuccessful.

This is baloney! But it’s baloney that tastes just fine all round!

It suits the government, because they know from their polling how effective the campaign actually was. With a little luck, the myth may prevent a similarly effective attack from even being launched next time.

It suits the major opposition parties, because it lets their hopeless leaders wiggle off the hook for a self-inflicted election-night debacle.

And it suits the labour leaders, who can be forgiven for wishing the whole thing would just go the heck away.

Fact is, though, the ads rang true with Albertans. It was the opposition that failed to exploit the opening they created.

Neither opposition party managed to articulate a vision for the province. No one knew what the Liberals or the New Democrats stood for – including own their supporters! When that happens, voters default to the government.

Neither reduced their platform to simple points and hammered them. This technique is well understood. It’s been honed to perfection by Prime Minister Stephen Harper. But it was beyond the grasp of Taft. As for Mason, he had four weakly articulated points, but wasted energy hammering the Liberals instead. With no clear policies, voters default to the government.

Neither was capable of defining a ballot question. What was this election all about? We don’t know, because no one told us. When this happens, voters default to the government.

And when the government is run by the party with the big corporate bucks for TV ads, polls, phone banks and getting out the vote, the outcome is seldom in doubt.

What does this mean for St. Albertans? Probably not much. We’ll have capable if uninspired representation, just as we had before. We’ll have, as the old saw goes, the government we deserve.

Alas, it looks like we’ll also have the opposition we deserve. That’s a pity. It was that close to being an interesting four years!

2 Comments on "Saint City News column: ‘Opposition leaders failed at their jobs in election’"

  1. tina2 says:

    David,
    Your argument is compelling but it’s too simplistic to blame the opposition or the ads for the PC win. And the PC campaign was not “blunder-free.”

    PCs won because they got their vote out. The opposition lost not because they lost the air war (as you argue) but because they lost the ground war. More importantly, they lost because both opposition leaders are not real leaders. Neither are honest, neither are visionary, neither are builders — builders of constituencies, coalitions, platforms, and most importantly, momentum.

    Sadly, no member in either party has had the guts to demand a better leader. They’re the ones we are stuck with now, and on that point, we agree: we got “the opposition we deserve.”

  2. tina2 says:

    David,
    Your argument is compelling but it’s too simplistic to blame the opposition or the ads for the PC win. And the PC campaign was not “blunder-free.”

    PCs won because they got their vote out. The opposition lost not because they lost the air war (as you argue) but because they lost the ground war. More importantly, they lost because both opposition leaders are not real leaders. Neither are honest, neither are visionary, neither are builders — builders of constituencies, coalitions, platforms, and most importantly, momentum.

    Sadly, no member in either party has had the guts to demand a better leader. They’re the ones we are stuck with now, and on that point, we agree: we got “the opposition we deserve.”

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