Is Alberta on the verge of a political shakeup so big it registers on the Richter scale?
According to an Alberta political blog published by the Edmonton Journal, newsletter publisher Paul McLoughlin has predicted just such an earthshaking event if candidate Danielle Smith wins the leadership of the Wildrose Alliance Party on Oct. 17.
The Journal blog says McLoughlin’s weekly Alberta Scan reports that if Ms. Smith wins the leadership contest, up to 10 of Premier Ed Stelmach’s Conservative caucus members will immediately cross the floor of the Legislature to join the upstart far-right party.
By hitching their wagons to the former Calgary journalist and Fraser Institute propagandist’s star, they would be hoping to catch the political wave of Alberta’s future and cash in on some oil-soaked campaign funds. At the same time, they could shed their neglected status as Conservative backbenchers, where they are treated with genial contempt by the premier’s rustic inner circle.
On the face of it, this prediction seems outlandish, even bizarre. But Mr. McLoughlin is no nutty blogger making bizarre predictions for the fun of it. He is a well-connected Legislative insider whose respected and expensive newsletter usually gets it right.
Don’t go looking for Alberta Scan on the Internet, by the way. You won’t find it there. McLoughlin’s strategy isn’t to give away his insights to Web surfers like you and me. He prefers to fly below the radar, charging a steep fee as befits the value of insider insights from a seasoned observer of Alberta politics, and markets his publication to people and groups with deep pockets and a need to know.
Subscribers to Alberta Scan are said to swear a secret blood oath – possibly involving the removal of essential body parts or permanent banishment to Saskatchewan – not to reveal the contents of his newsletter to people who haven’t paid for it. For this reason, it was a shocker to see reference to it show up yesterday on both the Journal and MacLean’s Magazine Websites. (I guess that tells us where the “mainstream media” gets its news nowadays.)
If McLoughlin’s prediction comes true, a number of dominoes themselves heavy enough to rattle crockery and crack plaster would then fall.
First, consider the likely result on Ed Stelmach’s leadership review at the Conservative annual meeting in November in Red Deer.
Stelmach’s unsteady hand was already annoying his backbenchers and unsettling his usually loyal electorate. If his caucus were to suffer a rift as wide as the Grand Canyon as a result of his confused performance, taking the mighty Progressive Conservative caucus from juggernaut to smoking ruin in less than two years, the results would surely be catastrophic for the premier.
The Conservative Party would have to look to the Calgary diehards and dead-enders surrounding former leadership contender Jim Dinning, hated and feared by Stelmach’s rural hickocracy, to save their bacon.
Stelmach’s frankly incompetent political advisors would, presumably, melt to a puddle of water like the Wicked Witch of the West.
Next, Dr. David Swann would no longer be the Leader of the official Opposition in the Alberta Legislature. For the moment, Calgary-Glenmore MLA-elect Paul Hinman would play that important role – a no doubt satisfactory development for a guy who in the spring of 2008 was swept away by Mr. Stelmach’s seemingly all-powerful electoral broom.
But that was then and this is now. With the help of a conveniently large supply of corporate petro-donations, Mr. Hinman sailed back into the Legislature on Sept. 14 in the provincial riding that shares space with Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s federal electoral district.
As soon as the telegenic and articulate Ms. Smith could find herself a Legislative seat, of course, she would assume that high-profile role – a position that could very well catapult her to the premiership.
With the Liberals reduced in standing from ineffectual to hapless, the two-member New Democratic Party caucus would be downgraded to pathetic, or at least fourth place.
Of course, Alberta New Democrats are a hardy lot, and could be expected to get on with business in the face of what, to them, would be an almost meaningless setback.
For the Liberals, the results would be more serious. Dr. Swann’s leadership is almost as uninspiring as the premier’s, and his nine-member caucus appears to be as divided as the Conservatives. Some prominent Liberal MLAs from Calgary didn’t even bother to campaign for Avalon Roberts, the party’s standard-bearer in the southern oil city once fondly known as Baghdad on the Bow. Possibly as a result, Ms. Roberts was edged out by Mr. Hinman.
In the event of Mr. McLoughlin’s startling prediction coming true, it would not be beyond the pale to see members of the Liberal caucus defecting to the government, others trying to form a new “Alberta” party and still others sticking it out with Dr. Swann’s tattered green fringe.
The effects on strategic voting in Alberta, too, might be interesting. We could easily see Liberals and New Democrats holding their noses and voting for a Conservative party led by Mr. Dinning to stave off the frightening prospect of a loony right-wing Wildrose government in Alberta.
Before we get too excited about this, however, we need to remember that Mr. Stelmach’s previously powerless backbenchers will likely try to exercise their newfound influence within the Conservative caucus first. Leastways, they will if they’re smart.
Moreover, the Wildrosies might very well yet shoot themselves in both feet by rejecting Ms. Smith in favour of Three Hills chiropractor Mark Dryholm, a former vice-president of the fruitcake right Progressive Group for Independent Business.
This outcome is not impossible in light of the deep sexism of Alberta social conservatives and Ms. Smith’s own blunder in letting Mr. Hinman run in Calgary back when that by-election didn’t look like a sure thing. Mr. Stelmach, presumably, is praying for that outcome.
Still, the mind boggles!