Whenever something unexpected happens, some people draw the wrong conclusion and do the worst thing imaginable.
We all know someone who has done just this in matters of love, industrial relations or water safety with spectacularly disastrous results.
Looking at yesterday’s by-election victory by Wildrose Alliance Party candidate Paul Hinman (pictured at right) in Calgary-Glenmore, there are both correct and dangerously mistaken conclusions for each of the major players that can be drawn from the events as they unfolded.
In almost every case, I believe, these players are likely to reach a conclusion diametrically opposite to the one that would help them the most. In other words, several people are about to shoot themselves in both feet.
Herewith, my predictions of what will happen next:
What Premier Ed Stelmach and the Conservatives should do: To mitigate the obvious threat from the petro-funded extreme right as represented by the urban-focused Wildrose Alliance Party, Mr. Stelmach needs to move the Conservatives to the centre. This way, with his traditional Conservative rural base secure, he could clearly differentiate his Conservatives from the dangerously radical Wildrose Alliance, picking up strategic votes from worried Liberals during a general election.
What Premier Ed Stelmach and the Conservatives will do: More, likely, though, Mr. Stelmach will make the classic error of trying to stifle the opposition he faces within his own party by tracking the party to the right. This provides some opportunities for Sustainable Resource Development Minister Ted Morton, who represents the Conservative party’s own loony right. It is even better news for the Wildrose Alliance. Conservative voters – even some in rural areas – will conclude that they might as well vote for entertaining change if they’re going to get the same policies anyway. If you doubt this analysis, consider that Mr. Stelmach had set out on this course by mid-afternoon today, telling a news conference bizarrely located in the successful Wildrose candidate’s former Southern Alberta riding: “Given that the vote seemed to really move to the right tells me that we’re looking at a more conservative approach to our budgeting processes.”
What Liberal leader David Swann should do: If ever there was proof that the Liberal brand just won’t sell in Alberta, Southern Alberta anyway, this was it. The Liberals are everything middle-of-the-road Albertans are looking for – small-c economic conservatives who recognize the value of public services in some parts of the economy, such as health care. They’re dragged down by their association with the federal Liberals and by the traditional Liberal brand. Obviously, it’s time for a name change. Oh yeah, and one other thing: when you’re fighting a crucial by-election, all the members of your caucus should be there, campaigning – leastways, unless they’re on their deathbeds.
What Liberal Leader David Swann will do: Well, his current approach obviously isn’t working, so why change anything? Expect Dr. Swann to conclude that his party has already had this debate and it was just too divisive. He’ll be more worried about the 20 per cent of Albertans who can be counted on to vote for the Liberal brand come what may. Nothing will change. Liberal marginalization and decline will continue. Some Liberals may even strategically park their votes with Mr. Stelmach’s Conservatives in a general election as a slightly safer hedge against victory by the Wildrose Alliance. Look for some Liberal MLAs to grumble, but don’t count on much else happening.
What NDP Leader Brian Mason should do: The Knee-Dips didn’t even register in Calgary! Did their votes flee to the Liberals, or as a protest to the Wildrose Alliance? Or do they even have any votes? Nobody really knows. They couldn’t even garner more votes than two completely unknown independent candidates! If there were ever a time that it was clear the NDP should negotiate a strategic alliance with the Liberals, this is it. With two strong right-wing parties splitting their vote in many ridings, both the opposition parties of the centre – and Alberta – could benefit from this strategy. If nothing else, the NDP should stop wasting energy and resources by contesting unwinnable ridings.
What NDP Leader Brian Mason will do: Well, we already know the answer to this one, don’t we? The New Democrats voted at their last convention, just last weekend, to fight the good fight in every riding, no matter what, dissipating resources, money and good will. With Mr. Mason’s stirring encouragement, they voted a resounding no to even talking with the Liberals.
What Wildrose leadership front-runner Danielle Smith should do: Ms. Smith should have the courage of her convictions, and roll the dice now and then. Fortune, as they say, favours the brave. If she’d sought the nomination for the riding, she’d be a shoo-in for the Wildrose leadership today, and an MLA-elect with a nice anticipated salary to boot. What a story that would have been! Instead, she did the safe thing and let departing leader Paul Hinman take the fall … only he didn’t fall. Lucky for her it’s too late for him to re-seek the leadership he doesn’t want anyway.
What Wildrose leadership front-runner Danielle Smith will do: I predict Ms. Smith will retreat into her shell, becoming more cautious, not less. This is good news – at least in the short term – for the loony right’s loony right. Expect her challengers in the Wildrose Alliance Party to be whispering that it takes a man to win in Alberta. Of course, if their subversion succeeds, it’ll be good news for Mr. Stelmach and the other party leaders, because it was the excitement generated by Ms. Smith (plus tons of oil money) that made Mr. Hinman’s protest-vote victory possible.
What your blogger should do: I too should have the courage of my convictions! You know, I called this election right – but only in an email to a friend. My call was bang on, as a matter of fact, but for the fact I predicted that the New Democrats would get 7 per cent of the vote. Would I ever look good today if I’d had the courage to put it in this blog. But I second-guessed my guess and chickened out.
What your blogger will do: OK, I’m not a major player, but unlike the others, I will change. At least until I spectacularly muck up in public.