Once they’d had a moment to catch their breath, after leaving it to the bloggers over the weekend, the paid reporters of the mainstream media decided today they loved last Friday’s story about the 10 putative Tory defectors.
It was all over the airwaves. Even loony-right Calgary bingo caller Dave Rutherford bloviated at length on the topic, reading long passages verbatim from Paul McLoughlin’s Alberta Scan newsletter with the sort of solemnity normally associated with Sabbath readings of the Old Testament. (Well, you’ve got to do something to fill the dead air between the right-wing rants and the ads for weight-loss clinics, right?)
All this attention got me thinking about something John F. Kennedy, a guy who knew a thing or two about politics, had to say about situations like this. “Where there’s smoke,” said JFK, “sometimes there’s a smoke-making machine.”
Does this all smell like the product of a smoke-making machine to you too?
Consider who stands to gain by spreading around a story that 10 Tories, fed up with Premier Ed Stelmach, are about to make the long walk to the Opposition benches, if only Danielle Smith is elected leader of the super-right Wildrose Alliance Party:
- Powerless backbench Conservatives themselves, of course, whether or not they’re associated in any way with this alleged cabal, since for a few weeks they’ll have a little more clout with the premier and his embarrassingly rusticated inner circle of motorcycle crankheads and bean farmers. Maybe Ed will even return some of their phone calls.
- Ms. Smith, too, benefits, at least until the WRAP’s leadership convention on Oct. 17. After all, the way the story goes is that the only way the disgruntled Tories walk is if Ms. Smith is elected. If that other guy, the Red Deer chiropractor whose name escapes everyone in Alberta at the moment, snatches the crown, too bad, so sad, no mutiny.
- The Calgary oil guys who, recession or no recession, had loadsadough to spend and decided Ms. Smith had a friendly enough face to fool some of the people enough of the time to get away with pushing their Enron-north business agenda in the Legislature.
- The two traditional Opposition parties, their leaders, and all the other “usual suspects” who are opposed to some or all of Mr. Stelmach’s agenda at any given moment. Right now, of course, that list would be considerably longer than the combined phone books of Edmonton and Calgary.
- Mr. Stelmach’s opponents within the Conservative Party – likely including one-time Tory front-runner Jim Dinning and Sustainable Resource Development Minister Ted Morton, at right, both of whom surely still harbour first-ministerial ambitions. Anybody heard from Rod Love lately?
- Ralph Klein himself, who sooner or later may be inclined to come down from Mount Royal and take over from his dad to do a passable imitation of Jean Chrétien yukking it up at his replacement from the 17th tee.
- Oh, and did I mention the media, who will actually have an interesting political story for the first time since Ralph threw pennies at the poor?
Now consider who stands to lose if it turned out there were something to this story. Other than Mr. Stelmach and his increasingly hysterical team of political advisors, I mean.
- Uh, Stephen Duckett? No doubt about it, if someone else becomes premier in the next 18 months, whether they come from the left or the right of the bumbler in chief, they’ll likely see some political gain in sending the CEO of the increasingly chaotic Alberta Health Services packing back to Australia.
- The 10 treasonous Tories themselves – because Ms. Smith is no Peter Lougheed and it’ll take more than a little oil money to make her premier, even for a little while.
- Umm, that’s about it…
So what would these Tory turncoats do when they wanted to come back to the Conservatives, as is almost certain to happen? Well, to quote another well-known politician who knew a thing or two about crossing the floor of the House, Winston Churchill had this to say about that: “Anyone can rat, but it takes a certain amount of ingenuity to re-rat.”
I don’t think these guys are that ingenious, but I suspect their saving grace is that most of them know it.
Usually the right explanation for any puzzle is the simplest one, and as complicated as a smoke-making machine may be, the simplest explanation for this story is not that 10 Conservatives are about to join the Wildrose Alliance.