If television debates mattered, Alison Redford would win the Alberta Progressive Conservative leadership vote tomorrow hands down.
She certainly turned in a more impressive performance than either of her two fellow candidates (in every sense of the phrase) in Thursday evening’s televised leaders’ debate on Global TV.
She was tough, clear about her intentions if chosen to replace Premier Ed Stelmach, and – as she has been throughout this campaign – prepared to challenge the Tory Old Boys Club and the way it does business.
She looked grim at times, but how could she not? She turned in this forcible TV performance just hours after her mother had suddenly taken sick and died. She maintained her dignity and her focus despite her personal tragedy. She exuded leadership.
She showed, as Edmonton Journal columnist Graham Thomson put it well, that “there is an iron fist inside that velvet glove.” Indeed, dressed in black, she looked at times remarkably like Margaret Thatcher – but a Margaret Thatcher prepared to stand up unequivocally for public health insurance!
The other two? Well, in fairness, they turned in solid performances, too.
Gary Mar’s was impressive, if not particularly convincing. He succeeded more through his capacity to bob and weave around the sometimes embarrassing points on which his opponents chose to challenge him, and his remarkable ability to sound confident and reassuring while revealing very little of his actual intentions.
Doug Horner’s effort was too tightly scripted. This is a guy who sounds natural and confident when he speaks off the cuff. Being a fairly distant No. 3 in a three-person race doesn’t seem like the moment to follow an ultra-cautious, take-no-chances strategy, but that’s what Mr. Horner did. He started in a respectable No. 3 position – and that’s where he finished too.
So, Albertans saw two competent performances, and one that really shone.
Alas for Ms. Redford – and likely for Alberta, too, under the circumstances – these things are usually decided by the grey eminences who lurk behind the scenes in any political party, and especially in this one, anointing their favoured candidates. They are not decided by which candidate is most engaging, has the best ideas, or is least likely to cause real harm.
And in the case of this contest, the insiders, the pork barrellers and the actual old boys who have run things through most of the Tories’ 40-year reign and intend to go on running them, have already picked a candidate, and that is Mr. Mar.
Ms. Redford’s dignified and powerful performance Thursday night notwithstanding, Mr. Mar is the man who can be counted on not to upset any well-positioned apple carts, to keep all the secrets that need to be kept, and in the tradition of Ralph Klein, Ron Liepert and Steve West, to keep on chipping away at the things our Conservative government’s financiers would dearly love to subvert, like our public health care system.
Mr. Mar is also the most vulnerable of the three candidates to a voter rebellion from the right or the left – but the Conservative Old Boys seem confident that possibility presents a far smaller risk to their power and comfort than would having a leader like Ms. Redford or Mr. Horner who might actually try to engage the citizenry and do something different from the same old same old.
Sad to say, notwithstanding the slight risk of an unexpected turn of events presented by their party’s semi-public leadership voting process, their cynical confidence is probably entirely justified.
From the perspective of supporters of the opposition parties, Ms. Redford presents a bigger threat than Mr. Mar – for the same engaging reasons that she threatens the party’s comfortable Old Boys.
The fact is, though, given the PCs’ current standing in the polls and the likelihood of a swift election when a leader is finally chosen, any Tory leader is likely to form a majority. For those of us who do not support the Conservatives, this should temper our jubilation when they choose the worst available candidate. We should, as they say, be careful what we wish for.
That said, you could argue that the PC party establishment just doesn’t see the need to suffer the inconvenience of putting up with a leader who has real character, some good ideas and an inclination to pick the side of what’s good for the province, not the people who run it.
Alberta could do much worse than have Alison Redford emerge as premier tomorrow – and it probably will.
This post also arrears on Rabble.ca.