All politics end in tears, a wise man once observed, meaning that sooner or later, almost all political winners turn into losers.
Here in Alberta, we tend to forget the immutable nature of this political law because its operations are heavily disguised by the fact that for 40 years at least the place has operated as a one-party state.
The Progressive Conservative dynasty will end in tears too, of course, but likely not just yet, thanks to the remarkable selection last October of Alison Redford as premier in a Tory party vote. In the mean time, so went the Getty Era, the Klein Era and the Stelmach Era, with not one of the successors of Peter Lougheed who lent their names to their spell in power particularly happy with the manner or the timing of their departure.
Whether the ascension of Ms. Redford shows that the Conservative party’s survival instincts are more profound and supple than many of us had imagined, able to react instinctively and rapidly to shifts within the psyche of the population, or just that Ms. Redford is more artifice than reality, remains to be seen. This blogger is open to both theories.
Regardless, the choice by Progressive Conservatives of Ms. Redford as their leader clearly ranks as the political story of the year in Alberta. And surely it says as much, or more, about the party’s will to live as of the undeniable talents of Ms. Redford and her political advisors.
The Redford team ran a smart and determined campaign that smoothly exploited both opportunities that emerged along the way and the man-ifest weaknesses of her challengers. It effectively used the re-emergence of health care as a major issue, promising to preserve health care when others blundered and mused about privatization. It surfed to a strong position on a single favourable poll. It made Ms. Redford look new and fresh and the others tired and sullied.
But it is said here that all things being equal that would not have been enough. What was really impressive was the ability of Alberta Conservatives themselves to grasp the unique nature of the challenge their party confronted and instinctively pinpoint the candidate best suited to face it.
The challenge confronting the Conservatives at the fag end of the bumbling but well-intentioned leadership of Ed Stelmach was unique. Albertans had made it clear in public opinion polling they wanted the party to emphasize the progressive part of its heritage over the conservative. At the same time, the new politician that most seemed to have engaged Albertans was an attractive and well spoken woman chanting the same old privatization mantra of the extreme right, Danielle Smith of the Wildrose Party.
Complicating that seeming strategic contradiction was the power structure of the party itself. The people with the most influence within Conservative ranks all seemed to support Gary Mar, a minister with several portfolios in the Ralph Klein government and a former MLA who had served four terms to Ms. Redford’s one. His well-organized and well-financed campaign appeared unstoppable.
So on the face of it, while it would have been be hard to imagine a better candidate than Ms. Redford for the peculiar circumstances the Alberta Tories faced, it was also hard to imagine her beating Mr. Mar.
Her pluses: Voters identified her as a Red Tory, liberal enough for majority tastes in a changing Alberta, yet conservative enough not to frighten the far right. Like Ms. Smith, she was an appealing and well-spoken woman. She was manifestly intelligent – no sin with voters fed up with the constant blunders of Mr. Stelmach (who in fact was no fool, just unlucky) and the embarrassing legacy of Ralph Klein.
Her biggest minus: Mr. Mar’s lead among committed supporters after the first ballot was so strong and his roots in the party establishment so deep, it simply seemed impossible to dispute the conventional wisdom he had it all sewn up.
After the dust had settled, a whine went up that Ms. Redford had been pushed over the top by such Tory-come-latelies as schoolteachers and health care union members. Other candidates muttered this accusation while the Wildrose Party said it aloud. But while there’s more than a little truth to it, the bigger truth is that the collective instincts of the party, including many party old boys, understood the meaning of the writing on the wall and acted accordingly.
There are sure to be many bends in the road before election day 2012, but Ms. Redford’s unique ability to appeal to progressive voters at the same time as she attracts former Danielle Smith supporters will likely to translate into a big election win.
As has been said in this space before, this is not really what Alberta needs. Indeed, we desperately need a new government, or at least an opposition big enough to shake up the Tory Dynasty and hold it to account.
Yet thanks to Ms. Redford’s natural political appeal and the skilful legerdemain that enables her to appeal to voters right across the political spectrum, that seems like what is most likely to happen.
My New Year’s Eve prediction for the outcome of the general election expected in the spring of 2012, therefore, is:
Progressive Conservatives: 78
New Democratic Party: 5
Wildrose Party: 3
Alberta Liberals: 1
Alberta Party: 0
If that or something like it turns out to be the case, there can be little doubt Ms. Redford will be Alberta Newsmaker of the Year for 2012 as well, and the inevitable Tory tears will be postponed again.
Happy New Year regardless!
This post also appears on Rabble.ca.