With election fever gripping the province and the far-right Wildrose Party facing the bleak prospect of a do-or-die election campaign from a weaker position than it has faced since soon after its generously financed and publicized creation, a real rift on Alberta’s historically unified conservative right is opening up.
Whether the divide grows bitter and deep enough to become a meaningful advantage to more progressive Alberta political parties remains to be seen. Ironically, for that to happen, centrist parties like the New Democrats and the Alberta Liberals need to wish the Wildrose Party a modest degree of success in 2012.
At any rate, such an outcome must at least be considered a possibility as the reaction to today’s decision by Ed Stelmach’s former Man Friday to sit out his last months in the Legislature as an Independent illustrates.
Tout le monde political Alberta was abuzz this afternoon with reports Lloyd Snelgrove, Treasury Board President and right-hand man to his friend Mr. Stelmach, had not merely brusquely resigned from the Progressive Conservative caucus but had earlier dined with Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith at a Calgary Brewster’s restaurant.
Some of the further right corners of the blogosphere were soon Twitterifically a-chirp with suggestions Mr. Snelgrove’s atypically ungracious resignation was the start of another great exodus of Tory MLAs disgruntled with Premier Alison Redford for the Wildrose benches.
Needless to say, with Premier Redford and her version of the PCs apparently riding high in public opinion, this seems extremely unlikely. Even Ms. Smith, who needs to manage a pretty serious problem with her own supporters’ expectations, was quick to scotch the suggestion.
In the event, Mr. Snelgrove – who anyway seemed like an unlikely fit for the Wildrose caucus – apparently declined the invitation and a doubtless disappointed Ms. Smith informed the Herald “he told me that he was going to sit as an Independent and that he is looking forward to finally being able to stand up and speak for his constituents, and I respect that.”
Mr. Snelgrove always seemed one of the more sensible and better-grounded members of Mr. Stelmach’s cabinet, so in fairness to those excitedly Twittering, it was very hard not to speculate about what his resignation from caucus might mean. Inevitably, this made one wonder what was most significant about his Dinner With Danielle – the fact it took more than two hours, had a brew-pub for a venue or happened in Calgary, hours from the Vermilion-Lloydminster MLA’s redoubt in east-central Alberta?
It seems most likely that Mr. Snelgrove was simply disillusioned by Ms. Redford’s come-from-behind victory in the Tory leadership race last fall over candidate Gary Mar, the front-runner he had bet on. He announced his decision not to run again on Nov. 28 and has been sharply critical of Ms. Redford on more than one occasion since.
Though he is only 55, Mr. Snelgrove also quite likely strongly disapproved of the 46-year-old premier’s decision to enforce generational change in her caucus and move some of its more geriatric members along while they were still ambulatory without the assistance of a walker.
Regardless, the leak to the media about Mr. Snelgrove’s Dinner With Danielle was convenient for the struggling Wildrose Party, which faces an existential crisis if it can’t regain its former momentum in the face of the onslaught by Ms. Redford, a candidate who appears to have been genetically engineered to defeat Ms. Smith.
As Daveberta.ca blogger Dave Cournoyer recently pointed out, Ms. Smith has not tackled the tough job of managing her core supporters’ soaring aspirations, encouraged in the heady days of 2010 when right-wing journalists journeyed from afar to worship at the feet of Ms. Smith.
“Not properly managing expectations can be a politically deadly mistake,” Mr. Cournoyer observed, pointing to the experience of the late Alberta Liberal leader Laurence Decore who in 1993 “pumped expectations of forming government so high that when his party only formed Official Opposition, he faced open revolt from his caucus and defections to the Tories.”
Moreover, despite its clear No. 2 position in public support, it is not guaranteed the Wildrose Party can emerge from a general election as the Official Opposition party because its support is concentrated in regions of Southern Alberta where the Redford Tories are even stronger.
Facing such a desperate prospect, it seems probably Wildrose campaign manager Tom Flanagan, who can be fairly described as a radical far-right ideologue, will spare no effort to blacken the reputation of the Redford Tories.
If Dr. Flanagan’s efforts manage to snatch the Wildrose irons out of the fire, his success is likely to leave the Alberta right bitterly and deeply divided.
However, if the Redford Tories roll to an overwhelming victory, which at this moment in the campaign seems more likely, the conservative far right personified by Dr. Flanagan will likely quickly return to the Redford fold and resume their perpetual insider schemes to push the Natural Governing Party even further to the right.
This post also appears on Rabble.ca.