Yesterday’s media wisdom: “Everybody’s ready for Monday.”
But is Alison Redford?
You can take that question any way you like.
First, if the Alberta provincial election call does indeed come later today – as apparently every political observer in Alberta except this blogger is certain it will – there’s an opinion out there that Premier Redford is far from ready to contest this election.
Leastways, there’s a case to be made that Ms. Redford’s commitment to keeping, or at least appearing to keep, the promises she made during her come-from-behind bid to lead the Progressive Conservative government into this election will make it a more difficult campaign than might have been expected in October when she won that contest.
She and her strategists have, in effect, legislated themselves into a corner with the way she kept her promise to mandate a fixed election date, which manifested itself in the form of Alberta’s weird hybrid “fixed election period” law.
No sooner did Premier Redford’s PC government pass this law than they experienced a singularly inauspicious couple of weeks, rife with accusations public institutions have been making illegal donations to her party, embarrassing revelations about MLAs being paid $1,000 a month to sit on a committee that never meets, controversy over the form of her promised “judicial inquiry” into health care, treatment of her Asia trade envoy, former leadership contender Gary Mar, and the unexpected failure to pass the government’s Education Act in the face of an assault by religious extremists in cahoots with the Wildrose Party. Anything I’ve missed? Oh, probably.
There’s a school of thought that the smart thing for Ms. Redford to have done would be to have called an election the instant she tabled her budget, going to the voters while she was still cruising on the high of her leadership victory.
Having failed to do that, in a normal Westminster-style Parliamentary democracy – which all senior Canadian governments must be, by Constitutional dictum – most governments would simply delay the election call a few weeks while they got their public relations house in order. Which is the great thing, from any government’s perspective, about the Parliamentary system.
But having made the change to slake the apparently bottomless Canadian thirst to graft American political ideas onto our British system of government, Ms. Redford finds herself facing an election fight on much more difficult terrain than she must have anticipated.
However, it would be going too far to suggest she finds herself between a rock and a hard place of her own making. The Alberta PCs still enjoy many advantages – not least among them the habitual tendency of Alberta electors to vote Conservative without thinking too deeply about it, but also the fact they have much deeper pockets by far than anyone else in the field.
So I would recommend against leaping to the conclusion, as many in the media would like us to, that the government is doomed to fall in some kind of massive tectonic shift to the far-right Wildrose Party. This is not 1971, the Alberta of 2012 is not the Alberta of 1992 let alone 1971, and Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith is no Peter Lougheed. For all her personal charm, Ms. Smith’s vision is a deeply negative and reactive one, unlike the visionary Mr. Lougheed’s.
The conventional medial wisdom and the rhetoric of the best-financed opposition party seem to be that Alberta is a far-right sort of place and Ms. Redford is moving away from that, taking a big risk by doing so. But with the decade-long influx of Canadians from other provinces Alberta attitudes are moving toward the middle. So how likely is it to be a mistake if Ms. Redford is in fact moving her government, albeit with some members kicking and screaming, along with them?
Still, it would not be impossible in this era of right-wing robo-calls and voter-suppression techniques if increasingly centrist Albertans chose to express their dissatisfaction with a centrist Conservative party by electing a market fundamentalist party led by ideological extremists who march in lock-step with the Harper Conservatives in Ottawa.
The second reason Ms. Redford may not be ready to pull the electoral plug is that in many ways she breaks the mold on how politics must be practiced in Alberta to succeed.
As a result, there is no guarantee this premier will do exactly as tradition, habit, the opinions of the chattering classes or even the Edmonton Sun’s anonymous sources say she must.
If you ask me, Ms. Redford is as likely to call this election on a Friday as a Monday if it suits her.
Chances are, the election call will be made, just as everyone predicts, today. But don’t be too deeply shocked if Ms. Redford – as she has done before, more than once during her leadership campaign – tosses a curve ball and does something we don’t expect.
And don’t be too surprised if Ms. Redford and her Conservatives – notwithstanding the predictions to the contrary by a lot of people grinding a lot of axes, Wildrose, Liberal, Alberta Party and NDP – comes out of this pitfall-filled campaign at the head of another comfortable majority government.
This post also appears on Rabble.ca.