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Sound of PINs dropping audible all over Alberta as Wildrose unity vote descends into farce

You could hear PINs dropping all over Alberta yesterday.

With Alberta's Wildrose Party members scheduled to vote today, and today only, on unity with Jason Kenney's reconstituted Progressive Conservative Party, reports soon began circulating on social media that many 'Rosies were receiving two, even three, of the PIN numbers required to cast their ballots online.

Even worse from the party's perspective, many other Wildrose members didn't get a PIN at all.

The resulting cacophony sounded more like pins dropping in a bowling alley than in the sewing room.

For those who received multiples, the party insisted, the recipient wouldn’t be able to vote more than once. For that you would have to be a member of both parties, as, indeed, many are.

For those who didn't get a PIN at all, they said, they're working on it. This prompted Wildrose Finance Critic Derek Fildebrandt to put out a Tweeted plea for "emergency volunteers to help members vote for unity,” prompting a certain amount of hilarity and otherwise unkind commentary on social media.

"This is bananas. If they're overwhelmed, why not extend the deadline? I call shenanigans," said one Twitterist, who appeared to have renamed himself 'Emergency Volunteer" for the occasion.

By nightfall yesterday, this was descending toward farce, taking on the characteristics of a full-blown gong show.

Party President Jeff Callaway confessed to a Postmedia reporter that the number of multiple PINs sent out to members was "in excess of several hundred," whatever that was supposed to mean. What it did mean, I'm told, was at least 2,000 known cases.

The party, sensibly enough, is promoting the narrative the problems are caused by the technical difficulty of coping with a surge in new members in recent weeks.

Meanwhile, electronic voting by the PCs, who experienced a similar surge but started letting members vote on Thursday, is reported to be going swimmingly.

The leadership of both parties is pushing hard for a Yes vote, and will almost certainly get it.

This is not a problem on the PC side, where Maximo Lider Kenney, a former Harper Government cabinet heavy, has successfully exerted near-total control over the party and apparently purged most of the restive elements that pined for a return to the big Tory tent of yore.

It's more of a problem for the Wildrose Party and its titular leader, Opposition leader Brian Jean, which remains riven by a number of factions.

These include several restive MLAs who favour Kenney's leadership over Jean’s and rank-and-file members who still suspect the Tories are wets and progressives barely a step removed from the NDP government of Rachel Notley they all hope to topple in 2019, one way or another.

In addition, though I am aware of no public polling data to support this, there is a widespread sense that many rural Wildrosers are not fans of Kenney, suspecting despite his longstanding social conservative credentials that he is just another city slicker who has spent too much time in the metropolitan fleshpots of Calgary and Ottawa.

This may explain why Jean felt confident enough to try to make the case to socially liberal urban conservatives that "gone are the days when hard-right governments are going to be successful in Alberta."

It is those Wildrosers who, for whatever reasons, are reluctant to throw in their lot with the PCs who are most likely to see something sinister in the party’s PIN fiasco if the vote favours the unite-the-right side, as it is likely to do.

So, shenanigans? Garden variety technical problems are not uncommon in such circumstances and are a more likely explanation than a conspiracy, in fact.

But the United Conservative Party leadership won't have to persuade the readers of this blog of that.

They'll have the tougher job of persuading people who still believe in #kudatahs and suspect the United Nations is conspiring to make them eat locally grown food. Not to mention members on the losing side who didn't get to vote.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Image: Wildrose Party

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