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Both sides dig in as Alberta election approaches

UCP Leader Jason Kenney and his party’s Calgary-East candidate, Peter Singh.

Alberta's internet was in a furious swivet last night. There seemed to be something to wind everyone up as we enter the final stretch of a provincial election both sides have characterized as an epochal event sure to seal the fate of the province if it goes the wrong way.

This may have been only the anger-magnifying tendency of social media, or the "friends" and "followers" I have accumulated over the years, but I can't ever recall seeing so many people on both sides of a political division so wound up.

There is a fringe of the Alberta right that has always been furious about pretty well everything, of course. They were enraged by the NDP's surprise victory in May 2015 and they have been enraged about it ever since. Their fury was ratcheted up even more when Premier Rachel Notley didn't just roll over and concede victory to the Opposition but fought back with an aggressive campaign of her own.

Still, most Albertans have been capable over the years of engaging in civil discourse when it comes to politics. This was not so evident last night, with only four more sleeps till voting day. The proximate cause, I think, was two things:

One is the sense among supporters of the NDP government that weeks of bozo eruptions by United Conservative Party candidates, alongside evidence of possible illegalities by UCP activists associated with Jason Kenney's 2017 leadership campaign, have had little impact on the Opposition party's strong lead in public opinion.

The other was the news story yesterday that RCMP officers with a search warrant had swooped in late Thursday on the Calgary auto-repair business of Peter Singh, the UCP's candidate in Calgary-East, and removed a computer hard drive, "other electronic devices," and a suitcase.

The Mounties were tight-lipped about the nature of the investigation. Singh, apparently, was nowhere to be found, although he said in a written statement the police had returned his computer. When a reporter tried to question Kenney about it, an aide pushed the door shut in her face. The details are murky. Conspiracy theories abound, especially on the right.

Last year the Calgary Herald reported allegations Singh "used at least one local resident's credit card to advance his nomination campaign."

According to the CBC, the UCP had earlier investigated allegations of bribery and fraud related to Singh's nomination, but found no proof and cleared him.

Meanwhile, advance polls have been setting records. With well over 400,000 votes cast, turnout has been significantly higher in the first three days of advance polling than in all advance polls in 2015, when 162,000 advance ballots were cast. About 2.6 million Albertans are registered to vote. Today is the last day for advance polling.

Political scientists say this may not mean much -- it's easier this time to cast an advance ballot, thanks to new voting rules. But it is one more factor winding politically engaged Albertans up.

I suspect this is a sign of things to come, and not just in Alberta. We have already seen like things happen in the United States, driven by the Trump Republicans but embraced by their Democratic Party rivals.

Since anger and an appeal to the worst instincts of the base worked for the Republicans, you can count on it that their Conservative brethren in Alberta and Canada are not just paying close attention, but dealing with the same consultants.

Political parties on the centre and left, such as there is a left in Canada any more, will have no choice but to respond in kind, and so they will.

Indeed, Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, anxious to recover from his own self-inflicted political wounds, appeared to be testing an aggressive campaign strategy of his own on Thursday, lumping federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and Ontario Premier Doug Ford in with alt-right conspiracy theorists, racists and religious bigots.

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

Image: Facebook.

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