When the Edmonton-Strathcona riding once held by former Conservative high-flyer Rahim Jaffer unexpectedly fell to the New Democratic Party last October, it was pretty clear the federal Conservatives would pull out all stops to get it back next time.
For one thing, having a green-tinged New Democrat like Linda Duncan as Member of Parliament for even one Alberta electoral district smacks a little too much of democracy for Conservative tastes in this politically one-dimensional province. It’s what's known as a burr under the saddle out here in the New West, notwithstanding the fact few of us actually know anyone who rides a horse.
For another, Conservatives already have a history of playing down and dirty in the riding. For example, in the dying days of the 2008 campaign, when it began to look as if Jaffer's campaign was seriously faltering, they purchased sleazy radio advertisements that falsely implied federal NDP Leader Jack Layton condoned the use of marijuana.
In light of subsequent developments involving Jaffer, of course, these ads took on a quality of unintended hilarity – though, in fairness, they called for laws that are tough on dealers who sell drugs to school kids, not to Conservative MPs.
Regardless, Canadian politics are supposed to be competitive, and Jaffer – with his reputation as "Canada's laziest MP" well established in the community -- made it easy for the opposition to compete.
Now we are starting to see the outline of the effort well-financed Conservatives are prepared to put into knocking off Alberta's only opposition member. It turns out Conservative riding associations in Calgary are trucking cash north to Duncan’s new opponent, Ryan Hastman, a 30-year-old insider from the Prime Minister's Office, carefully selected to appeal to the university-area riding's demographics.
Conservative-held ridings in Calgary -- and that would be all of them -- have plenty of cash because (a) there's lots of Conservative money in that well-oiled town, and (b) Calgarians can be counted on to vote Conservative no matter what. Indeed, it's said that if the Conservatives dropped an atomic bomb on Cowtown, the survivors would crawl out of the rubble and vote Conservative.
This means Conservative candidates in Calgary who don't need all the money they collect from that city's robotic voters have plenty left over to ship to their fellows in ridings where there's actually some opposition. This practice is entirely legal, the local press took pains to assure its readers.
So, just for starters, look for expensive Conservative advertising in the riding to start early -- well before campaign laws grind into action -- and take a low, low road. Under the circumstances, however, the ads won’t necessarily go anywhere near drug policy.
Duncan can also assume her invitations to events involving the spending of tax dollars will continue to go missing. Leastways, when federal Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose popped into the riding with a cheque for $14.8 million made out to the University of Alberta, it was Hastman who was invited, not the area's elected MP. And when loot gets handed out for neighbourhood improvements, it’s the unelected Hastman who does the handing!
For her part, Duncan -- genteel and civil by nature -- is going to need to take off the gloves if she is to survive this kind of sleaze. "Good for him, he's working hard … I'm touched that I merit this attention," is not the right response for what's coming.
To paraphrase the Bard, the Retort Courteous, even the Quip Modest, is not going to cut it with these guys. The Radio Ad Quarrelsome might work.
Moreover, in addition to some plain talk, New Democrats and others elsewhere in Canada should be thinking about sending cash of their own to Duncan’s campaign. Don't think of it as a lonely NDP outpost in benighted Alberta -- think of it as a vital, defensible bastion against the nightmare of a Conservative majority!