Alberta Premier Alison Redford needs to be praying hard that she wins fewer seats next year than Ed Stelmach did back in 2008.
Alert readers will recall that Stelmach, who had been chosen Progressive Conservative leader and premier of Alberta in 2006, saw his party win 72 of the 83 seats in the Alberta Legislature in the 2008 general election.
This was hailed as a historic victory at the time, and it was in a manner of speaking. But many of Stelmach's subsequent troubles, it can be argued, flowed directly from the size of his majority.
If Redford wants to avoid many of those same pitfalls -- which stemmed mostly from human nature, not some special political circumstance unique to Alberta -- she would do well to hope for a comfortable majority, but not one as comfortable as that achieved by her unfortunate predecessor.
If an Alberta general election indeed takes place in 2012, as we have been promised, somewhere between 50 and 55 seats in the redistributed 87-seat Legislature would be a harbinger of Redford's continued success, it seems to this observer.
Right off the top -- without really changing anything in terms of her ability to do whatever she pleases -- the entitlement and arrogance associated with a party that can win back-to-back overwhelming majorities over the course of more than 40 years might be ameliorated a little.
That, in turn, would reduce the who-gives-a-hoot attitude of a lot of MLAs and ministers, which arguably led directly to many of the problems experienced by Stelmach that really did make it seem for a time as if the mighty Tory dynasty was on the ropes.
Indeed, it is said here that it was -- it's just that the party's well-honed survival reflex was prompted, and the result was a new leader at the helm that presents a very different image. But while a new image may be enough to get the party through the next election, it won't keep it healthy for long if old bad habits reassert themselves.
Back in Stelmach's anti-heyday, while the arrogance of some well-placed Tories began to create serious problems for the premier, another symptom of a dangerously large majority began to assert itself. Let's call this "Devil's Workshop Syndrome." (Let it be noted here that the use of the term DWS is not meant to imply that any members of the Progressive Conservative caucus have actual personal dealings with the Devil, except perhaps inadvertently.)
Regardless, we all know the expression: "Idle hands are the Devil’s workshop." With 72 members in his caucus, virtually every one of them harbouring some degree of ambition, there simply weren't enough cabinet posts and legislative committees to keep them all sufficiently busy.
Pretty soon MLAs were carping publicly about the premier's lack of success, wearing black to the Legislature to protest the premier's insufficient enthusiasm for really destructive economic policies (something akin to what Stelmach himself indulged in back in premier Ralph Klein's day) or, worst of all, sharing discreet cups of vanilla latte with Wildrose Party Leader Danielle Smith in Starbucks cafes all over downtown Edmonton. (Rob Anderson, c'mon down!)
Next thing you knew there was talk of open rebellion and 10 more defectors crossing the floor of the legislature the then-Wildrose-Alliance's benches. (One would have liked to have been a fly on the wall at the caucus meeting where the kibosh got put on that idea!) Not to mention Tory MLAs riding in the Pride Parade whilst sending out inappropriate Tweets about the other participants.
No, what Redford needs is a significantly smaller caucus as a percentage of total seats in the Legislature.
That would keep her troops focused on their jobs, and on behaving themselves. After all, the possibly of a humiliating defeat in the next election concentrates the political mind wonderfully.
Moreover, having 20 or more MLAs in the Opposition, especially if they come from all the parties that will be running candidates in the next election, will go a long way to allaying the cynicism and distrust that plagues Alberta democracy and could cause big social problems not so far down the road.
Who wants to bet, though, that Redford and her key advisers don't see it that way. As we have already seen in the Conservative leadership campaign, they play to win -- and they will only be perfectly content if they win it all, or very nearly so.
With most polls putting support for the Conservatives around 50 per cent following the leadership election, that could well happen. It is said here with no joy that, notwithstanding the recent Forum poll, the Conservatives could well again capture more than 70 seats in the Legislature, especially if voter turnout is low as historically has been the case in this province.
Nothing good will come from that -- even for the Conservatives.
This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.