rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

Alberta's long political sitzkrieg gives way today to Tory blitzkrieg

Please chip in to support rabble's election 2019 coverage. Support rabble.ca today for as little as $1 per month!

Alberta Premier Alison Redford

Can it be only four years ago that Ed Stelmach was loudly bemoaning the incivility of those notoriously unsuccessful anti-Tory attack ads, the ones that whispered how the premier of the day had "No Plan, No Plan"?

Alert readers will recall how the province's commentariat was unanimous in the view Albertans just wouldn't stand for that sort of thing.

Well, never mind the "Albertans for Change" campaign of 2008. That was then and this is now.

Today, Alberta's election "phoney war" is over and dirty attack advertisements, the kind that caused such hysterical hyperventilation when they were paid for by a coalition of unions, have officially gone mainstream.

For the first time anyone can remember in the 41-year reign of Alberta's Natural Governing Party, the Progressive Conservative government of Premier Alison Redford has gone deeply negative with the release today of radio attack ads targeting the Wildrose Party of Danielle Smith.

What's different with the Tory "air war" now, of course, is that in 2008 the PCs under Stelmach faced no serious contenders -- nor did they in most of the years under premiers Ralph Klein, Don Getty or Peter Lougheed -- so they could afford to project a certain confident bonhomie and campaign with dignity from on high.

Today, even with the popular Redford at the helm, Smith's Wildrose Party is a well-organized and well-financed opposition party clearly favoured by some of the PCs' traditional corporate bagmen. Redford and her election brain trust have obviously identified the Wildrosers as their principal threat, at least in the Calgary area where these first negative radio ads will run.

So with that, all the PC party's traditional restraint and self-righteousness about advertising negativity has gone the way of chivalry and the age of steam.

In fairness, the Wildrosers went negative first in this election cycle with some harsh video spots about Redford late in 2011. But that sort of thing's almost expected most places from opposition parties faced with the challenge of taking on a popular and experienced governing party.

The new ads, which clearly wear the strategic fingerprints of Redford's political strategists and former chief of staff, Stephen Carter, are tough -- they essentially accuse former Fraser Institute apparatchik Smith and her fellow Wildrosers of being in favour of drunk driving and enabling the mayhem it causes.

"Premier Alison Redford is making our streets safer by getting tough on impaired drivers," a grim voice intones in the 30-second radio spot, which refers to Bill 26, the Traffic Safety Amendment Act, a law that would impose "administrative penalties" on drivers with a blood-alcohol concentration above .05, which is lower than the .08 reading set out as legally impaired in the Canadian Criminal Code. The bill has been passed by the Legislature, but has not yet come into force.

"Since 1998, 300 Albertans have been killed by drivers who blew point zero-eight or less," an equally stern female voice picks up. "But Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith says the new rules could 'ensnare couple on a date night'? Let's tell the Wildrose that real leadership is about making decisions to save lives, because 300 Albertans will never have another date night."

The male voice resumes: "Danielle Smith and the Wildrose … not worth the risk."

One interesting aspect of this fight is that Smith and the Wildrosers and Redford and the Tories have been clearly looking at similar research about what makes Albertans tick and have come to startlingly different conclusions about whom to pitch.

Smith and her strategists quickly identified the .05 limit proposed by the Conservatives as a point of vulnerability with traditionally minded Albertans, especially in rural districts. These voters are shown by plenty of polling research to think of themselves as independent minded and resistant to regulation, the kind of people who resent having to wear a seatbelt let alone restrict themselves to a couple of drinks on a date night. Smith has promised if elected to repeal the bill.

Redford and her strategists have identified "soccer moms" -- just the kind of voters who are going to worry about their kids' safety from even slightly intoxicated drivers -- as the constituency that matters.

Well, on an issue like this, only one of them can be right!

As for negative ads, however, get used to them, because they're not going away.

They're not going away because they work -- as, notwithstanding its lack of success on voting day, the Albertans for Change campaign weirdly proved by leaving Stelmach stuck in the minds of Albertans as the premier who had no plan. That perception eventually sunk him.

As for the oft-repeated claim that Albertans hate negative advertising, it is said here that the reaction to the Tories' Danielle-enables-drunk-drivers ads will prove that Albertan commentators only go crazy about negative advertising when non-conservatives pay for it.

This post also appears on David CLimenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.