The great political minds of Alberta are pondering today where Conservative Party candidate Joan Crockatt will place in Monday's Calgary Centre by-election.
Will she come second? ... Or third?
You think I'm joking? This is no joke -- especially for Prime Minister Stephen Harper!
Face it, people, if the Conservatives lose the safest seat of safe seats -- in downtown Cowtown, for crying out loud -- it is not going to tell a happy story about where Canadians are at when it comes to Harper's angry neoconservative caucus, a government so cranky it can't even stay on the same page as its provincial cousins who run the government in Edmonton!
But the contest now as it's coming to be seen here in Alberta is that by election day each of the Liberals, Greens and Conservatives will own about 30 per cent of the committed vote in the riding, and the NDP will have the remainder.
So the race could go any of three ways, and in normal times there's just enough of an edge from old habits that die hard for the Tories to win it easily.
But these, as they say, are not normal times. The Harper Conservatives, so focused on ideology they couldn't see the dangers of their alliance with the far-right Wildrose Party, which they enthusiastically backed in last spring's Alberta provincial election, have upset their own political applecart.
They have so alienated the riding's traditional Tories -- the kind of people who are comfortable backing Red Tories like their neighbour Alison Redford, the Progressive Conservative premier of Alberta, and former federal PC leader Joe Clark, who once represented the riding -- that many of them are determined to teach their no-longer-comfortable federal political party a lesson by voting for someone else.
What's more, despite her ability to articulately present her thoughts, Crockatt has turned out to be a far-from-ideal candidate.
Apparently thoroughly controlled by her Wildrose/Harperite advisers, the former journalist and right-wing commentator has avoided all-candidates' forums, earned the wrath of Calgary's popular mayor and run away from the media she's supposed to understand. In economic terms a harsh, far-right ideological candidate, Crockatt seems to have assumed she could count on the riding's traditionally reliable Tory vote without thinking too deeply about what kind of Tories many of those voters are.
But a lot of them, it's turning out, are Red Tories just as disturbed as other Canadians about the authoritarian tone the country has taken on under Harper's heavy hand.
Yes, Crockatt is a good door-to-door campaigner. But a lot of Calgary Centre voters, it is said here, are paying attention for once to the issues, and as a result we have a real race.
So what's going to happen? Well, I've been wrong before and I will be again, but it's said here Green candidate Chris Turner, an author, will win by a whisker.
The logic behind this speculation?
Easy. Liberal Harvey Locke, a lawyer, may hold most of his 30 per cent of the vote, shown in two recent Forum Research polls, helped a little by the recent visit of the undeniably charismatic Justin Trudeau and hindered a bit by the Albertans Go Home ejaculation Wednesday of former federal Liberal Energy Critic David McGuinty.
The bogus two-year-old "exclusive" about supposedly anti-Alberta remarks by Trudeau, dredged up by the Sun News Network in an attempt to resuscitate Crockatt's flagging campaign, will likely have little impact -- or at least not the impact its generators intend.
Turner, meanwhile, will hold the quarter of voters committed to voting Green who were identified in the last Forum poll and look to gain more support from other anti-Tory camps.
NDP candidate Dan Meades will lose a few more of his remaining 8 per cent, as soft Knee-Dips continue to migrate to the next-best anti-Tory candidate. They will go to the Green because it's just too hard for a New Democrat to vote for a Liberal.
Then there are the Tories -- deeply split now in the riding between the Wildrose rightists and ideological hardliners who dominate Crockatt's campaign and the Redford-style Red Tories who were happy with their softer-edged former Tory MP, Lee Richardson, who is now Redford's principal secretary.
But if it's hard for NDPers to vote Liberal, it's even harder for Conservatives -- and that would be true even if the former Liberal natural resources critic hadn't shot off his mouth about Tory Albertan MPs. That's why, it’s said here, McGuinty's ill-timed commentary and Trudeau's long-ago remarks won't have much impact on the outcome Monday. Many disaffected Red Tories have already made up their minds to go Green, rather than Liberal or NDP, and as usual Harper's brain trust has concentrated its fire on the wrong opposition candidate.
So what's the risk to these unhappy Conservatives of teaching the Harper-Wildrose crowd a lesson by voting for a Green? Virtually none. Heck, everyone's pretty green nowadays anyway!
So Mr. Turner will pick up a few strategic NDP votes and lot of strategic Red Tory votes. At the last minute, he'll even pick up some extra strategic Liberal votes, cast by electors either unhappy about Mr. McGuinty’s blathering or following those soft New Democrats to the strongest anti-Tory candidate.
Then the patented Alberta come from No. 3 strategy will have worked again! Indeed, a fourth Forum Research poll is said to be about to be released within hours that will confirm this predicted flow of votes toward Turner.
So Monday's vote will be really close, I predict, but it'll shake out in this order:
Then again, I may be out to lunch. Maybe the NDP will come third. We'll see on Monday.
This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.