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Disillusioned by Tory hard line, one union's ad campaign suggests tilt toward Wildrose

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Never mind for the moment which of Alberta's right-wing parties has the worse ideas about climate change, grudging support for the Opposition Wildrose Party is beginning to bloom in surprisingly progressive places.

Maybe calling it support puts it a little too strongly, but there's a dawning sense in many progressive quarters in Alberta that a Wildrose government led by Opposition Leader Danielle Smith could hardly be worse and might even be better than the one we have now, led by Premier Alison Redford's supposedly Progressive Conservative Party.

Indeed, as Premier Redford's government attacks public employee pensions, slashes funding to public education, leaves Alberta Health Services in a shambles, and (according to widespread rumours) prepares legislation to impose a Ralph-Klein-style multi-year wage freeze on public employees, many members of the liberal coalition that saved Redford's party from the surging Wildrosers last year have reached the bitter conclusion they were had.

That realization takes concrete form Monday when the 82,000-member Alberta Union of Provincial Employees launches a hard-hitting TV advertising campaign that all but calls Premier Redford and her government liars.

"Here's to working hard, talking straight and keeping your promises," says the 30-second TV ad, which will be in heavy rotation for 30 days throughout Alberta, starting Monday. "You could call it the Alberta Way."

"We appreciate it in each other … and in our leaders," says the narrator. "So we notice when our premier doesn't keep her promises, when government leaves our most vulnerable to fend for themselves, and young people without the advantages their parents enjoyed. In this province, we can do better. Let’s do things the Alberta Way…"

It is said here it's no coincidence this advertisement is hitting the airwaves within 24 hours of a Wildrose policy conference in Red Deer at which the Opposition party seems likely to jettison all of the most offensive policies that contributed to its defeat in 2012.

Gone by Monday, it seems certain, will be any vestiges of Wildrose opposition to sexual minority rights, human rights commissions and allowing medical professionals to opt out of providing services for reasons of conscience.

In her speech to 500 party members last night, moreover, Smith changed her tune on climate change and mocked the Redford Government's inaction on the file. PC Environment Minister Diana McQueen has been attacking the Wildrose Party on climate change, Smith asserted, "because there's been absolutely no progress by her party."

Wildrose members are also expected to obediently pass two resolutions today calling for climate change action.

Progressive voters are justified in wondering if the Wildrosers really mean any of this stuff, or if they're just mouthing platitudes to improve their electoral chances in the next go-round.

On the other hand, with the Redford Government enacting policies that are in many instances to the right of what could have been expected from the Wildrose Party, they've already seen pretty conclusive evidence Redford didn't mean it when she promised to support public services and find common ground with moderate voters.

Alberta unions like AUPE have never had much success telling their members to vote for the New Democratic Party.

Through these TV ads, though, AUPE at least now seems to be telegraphing its members that it's OK for them not to vote PC to keep the Wildrose out of power -- giving its progressive members the nod to go ahead and support the NDP and many of its cautiously conservative members the blessing to vote Wildrose in the next election.

This is no small thing. In the short term, the Redford Government is likely to respond to AUPE's gambit, estimated to cost at least $700,000, with fury.

A statement posted on a well-known news aggregation site by a writer with ties to AUPE that "time is running out" for Redford "to change course and become the premier she promised Albertans she'd be" is likely to inflame the government, which after 42 years in power is not used to opposition.

Down the line, the government is sure to resurrect what blogger Dave Cournoyer calls the "ooga-booga-the-Wildrose-is-scary" approach that worked in the last election.

But that strategy may be far harder to sell with the Wildrose moderating its scariest positions, the Redford Tories acting scarier than the Wildrose, and the province's largest union opting out of the shaky coalition of convenience with the PCs.

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

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