Judging from the polls we've seen, not to mention the behaviour of politicians and the buzz in the media, I think we can all agree on this much: The campaign for the election Albertans didn't want on May 5 is not unfolding as Progressive Conservative Leader Jim Prentice expected it would when he insisted on calling it.
But if the polls show growing support for both the Alberta NDP and the Wildrose Party, each now generating a lot more excitement than almost anyone expected a few weeks ago, the most important question may turn out to be this:
Which way will it break?
That is to say, if the Prentice PCs can’t turn things around -- and they will certainly try to do just that, with a reasonable prospect of success, if only given the financial resources they have at hand -- which way will disaffected voters go? To the cautious NDP left, or to the seemingly apoplectic right?
For that matter, will they go anywhere at all? There is, after all, no shortage of undecided voters in Alberta, not to mention a great many who through despair or apathy have fallen out of the habit of voting altogether.
Volunteers for all parties are reporting a great deal of dissatisfaction with the PCs on the doorsteps of their communities with a common response being, "I don't know who I'm going to vote for, but I can tell you it won't be the PCs."
Given that, will the distance between the two alternatives somehow enable the Tories to eke out a survival strategy by portraying themselves as the reasonable middle, despite their leader's still-emerging record of failure, catalogued by journalist Mimi Williams in, of all things, a Facebook post that can only be described as magisterial in scope and breadth.
Or are the polls, as we all keep wondering because it's happened before, just wrong, or is the electorate too volatile even to be measured by polling?
Right now, both the NDP and the Wildrose Party seem to be riding independent waves of support with not much more than two weeks to go before the election Prentice engineered.
Wouldn't that be a shocker, to Alberta not to mention the rest of the Dominion, if the polls turned out to be right and victor was not the Progressive Conservatives?
What a delicious irony it would be if the outrage sown by the scheme apparently cooked up among Prentice, former opposition leader Danielle Smith and Preston Manning, the godfather of the Canadian neoliberal right, to merge the government and Wildrose caucuses in the Legislature and leave the province’s many conservative voters with no choice, had the effect of propelling either the revivified Wildrose Party or the surging NDP into power.
A Wildrose government, elected by conservative outsiders incandescent with rage at the floor-crossing episode, infuriated by the Redford years, and dissatisfied with anything short of a full Wisconsin, is unlikely to offer the soothing incrementalism Manning and his Calgary boiler room for conservative proselytizing need to complete their project of shifting all of Canada unrecognizably to the right.
And what of Brian Jean, the Wildrose Party's almost completely unknown leader? He only got the job on March 28, after the mass defection that was supposed to destroy the party. His decade-long Parliamentary career was so undistinguished the only standout was the crossword puzzles he composed and sent via Parliamentary mail to his bemused constituents. What might he do as premier?
For its part, a cautious NDP merely holding the balance of power would act as a powerful brake on the right-wing project at a moment in history when time may be running out for democratic acceptance of neoliberal economics.
And if the NDP were to actually form the government of Alberta, why, it could as Leader Rachel Notley vowed at the news conference announcing her fiscal plan Sunday implement such "extremist" policies as tax credits to create jobs for our kids, continued funding for public health care and education, reintroduction of fair corporate taxes, encouragement for economic diversification and, most frightening of all from the PC perspective, a ban on political donations from corporations and unions.
Well, we'll have the chance to see all three leaders in action against one another on Global TV at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday. Maybe that's when the dam will break, and undecided voters will really start to flow one way or the other.
Remember, in politics and much else, timing is everything.
This post also appears on David CLimenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.
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