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Alberta Diary

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David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Toronto Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. His 1995 book, A Poke in the Public Eye, explores the relationships among Canadian journalists, public relations people and politicians. He left journalism after the strike at the Calgary Herald in 1999 and 2000 to work for the trade union movement. Alberta Diary focuses on Alberta politics and social issues.

B.C. politics as seen from Alberta: Christy Clark's re-election strategy exposed

| February 12, 2016
Image: Flickr/bcgovphotos

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You no longer have to live in British Columbia to know what B.C. Premier Christy Clark's strategy is going to be when her Liberal Party tries to win the provincial election scheduled for May 9, 2017.

As she did last time, in 2013, Clark is going to run a dirty campaign against a New Democratic Party leader who won't fight back.

In 2013, that NDP leader was named Adrian Dix. He blew a 20-point lead in the polls by not striking back when Clark went negative. No one knows why. It must've seemed like a good idea at the time.

Dix isn't the leader of the B.C. NDP any more. His campaign manager, a lifelong New Democrat named Brian Topp, who had run for the leadership of the federal NDP before going out to the coast to help Dix, has left the province.

The leader of the B.C. NDP is now John Horgan, and without knowing much about B.C. politics or Horgan, he strikes me as the sort of fellow who won't hesitate to strike right back if Clark's Liberals, who are really conservatives, go negative.

What to do?

Well, why not follow Topp? Hey, it could work! Here's how:

Topp, as alert readers from Alberta know, now works as chief of staff to NDP Premier Rachel Notley. He says he's learned his lesson about passive campaigns, and Alberta New Democrats profoundly hope that's true. I suppose we'll find out in 2019.

In the meantime, however, there's absolutely nothing in it for Alberta's New Democrats to get into a big dustup with Clark, the cheerful conservative premier to the west, or for that matter with Brad Wall, the cranky and unpleasant conservative premier to the east.

So Clark can be reasonably confident that if she attacks Notley and the Alberta NDP for the state of world oil prices, the differences between B.C.'s carbon tax and Alberta's planned version of the same thing, or just the painful volume of squealing by Alberta conservatives of various stripes, the chances are quite good that, rather like Dix, Notley won't bother to fight back.

Of course, unlike Dix, the stakes in this are extremely low for Notley.

So, just as Clark attacked a passive NDP leading up to the 2013 election, she's going to attack a passive NDP in the lead-up to the one in 2017. The only difference is the passive NDP in question won't be in B.C.

We know this because the Clark Government's Throne Speech, read by B.C. Lieutenant-Governor Judith Guichon on Tuesday, contains a couple of shots at Alberta that have been causing a huge brouhaha out here as the local media has tried to play it up like Western Canada's Gavrilo Princip moment, a shot loud enough to start a war.

Not likely. The Notley NDP calmly parried with the argument that since the criticism was about the mismanagement of Alberta's economy, and since until very recently that economy was being managed by a variety of conservative not all that different from Clark's, it was really a shot at the Progressive Conservatives who ran the place for nearly 44 years.

It wasn't, of course. Clark's shot was aimed directly at the NDP… the B.C. NDP, that is, via their brethren out here on the other side of the Rockies.

She's counting on the high probability most B.C. voters know precious little about who ran Alberta when, or what their policies were whenever. Even if they do know something, she presumably reckons, they probably don't particularly like Alberta, which until recently was acting entirely too big for its britches.

If I were a bettin' man -- and I'm not when it comes to politics in other provinces -- I'd say this won't work this time for Clark. But it's any old port in a West Coast storm, and it'll have to do for a strategy until her brain trust comes up with something better.

Wall may try a bit of the same thing, but that will be harder since Saskatchewan seems to have exactly the same problems for exactly the same reasons as Alberta -- up to now except for the deficit, of course, thanks to its five-per-cent sales tax.

Indeed, former prime minister Stephen Harper also tried a variation of this theme in the October 19, 2015, federal election, and we all saw how that worked out, which was OK for the country, thank you very much, although not so well for Harper's Conservatives.

Which leaves us with nothing to talk about except the propriety of taking shots at other provinces via Throne Speeches, which historically hasn't been done very often, at least as far as anyone can remember.

Personally, I'm all for it. I think it would be highly entertaining if Alberta's NDP mocked both B.C. and Saskatchewan viciously in their next Throne Speech. There's just so much to make fun of. But I admit this is highly unlikely.

If you are one of those who don't think a lieutenant-governor should be used, as someone put it on Twitter yesterday morning, to attack another province, I would suggest to you the person who has the power to stop it is the occupant of that same vice-regal office.

Remember, while the Speech from the Throne -- which supposedly sets out the government's agenda for the next session but is increasingly just another political leaflet -- is theoretically written by the government and merely read by the Queen's representative, a lieutenant-governor who wished to could see such an offensive passage excised with a whisper in the right ear.

No premier, no matter how desperate, would risk a public fight with constitutional implications over a cheap shot at another province.

My guess is that Guichon didn't bother to say anything because she didn't really care, in turn because she saw Clark's Throne Speech for what it really is: just another debased campaign document in a protracted fight with the NDP.

The Alberta NDP, that is, because unlike the B.C. chapter it won't fight back.

Let's leave the defence to Horgan, thank you very much.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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Image: Flickr/bcgovphotos

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