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A half dozen harsh truths about Alberta politics in the summer of 2011

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Wildrose Alliance Leader Danielle Smith, not smiling (Dave Cournoyer photo)

Now that the air is clouded with spin, let's review the results of the Environics poll published by a couple of Alberta newspapers last week.

Spin is to be expected from political parties whenever a new poll really shines some light on what's going on. Naturally, professional spinmeisters try to spin the results their party's way because that's what they're paid to do. Their tame journalist friends do the same thing because … well, who knows? Because they, or someone they work for, sees some benefit in it, presumably.

But a poll with results as overwhelming as the Environics survey is pretty hard to spin in any way but the obvious.

If the poll is credible (and this one is), and if it's accurate (and this would seem to be because an earlier poll suggested the same trend), the half-dozen conclusions it leads you to are both brutal and hard to dispute.

These are:

1)    Unless something really changes by election day, the Progressive Conservatives will win a huge majority no matter whom they choose as leader.
2)    The Wildrose Alliance, hailed for almost two years by the media as the greatest thing since sliced white bread, is cratering now that Ed Stelmach is leaving as premier.
3)    Despite the publicity opportunities offered by their own leadership race, the Alberta Liberals are imploding.
4)    The Alberta Party has failed to register with anyone but the chattering classes, and barely with them.
5)    The only opposition party for which there is much hope of improvement is the NDP, and it is hard to imagine their youth-driven Orange Wavelet even dampening the trouser cuffs of the overwhelmingly popular post-Stelmach Tories.
6)    The urge for the Conservatives to call a fall election as soon as they've chosen a leader will be extremely hard to resist, because no matter whom they choose, their position is likely to deteriorate over time.

These conclusions are so obvious that the efforts of the spin-doctors, no matter how good, barely rise above low comedy.

It's just pathetic, for example, when a leading Wildrose strategist dismisses the Environics survey as a push-poll -- that is, a poll designed to lead respondents to a desired conclusion.

Surely the Wildrose Alliance can do better than this for spin!

It's worth a little chuckle when the Globe and Mail editorializes that Alberta Tories must choose Ted Morton, the far-right market-fundamentalist evangelist, in order to stop the threat from the Wildrose. What threat from the Wildrose?

That may be what the Great Minds in the driver's seat at 444 Front Street in Toronto would like Alberta Conservatives to do, but there's plenty or reason to believe the Tories can safely choose whomever they please. Moreover, in the hothouse atmosphere of Alberta politics, it's hard to know whether the American-born Morton will be boosted or battered by being the No. 1 choice of Central Canadian neo-Cons residing in Toronto.

It's outright hilarious when a headline writer in the Edmonton Journal none too subtly editorializes that the Wildrose Alliance's plunge in the Environics poll "may be good in the long run… party can rebuild from grassroots, political analyst says."

It's true, of course, this is good news … but only if you're not a Wildrose supporter. As for the long run, there is unlikely to be a long run in the time period in which an election will be held for the reasons outlined in Point 6. Best advice for the Wildrose Alliance is, "maybe someday."

Moreover, someday is definitely a maybe proposition for the Wildrose Alliance, because it's pretty obvious that Albertans liked Danielle Smith and the Alliance a heck of a lot more when they didn't know them than they like them now that they do know them!

If the current poll results are right, any of the parties with seats in the Legislature could lead the Opposition after the next election. It's said here that it's almost as likely to be the NDP under Brian Mason as the Wildrose Alliance under Danielle Smith. Indeed, if I were Smith, I'd be thinking about polishing up my resume just in case I'm not the next Opposition leader.

And it's outright cause for tears of laughter to read Wildrose Director of Political Operations Ryan Hastman, the only Alberta Conservative to be beaten (by the NDP) in the last federal election, saying in the same Journal piece that that the party doesn't believe in polls, particularly mid-summer polls. Quick! Everyone repeat the Mantra of the Faltering Politician: "The. Only. Poll. That. Counts. Is. The. Election…."

Look, it's true, there are a lot of undecided voters, it is the summertime, and some Tory support will dissipate as voters get a look at the Natural Governing Party's new leader. Plus, as I keep quoting former British prime minister Harold Wilson saying, "a week is a long time in politics." But there's one heck of a lot of wiggle-room in numbers like these for the Conservatives.

Just to give the spinners their due, we'll likely have another indication of who is getting it right in just a few days. Here's betting that another major, legitimate poll is in the field right now, and its results will either support Environics' conclusions or cast doubt on them.

Don't put any money on it saying anything different from the Environics results.

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

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