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Ambiguous Wildrose abortion statements emerge as NDP support jumps in Edmonton

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Alberta NDP Leader Brian Mason

Are residents of the Edmonton region, as disgusted with the antics of the long-ruling Progressive Conservatives as other Albertans, starting to have second thoughts about far-right Wildrose Party's largely unknown agenda and the little-known characters that populate its slate of candidates?

A new poll by a well-regarded national polling company shows NDP support surging in the Edmonton area at precisely the same moment the Wildrose Party has been making ambiguous and contradictory statements on abortion that smack of a half-hidden agenda.

Meanwhile, throughout much of the rest of the province, voters who last spring were poking fun at Quebeckers for electing NDP candidates they hardly knew appear to be poised to do precisely the same thing with the cast of marginal unknowns who have won local nominations for the Wildrose Party.

The only difference is -- unlike the new NDP MPs in Quebec, many of whom are now starting to shine in Parliament -- the ranks of the Wildrose Party seem to be peopled with crackpot social conservatives who among other things would like to ban abortions, or at least de-list them, and party leaders who appear ready to humour them.

At any rate, this is one way to explain the growth of support in the Capital Region for the NDP, which Leger Marketing says a poll it conducted early this week shows is now in a statistical tie with the Wildrose Party. But while the survey put NDP support at 20 per cent in Edmonton, it lags at 8.5 per cent in the rest of the province.

NDP Leader Brian Mason explained his party's increasing Capital Region support to the Edmonton Journal by drawing attention to "the missteps of the Conservative government" while observing that "people are also starting to look at the Wildrose more critically, and they’re asking themselves what kind of change that party will bring."

If ever there was a political party that deserved to be punished by voters, of course, it's the Alberta Progressive Conservatives under Premier Alison Redford. Arrogance and entitlement hardly scratch the surface of what ails the PCs after 41 years at the helm of the good ship Alberta. Somehow in the final few months of the last 41 years that message sank through to a very large number of Alberta voters.

But it's hard to believe the same Albertans who are now thinking of replacing the suddenly despised PCs with the Wildrose Party have any idea of what -- and whom -- they are proposing to support.

For starters, virtually no one knows who these Wildrose candidates are -- other than party Leader Danielle Smith, a pleasant young woman with an engaging smile who knows her way around a sound bite and how to keep inside a message box.

But Smith is also a former apparatchik in the web of far-right think tanks and Astroturf corporate front groups who in the past has advocated extremely harsh market-fundamentalist and social conservative positions on a variety of issues.

Daveberta blogger Dave Cournoyer recently did an admirable job of highlighting the resumes of some of the other Wildrose candidates, such as public transit foe Don Koziak, and the likes of John Carpay and Ron Leech, who have taken positions strongly opposed to rights protections for homosexuals.

Then there is hyper-conservative icon and former polemicist Link Byfield, now running to the party in Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock, who based on his past writings in far-right publications seems to have his doubts about the market-distorting effects of the war on drugs (though he blames "utopian proto-feminists" for its beginnings), thinks marriage should be handed back to the church and believes state-run education was the ruination of the family.

Moreover, on policies the Wildrose Party is known to advocate -- rock-bottom royalties for petrochemical companies and opposition to tax increases for others -- the same Albertans who are contemplating voting for them are known to hold opposing views.

Another Leger survey late last month, for example, showed that close to 60 per cent of Albertans (70 per cent in the Edmonton area) do not believe their province is receiving enough royalties for the province's oil and gas resources. In the same survey, 56 per cent of Albertans (almost 60 per cent in the Edmonton region) indicated they would be willing to pay higher taxes to protect government programs and services and build infrastructure.

This clearly demonstrates a disconnect in Alberta political perceptions, since this group included significant numbers of voters who also identified themselves as Wildrose supporters.

As Wildrose positions on health care and "conscience rights" issues have begun to winkle through to voters, now comes the revelation that Wildrose leaders have been playing footsie with social conservatives who would like to block abortions, while telling a different story to the rest of us.

Edmonton Journal columnist Paula Simons reported how Wildrose officials been telling people they assumed were supporters that they could use citizen-sponsored referenda, another longstanding plank in the Wildrose platform, to de-list abortions from health coverage.

Simons noted that 11 years ago Smith wrote a Calgary Herald column opposing public funding for abortions. In it, Smith proposed just such a referendum strategy as the perfect way to eliminate it.

In response, the Wildrose Party issued an ambiguous clarification that obscured their position more than it clarified it: "Like the Progressive Conservatives, Wildrose has absolutely no intentions of legislating on abortion, and that includes delisting. Citizen initiative is and has always been an important part of the Wildrose platform. However, any initiative must first be vetted by a federally appointed judge to determine whether or not it is constitutional."

So … what? They still want to use a citizen initiative to de-list abortions? Or not?

Which brings us back to the NDP mini-surge. It offers voters in the Edmonton area and a few other ridings a way to punish the Tories for years of arrogance without helping to unleash a Wildrose Apocalypse.

But elsewhere in the province, many progressive voters will feel they have no choice but to hold their noses and vote for the Conservatives.

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

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