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Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel channels Henny Youngman: 'Take my Opposition leader ... Please!'

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Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel

Edmonton is going to have to deal with Wildrose Party Leader Danielle Smith. Got that?

Mayor Stephen Mandel rather dryly cleared that question up yesterday.

The mayor's actual words after a 30-minute closed-door meeting with Smith: "It was fine. … She's the leader of the Opposition."

Got that? OK, now we can … ummm … get down to business.

For her part, Smith tried to play the mayor's chilly reaction after their brief tête-à-tête by sounding upbeat, as is her wont these days: "He has a few key things he is hoping to get action on," she chirped to reporters. "… We can be helpful in raising some of those issues in the Legislature and elsewhere."

Yeah, right. I'll bet the phone lines will just be burning up between those two! (Notice to the literal minded: That was sarcasm.)

Mandel has always struck me as a pretty serious guy, the few times I've met him -- which is apparently a few more than Smith, notwithstanding the fact she's been running for the province's top job for months and he's been the mayor the capital city for all of that time. According to the media, yesterday's chat was the first time she's met the man face to face!

Now, none of this is to say that Mayor Mandel doesn't have a sense of humour. It's there somewhere. But, you know, it's mordant.

It may or may not have been on display yesterday in Mayor Mandel’s icy post-meeting remarks: "She and I don't see eye-to-eye on certain issues. We cleared the air on certain things and we have moved on from there." End of story, almost.

No more details were forthcoming but for Mandel's response to a reporter who asked if the two had a better relationship now thanks to their momentary meeting: "We had no relationship before the meeting." (Beat. Beat.) "You would assume the relationship was better after the meeting."

Stephen Mandel as Henny Youngman!

The local press managed to grind a few more lines out of this, which suggests that nowadays they may have gone back to paying their reporters by the word. Whatever. Here's the deal, though: There’s no love lost between Mandel and Smith. And there's a good reason for that. No matter how much Smith would like to put it all behind her, now that it suits her political purposes, it's going to be pretty hard for the mayor of Edmonton to forget what she did during the recent provincial election campaign.

Smith and her Wildrose Party campaign brain trust -- Tom Flanagan, c'mon down! -- hit on a two-thirds strategy.

First, they divided the province into three parts: the countryside, Calgary and Edmonton. Then they concluded that if they could win two out of three, they'd win the province. After that, they beat Edmonton like a redheaded stepchild to win votes in the other two areas.

Smith stepped into the already settled Edmonton Civic Airport debate and suggested a Wildrose government would take another look at the plan the mayor has championed to replace the historic downtown airfield with a classy residential and business development.

She suggested she'd pull the plug on the new Royal Alberta Museum promised by Ed Stelmach and almost pulled off the table by the federal Conservatives. Ditto the renovation by the province of the long-abandoned Federal Building adjacent to the Legislature, even though the project is more than half completed.

She also told voters days before the election that a Wildrose government would provide no funding for a new downtown arena for the Edmonton Oilers -- another of Mayor Mandel's pet projects.

The strategy was pretty much Wedge Issues 101 -- which if it wasn't a course taught to credulous University of Calgary political science undergraduates by Flanagan, certainly could have been!

Play on Calgarians' envy of the capital city to win votes there, be fiscal tough guys on the museum project which the Wildrose Party's Harperite patrons on the Rideau didn't like either, and appeal to northern Alberta voters' concerns that it will take longer to air-ambulance patients to Edmonton hospitals if they can't fly into downtown Edmonton. The goal in every case: to wedge voters outside the Capital Region away from Alison Redford's Tories.

Well, it might have seemed like a good idea at the time -- indeed, it seemed like a pretty good idea up to about 72 hours before the polls opened! -- but it hardly worked out exactly as expected.

In the event on April 23, Calgary voters got cold feet, possibly thanks to several eruptions by some of the Wildrose Party's bozos. Rural voters north of Alberta's Mason-Dickson Line (named for NDP Leader Brian Mason and former Calgary Liberal Gary Dickson -- joke) weren't fooled either. Edmonton -- mocked by Wildrose supporters as "Redmonton," and not in the Republican sense they favour -- performed to expectations.

The result was another massive majority for Premier Redford and her Progressive Conservatives.

Now Smith -- whom one senses is a politician who loves to be loved, except when she's in a position to dish out bad-tasting neo-Con medicine, presumably -- has been sworn in as leader of the "government in waiting" and is trying to rebuild the bridges she burned to the waterline during the campaign.

That's going to be difficult -- even though, come to think of it, Edmonton could use another bridge across the North Saskatchewan. Indeed, it's said in the gutter press she had to get Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi to broker her meeting with Mandel.

Meantime, as the mayor concedes, she’s the leader of the Opposition. Now go away and don't bother us!

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

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