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Is a Wildrose 'coup d'etat' in the works? Not very likely

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Kathleen Smith

Political Alberta was abuzz yesterday with a mystery video suggesting there is growing discord within Alberta's Wildrose Party over the role of Opposition Leader Danielle Smith that surfaced on a French video service, where it was revealed by a blogger.

The anonymously posted video entitled simply "Wildrose Internals" suggested the Wildrose Party is suffering from a rift between its social conservative wing and its more mainstream leadership.

That was certainly the interpretation of blogger Kathleen Smith, who owns the scoop. "It is easy enough to surmise from the video that an attempt at overthrow is at play within the Wildrose party and the rumors of the party self destructing are not only true, but the players are very clear," wrote Kathleen Smith in her blog. "The source and maker of the video are anonymous, but the intended ominous message is clear: Insurrection is at hand."

Maybe. It's been said here and elsewhere that over time Danielle Smith's pragmatism and liberal attitudes on social issues dear to the so-cons' hearts, such as reproductive rights and gay marriage, may eventually foment a rebellion by the right-wing party's more loony fringes.

But not yet. The Wildrose Party's membership, wherever they sit on the right half of the political spectrum, will give their leader one more kick at the electoral can before they give any serious thought to replacing her. And it has to be said, given her success in the go-round last April, she might just succeed the second time out. That possibility will keep even her most restive supporters in check for the time being.

No, this has at least some of the markings of a disinformation operation, conveniently timed to appear at a moment when Progressive Conservative Premier Alison Redford is battling a certain amount of dissension in her own party's ranks. Suspiciously, the video disappeared from the Dailymotion website yesterday almost as quickly as it popped up, forestalling any attempt at serious analysis about its origins.

Last weekend's Progressive Conservative annual general meeting in Calgary, from which the media was excluded, was reported to have been marked by strong disagreements over the party's emerging policies on debt and deficit, and a public spat with the federal Conservative Party -- whose operatives and MPs stood accused of preferring the Wildrose Party in the run-up to the April 23 provincial election, which despite Redford's convincing victory was a close-run thing.

The PCs also suffered a setback from the recent revelation that at the spring election campaign’s 11th hour, just as it appeared the Wildrose Party was on the verge of triumph, drugstore and hockey billionaire Daryl Katz turned up at PC Headquarters with a massive cheque for either $300,000 or $430,000. On the face of it, this would appear to be a violation of Alberta's election financing laws. However, it has been explained away merely as maximum allowable donations from a number of Katz's business associates and family members, conveniently lumped together in a single cheque for ease of delivery.

The Wildrose Party crankily pointed out in the Legislature that Katz at the time was hoping for an infusion of public cash to build an expensive arena in Edmonton for his hockey team, the Edmonton Oilers. An investigation by Elections Alberta is proceeding.

So given all this, readers are reminded of the sage warning of U.S. President John F. Kennedy to beware of reading too much into wisps of smoke because, "where there's smoke, you'll usually find somebody running a smoke-making machine."

The now-disappeared video tied together a lot of Wildrose insiders in strange ways. Yes, Airdrie-Chestermere MLA Rob Anderson is a leader of the so-con side of the party to be sure, but he is also Danielle Smith's seemingly loyal deputy leader. Shayne Saskiw is the party's former executive director, and is now MLA for Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills. One of his friends is now the executive director. His girlfriend worked for the party too, and so on. All true.

But from this, Kathleen Smith concluded that the video had revealed these Wildrose insiders and others were conspiring against Danielle Smith. This may be the thesis of the rather amateurish video, although it was not really that easy to follow it to that conclusion, but it's hard to believe it's an accurate reflection of what's actually going on within Wildrose ranks.

Wildrose supporters are naturally inclined to see conspiratorial ties between Kathleen Smith's blog and operatives of Redford's PCs. Alert readers will recall that back in early April, they said the same sort of thing about Kathleen Smith when she suddenly realized the Wildrose was a right-wing party with a strong social-conservative wing and blogged about her disillusionment a few days before the election.

As for the suggestion in the video that Anderson foisted on his party candidate Pastor Alan Hunsperger -- the fire and brimstone preacher and Wildrose candidate whose unbowdlerized blog post days before the election may have derailed the Wildrose cruise to victory -- this seems improbable. At any rate, Anderson forcibly denies the accusation.

So in the end, while interesting, Kathleen Smith's interpretation of the anonymous video is unconvincing. I doubt Danielle Smith will have to fend off any coups d’etat -- or party putsches, for that matter -- for the time being.

Indeed, in this regard, the medium-term risk of the same sort of thing may be greater for Redford.

That may be the real reason behind Redford's move Friday to have the party disinvite members of the federal Conservative Party from automatic voting rights at PC events.

Remember, under PC Party rules, Redford must withstand an automatic leadership endorsement at the second AGM after a successful election -- which in this election cycle will be in 2013.

Redford's advisors may have feared packs of Wildrose and Harper Government Fifth Columnists in constituency delegations would stack the convention with enough opponents to drag the premier’s approval rating below 85 per cent, possibly lethally far below. Now, while individuals may still buy memberships if they please, they won’t automatically be part of any delegation to the convention, and their potential to harm the premier has been neutralized.

Thus, all things being equal, it's safe to bet that Danielle Smith and Alison Redford will have the opportunity to fight a rematch of the 2012 election in 2016.

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

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