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Are Alberta's Tories taking the right message from the Wildrose Party's fund-raising success?

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As Alberta prepares to bid a final farewell to Ralph Klein this afternoon, more evidence has emerged the province's politically active right has given up on the party the market-fundamentalist avatar led for 14 years.

Mainstream media reported this week fund-raising by the farther-right Wildrose Party is outstripping that of the governing Progressive Conservatives, strongly suggesting efforts by such PC leaders as former premier Ed Stelmach and Premier Alison Redford to ease their party back toward the centre after the radicalism of the Klein Era are encountering stiff resistance.

This creates potential challenges for Redford's party -- but is not necessarily a disaster, as the horserace-addicted media seems to be working itself up to claiming.

Still, while the historically unmatched Progressive Conservative money machine is hardly faltering under Redford's leadership, donations are pouring more quickly at the moment into a cash-collection mechanism for Danielle Smith's Wildrose Party that is based on the federal Conservative Party’s successful fund-raising techniques, unofficial annual financial statements from Elections Alberta indicate.

But while the Wildrose Party was better at raising large amounts of money from small donors in 2012, media coverage has (intentionally?) exaggerated this portion of the party's donations to make it sound as if it is almost exclusively supported by grassroots contributors.

The reality, of course, is that just like the PCs, the Wildrosers are also very good at raising large donations from corporations, especially companies in the oil and gas sector.

Alberta election financing laws set a large maximum donation of $15,000 and make it easy for out-of-province corporations to launder their donations through local operations -- naturally tilting the fund-raising field in favour of the right-wing parties like the Redford Tories and Smith Wildrosers.

Still, the fact the Wildrose Party could raise about 40 per cent of its revenue in 2012 from small contributors -- versus less than 10 per cent in the same year for the Redford Conservatives -- should be cause for concern for the Tories. It reinforces recent polling trends that indicate support is strong among conservative voters for the new party's radical platform, which resembles Klein's harsh market purism during his four terms as premier.

In the three-month period before the last election -- which must be accounted separately under Alberta election laws -- the Wildrose Party raised $2.8 million compared to the PCs' $2.3 million. Those numbers compared with $517,000 raised by the NDP in the same three-month period and $150,000 contributed to the provincial Liberals.

But the spread really begins to grow dramatically when you look at contributions outside the three-month pre-election window. In all of 2012, the Wildrose Party raised $5.9 million compared to $3.9 million raised by the Redford PCs.

The NDP raised total contributions of a respectable $1.4 million and the Liberals had total 2012 donations of about $479,000.

Much was made by media commentators that this situation leaves the PCs with a post-2012 deficit of $785,000, while the Wildrose Party has a surplus, but it is said here that in itself is probably not all that significant given the ability of both parties to raise huge amounts of cash and the likelihood well-heeled donors will hedge their bets and support both until a clear winner emerges in the run-up to the next election.

It would be a serious mistake to jump to the conclusion this spells the doom of the Progressive Conservatives.

With the party's emphasis on corporate fund-raising, many friends in corporate boardrooms and the province's lax financing rules, PC revenues will likely peak later than those of the Wildrose Party. As a result, it is said here they will catch up to and surpass the Opposition party's successes as the next election nears in 2016.

But with right-wing voters and their money obviously drifting toward the Wildrose, continued PC success obviously also depends on the ability of the premier and her inner circle to maintain the centrist coalition they built in the desperate weeks before the April 23, 2012, election.

They won't do that by competing with the Wildrose Party for right-wing voters who have already abandoned them, taking their money with them, as the party seems to be trying to do at the moment by letting Smith set the province's economic and policy agenda.

No matter what their political lizard brains are telling them right now with Klein's public memorial scheduled to take place at noon before misty-eyed throngs in Calgary's Jack Singer Concert Hall, for the Redford Tories the choice is getting back to the centre or arranging their own political funeral.

Klein, who served four terms as premier from 1992 to 2006 and who was mayor of Calgary from 1980 to 1989, died in Calgary on Good Friday at 70.

+ + +

Deep-pocketed neocons prove useful target for Calgary mayor

Speaking of fund-raising and Calgary mayors, when neoconservative Godfather Preston Manning floated his Big Idea balloon about knocking off small-l liberals at Calgary City Hall, he gave Mayor Naheed Nenshi something to shoot at.

If Conservatives with deep pockets don’t like him, Nenshi reportedly told a closed-door fund-raiser Tuesday, they should run against him, not undermine councillors who are doing a good job.

When it comes to fund-raising potential, it is said here, it's always useful to have a potential boogieman like Manning on the other side to concentrate your supporters' minds -- and if you don't believe me, just watch this short video and see which well-known campaign mastermind pops out the door at the end, a very big grin on his face. If you don't know his name, the answer is in the index.

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

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