The members of Alberta's Progressive Conservative Party -- whoever they may be at this particular moment in history -- endorsed Premier Alison Redford yesterday to the tune of 77 per cent.
What good will come of that, you wonder?
"Why that I cannot tell," said he;
"But 'twas a famous victory."
Surely it's not just me who thinks it's odd that these same PCs -- or possibly not the same PCs, as the case may be -- in 2009 endorsed then premier Ed Stelmach by a stunning vote of … wait for it … 77 per cent?
Fifteen months later, Stelmach was, as they say, Gonzo Alonzo. Redford, you may have little doubt, will still be in the saddle as the election she promised us will take place in 2016 draws near.
Still, if anyone thought anything more than what Stelmach received in '09 would be a huge victory and anything less a defeat, well, this result would be … ambiguous, no?
As was said in this space when voting started on Nov. 22 -- which by coincidence was the ninth anniversary of Ralph Klein's final election as premier -- under the circumstances the PC Party finds itself in nowadays no other outcome but a Famous Victory yesterday was really possible.
I wrote: "Dislike the premier as her own caucus might (and a lot of them do) and as nervous as she makes her own supporters, who else have they got to go with? Dave Hancock, the minister of feeble excuses? Fred Horne, the minister-CEO of Alberta's chaotic health care system? Thomas Lukaszuk, the deputy premier that federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney once declared to be 'a complete and utter a**hole'? Naw, there's no Brian Mulroney waiting in these curtains as there was when Joe Clark was the the-PC Party's federal leader in 1983, fresh from a record short stint as prime minister. So choices like the three gentlemen mentioned above pretty well guarantee the 1,500 or so Tory stalwarts who turn up in Red Deer will hold their noses, metaphorically speaking, and endorse keeping Redford on the job."
In the event, about 1,200 bothered to vote and that's exactly what happened.
And since key members of the Redford campaign team had managed expectations effectively, the "77% Solution" looks like a famous victory indeed.
Before the party’s convoluted vote -- in which saying "No" meant delegates were saying "Yes" to Redford hanging around -- some pundits took the bait. An Edmonton Journal columnist predicted in dire tones a few days ago, for example, that "Redford wouldn’t consider quitting even if her support was below 77 per cent." (Emphasis added.)
Well, no. Redford wouldn't have considered quitting even if her support had been below 51 per cent, as long as it was also above 50.
But that was never going to happen for the reasons noted above. Now, thanks to assertive expectation management, 77 per cent doesn't look bad at all -- or, as the Journal put it in its coverage last night, the 1,197 party members who voted gave her "a solid backing and renewed mandate Saturday, despite her sagging popularity in recent public opinion polls." (Emphasis added again.)
In this regard, the result is not dissimilar from the reelection of Redford's PCs in 2012 -- with a healthy majority that still would have been called a flop by the media Borg Hive had not Danielle Smith's Wildrose Party scared the beejeepers out of us all in the days before April 23.
Convention interviews with delegates by some of the media who made the snowy trip up or down Highway 2 from Calgary or Edmonton to take in the vote in the dreary city of Red Deer suggest the party members were not really all that enthusiastic about the way they voted:
A former Klein-era cabinet minister quoted by the Globe and Mail, in the Globe reporter's words, "said he voted in favour of Ms. Redford's leadership, but the challenge before the next election is convincing the province's fiscal hawks that her government's strategy of borrowing money to build infrastructure is a good idea. The former Lethbridge MLA also said any effort to rebuild the party's strength in rural southern Alberta, where the Wildrose won almost every seat in the 2012 election, will take years."
"There's a lot of work to be done," said Clint Dunford, who served Klein in several important cabinet portfolios.
The more interesting question, which nobody seems to have asked, is who, other than Dunford and the current members of Redford's cabinet, were the Tories who voted to keep her on?
Or, more to the point, were they the same Tories who voted to let Stelmach stay in 2009?
Maybe. Maybe not.
The party, presumably, knows. It has its membership lists, which are by law inviolately private except during leadership campaigns when interestingly unexpected candidates suddenly vault into third place.
But the rest of us will just have to guess if Alberta small-c conservatives have continued their long-practiced habit of being members of more than one party at the same time, or if traditional rural supporters and ideological conservatives have all already decamped for Smith's Opposition Wildrose Party, as Dunford intimated to the Globe.
Could yesterday's vote have been a strategic one by Wildrose Fifth Columnists to keep a weak premier in place?
Or was it a powerful indication that Redford's shift back to the right is working and Wildrosy waverers remaining within PC ranks are feeling better about the way things are going with the Tory team?
Remember, while Redford has been shifting right, Smith has been trying hard to make her party appear a little less frightening -- earning the sobriquet "Mildrose Party" for her crowd's moderately reconstituted right wing agenda.
The answer to this question will have a lot to do with how successful Premier Redford is going to be with Alberta voters in the next provincial general election.
Count on it that pollsters and the parties they work for will be surveying members and the public like crazy these next few months to answer this question, and find out what in means for the voting population at large.
For voters with ties to the oil patch -- which is a lot of people in Alberta -- it will probably boil down to a question of which of the two parties is most likely to keep the Alberta gravy training running the longest, while the rest of the country fumes. So don't look for many moderate environmental policies to float to the surface around here any time in the next few months.
In the mean time, Smith says, bring it on. "I am looking forward to a re-match in 2016," she told the Globe. But then, what else could she say?
This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.
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