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Conservative former Edmonton mayor endorses Conservative future Alberta premier: Yawn

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Jim Prentice

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If there was any real news from yesterday's news conference atop the Chateau Lacombe Hotel in downtown Edmonton, at which Progressive Conservative former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel endorsed Progressive Conservative future Alberta premier Jim Prentice, it was not spoken aloud.

Nevertheless, it was lurking there throughout Mandel's endorsement of the amiable Prentice, who hails from the rival metropolis of Calgary. To wit: the fact Edmonton homeboy Thomas Lukaszuk couldn't even win a nod from the former mayor of the city he's paid to represent.

I was going to say the city in which he resides, but then I remembered the former labour minister and one-time deputy premier actually lives in St. Albert -- or, as Prentice's federal Conservatives used to say of former Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff back in the day, when Lukaszuk comes to his Edmonton-Castle Downs riding, he's just visiting.

Well, you know what they say: Lukaszuk is a polarizing figure -- as illustrated by Mandel's anger at the huge cuts to post-secondary education Lukaszuk was quarterbacking for then-premier Alison Redford in the spring of 2013 under cover of the supposed "Bitumen Bubble."

"This is of no less significance to our city than the energy industry is to downtown Calgary," Mandel said at the time in a speech made while Lukaszuk sat right there in the room. "We all know how much political clout that industry has. … We should expect nothing less than passionate, relentless defence of this sector from our provincial representatives, who should know better than to just stand by."

Uh, where was I?

Oh yeah, we were talking about the endorsement by Mandel, himself once touted as Tory leadership material, of the photogenic, warmly serious and impeccably togged out Prentice -- who looks pretty much like what you'd expect to turn up if you phoned ACTRA and asked them to send someone over with just enough grey in his hair to play a state governor or a provincial premier with conviction.

Only, you know, somehow nicer. Anyway, nobody would have dared to call the fellow in a finely cut black blazer and tan chinos, with a blindingly white shirt and no string tie, "Diamond Jim" yesterday.

In other words, Prentice looked pretty much like the bank vice-president, lobbyist and journeyman politician that he is -- one that will, as it happens, do no harm to the influence of the energy industry in Alberta, something he has in common with anyone else likely to be premier of this province at any time in the foreseeable future.

The word of the day yesterday was progressive, seeing as Mandel certainly comes from the progressive wing of the PC Party.

So Mandel compared Prentice's progressivism with the Wildrose Party's libertarianism, as he called it, and found the latter wanting from the perspective of civic governments that need provincial support to get things done -- like building arenas for their professional hockey teams.

Progressivism is what voters in Edmonton thought they liked about Alison Redford back in 2011 and 2012. Unfortunately, in the event, Redford turned out not even to be remotely progressive, and she has left the party in general and its heir apparent, Prentice, with a significant trust deficit to overcome if they are to have any hope of rebuilding the progressive coalition that saved the Tories' bacon the last time the Tories' bacon needed saving.

Indeed, the poll we talked about in this space yesterday suggested that project is not going well -- just yet, anyway. According to the ThinkHQ Public Affairs survey released Monday, Edmonton was the only part of the province in which more respondents disapproved of Prentice than approved of him.

And Prentice, a former federal cabinet minister, did the best in the poll of the three Tory candidates, with a 27-per-cent approval rating, the third candidate being Ric McIver from Calgary, the former Calgary city councillor, one-term Calgary-Hays MLA and infrastructure minister in Redford's government, who garnered the approval of 17 per cent. McIver's low approval rating in Edmonton may reflect the fact he is thought to be ideologically the most conservative of the three candidates.

As for Lukaszuk, 21 per cent of the hometown crowd gave him the thumbs up.

If ThinkHQ's polling is anything to go by, the big question that's actually preoccupying voters in Alberta's Capital Region is whether to vote for the New Democrats or the Wildrose, whose support is said to be evenly split at 30 per cent each, with the Tories and Alberta Liberals lagging, tied at 20 per cent.

If this situation persists, it may result in a change in strategy by the Wildrose Party under Opposition Leader Danielle Smith, which has calculated in the past that a New Democrat or Liberal win in any Edmonton seat was a victory because it would subtract from the number of seats the PCs could get province-wide.

With the Wildrosers strong and growing stronger in Southern Alberta, a few more New Democrats in Edmonton could be all it it took to snatch the government from the sagging Tories.

But with the prospect of enough Edmonton-area progressive votes being bled off to Prentice thanks to the efforts of the well-liked Mandel, the Wildrose Party may well now start looking more seriously at some of those Edmonton ridings where they could be competitive if their vote holds strong.

The New Democrats will have to up their game to keep that from happening, which they’ll have an opportunity to do soon if the expected entry to the NDP leadership race of Edmonton-Strathcona MLA Rachel Notley happens as expected. She will be challenging Edmonton-Calder's David Eggen, another effective NDP voice, to generate some social democratic excitement.

That, of course, was why, back in the rooftop restaurant of the Chateau Lacombe, which wasn't rotating at the time, Mandel was emphasizing Prentice's progressivism, as opposed to his conservatism, which is presumably what his posters in Calgary will have on them.

Despite Prentice's commitment to cities, which Mandel was so enthusiastically touting yesterday, the candidate wasn't about to come through with a commitment to fund the missing $25 million or so still needed for the Oilers' arena that's already under construction a few blocks away downtown.

That question will just have to wait a little while longer, I guess, notwithstanding Prentice's pleasure at having Mandel aboard his campaign riverboat.

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

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