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Alberta politics: How many PC memberships were given away?

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Jim Prentice

So, c'mon guys, how many of those 23,386 Progressive Conservative Party memberships were actually purchased by someone, and how many were given away?

Will the PC Party under Mr. Prentice, committed to transparency and integrity as its new leader says it is, want to make this information public as soon as possible as a gesture of good citizenship and a mature approach to governing?

Since neither candidate Ric McIver nor Tomas Lukaszuk had a policy of giving away memberships to their supporters, the number of freebie memberships should be an easy figure to come up with. Mr. Prentice's campaign knows how many they gave away. All they have to do is tell us and we'll have a number pretty close to the bottom line.

How about it? "My election of the leader of this party marks the beginning of a commitment to integrity and acceptance of responsibility in this province," Mr. Prentice told the small crowd of supporters at Edmonton's EXPO Centre after his victory was announced last night. "This must apply, ladies and gentlemen, to the government of Alberta, but first and foremost it must apply to our party." (Emphasis added.)

If they won't, I guess we can figure that, notwithstanding the latest claims to the contrary, it's Tory business as usual.

It's possible, of course, that more memberships were given away than ballots were actually cast. Not everyone who got a free membership will have bothered to vote, just as not every Albertan who actually paid for one will have bothered to cast a ballot either. If that happened, it would be embarrassing for the party.

Many also tried and couldn't vote in balloting fraught with problems, said to be technical in nature.

So there's no way to figure out to the exact decimal point how much impact the Prentice campaign's free memberships had on the outcome of the race, given the shockingly low number of people who voted -- 23,386, compared to more than 144,000 in 2006. Still, this information would provide some very useful insights.

You wouldn't think it would bother them to tell us, seeing as they insisted during the campaign that giving away party memberships was standard operating procedure in most campaigns. We'll see.

It would also be interesting to know if there’s anything to that persistent rumour that a very large number of memberships came during the campaign from a single IP address in Calgary. We'll see about how far anyone gets with that one, too.

After Mr. Prentice's victory yesterday, the Opposition parties could barely suppress their glee at the disastrous state of the PC Party as it tries to find its way away from the trail of devastation left in the wake of Hurricane Alison, the worst political storm to hit Alberta in a generation.

Everyone congratulated Mr. Prentice on his appointment as captain of the foundering vessel once known as the unsinkable RMS Titanic Tory. But they all moved pretty quickly to describing the circumstances in which Mr. Prentice takes the helm.

"The Progressive Conservatives have voted in a new leader but the party itself cannot change its political stripes," said NDP Leader Brian Mason, as his own retirement as leader of the province's Knee-Dippers looms. "The PC party is broken and after 43 years in power, the PC dynasty is crumbling. It is my hope that now that this leadership race is over we can return our focus to the issues that matter to Albertans, and away from the petty mud-slinging and infighting that we've seen from the PCs over the last few months."

Alberta Liberal Leader Raj Sherman said much the same: "This has been one of the most bitter and divisive leadership races in recent years, which made all but the most die-hard PC supporters realize that this old, tired party is quite simply out of ideas, out of touch with the needs and sensibilities of modern Albertans, and outright obsessed with clinging to power at all costs. … What Alberta really needs is a change in government." Dr. Sherman should know. After all, it wasn't all that long ago he was a member of the PC cabinet himself.

Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith, the politician most like to lead any change in government, also weighed in after a quick congratulation: "Mr. Prentice has a tremendous road ahead of him in order to rebuild trust with Albertans and get a grip on a government that has spiralled out of control. Albertans will now look to him to start repairing the government's damaged reputation and making progress on the many challenges we face as a province." Her implication was clear: fat chance!

These are assessments, I suspect, that are widely shared by many voters. Indeed, a revealing comment left on last night's blog echoes the thoughts of all the opposition party leaders and illustrates, I believe, a common perception of many seniors and rural residents, once core centres of Tory support.

"This so-called election was nothing more than a scam by the PC Party of Alberta’s top brass," wrote Harry E. Stuart. "My reasons for feeling that way: when I tried to get a PC Membership so that I could vote, nothing was made available in my hometown of Rimbey … The PC Party of Alberta have said to hell with small town Alberta and seniors in general."

Well, inquiring minds want to know about the process that brought Mr. Prentice to the premiership. Surely all Albertans have a stake in knowing this information.

The known unknowns of the PC leadership campaign, like the number of free memberships handed out, and to whom, are bound to become key issues in the by-election Mr. Prentice must win if he is to be able to lead his party from inside the Legislature, and not from the distant confines of the Members' Gallery above, not to mention in the general election that must follow.

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

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