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Has Premier Jim Prentice just found himself up 'Schitt$ Creek' with former Wildrose leader Danielle Smith?

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Screenshot of CBC Calgary news page

According to the unintendedly ironic and transitory layout on CBC Calgary's news page yesterday afternoon, it looked as if former Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith is up Schitt$ Creek.

Actually, this is probably a pretty good assessment of the reality faced by Smith, at least with a small allowance for spelling, now that the good folks in the Highwood Riding constituency association of Premier Jim Prentice's Progressive Conservative Party have indicated she'll have to face an open nomination vote if she wants to be the PC candidate there in the next general election.

Indeed, it's not just them. This new policy reality was confirmed yesterday by PC party Executive Director Kelley Charlebois, who logically should be the Big Kahuna in such matters.

Given the general level of unhappiness in Southern Alberta in the past few weeks with the mass defection of nine Wildrose MLAs on December 17 to Prentice's party, Smith's chances in a fair nomination fight in Highwood would seem to be quite slim.

Slim enough, indeed, that she might do better to emulate her former House leader, Rob Anderson, plead the need to spend more time with her family, shut down her Twitter account, fold her political tent and slip quietly away for a quiet vacation. Surely there’s a right-wing think tank somewhere that will call her a "senior fellow" and let her work out her embarrassment with a little dignity. After all, she has experience in that kind of thing.

The CBC quoted Highwood PC Constituency Association President Suzanne Oel saying "several people have expressed interest in running against Smith."

Without really keeping up on politics in the Calgary bedroom suburb of Okotoks and environs, home of the largest glacial erratic in Canada known accurately if unimaginatively as the Big Rock, it's reasonable to assume there are Progressive Conservative candidates in the community who have been preparing to run against her on the assumption she would be the Wildrose standard bearer in the next election.

There will be hell to pay if they are disappointed, as I am sure has been brought forcefully to Prentice's attention.

In addition, there are likely to be quite a few unhappy Wildrosers who, in the Alberta manner, hung onto their PC membership cards just to cover all the bases, who will be willing to step up to make Smith pay for her recent political sins.

So she can count on it that every single constituency all-candidates' meeting will be a bruising opportunity for her challengers to belittle and complain about her record as Opposition leader, after which she will likely lose.

Or, to put it more politely, as the past president of the constituency association did, "it will be very difficult because she has alienated her Wildrose supporters and as far as I know she is not really widely popular with the PC group, so I don't know where her base of support would be."

To answer Dean Leask's implied question, the only possible base of support for Smith would seem to be Premier Prentice himself, in the event he decides it would be more embarrassing to be seen to have so spectacularly broken his commitment to the former Opposition leader that she had a place in his government than it would be to let her stick around.

There are a couple of ways he could do this -- assuming he could persuade his caucus to go along with his wishes now that they’ve developed a taste for saying "no!"

For example, party officials could change their minds and simply install Smith as their chosen candidate, as they installed law student Manmeet Bhullar back in the spring of 2008 over the wishes of the Calgary-Montrose riding association.

As it turned out, Bhullar, a former volunteer for Prentice's federal leadership campaign, barely managed to beat the candidate the riding association had wanted when he ran as an independent in the general election. Things worked out for Bhullar, though, and he is now Prentice's minister of infrastructure.

Or, in the event the race was held and the wrong person won, they could discover "irregularities" in the voting and hold a second vote to give their preferred candidate another chance to win -- which is how Ken Hughes, former chair of the Alberta Health Services Board, eventually got the nod as Tory candidate in the spring of 2012.

The trouble with such scenarios is that they might remind voters of Ed Stelmach and Alison Redford, who were the premiers when those things happened, perhaps suggesting Alberta's "new management" is not making so much of a difference after all.

Indeed, the problem Prentice faces if he decides to intervene on Smith's behalf is that if it's a fair contest, she'll likely lose, and if it's not a fair contest, it'll be pretty obvious.

In the event Smith loses the nomination and no one is inclined to intervene, she will nevertheless continue to be the riding’s MLA until the general election. Fortunately, if Smith wants advice on how to deal with such a situation, there is a resource she can approach for advice.

Only last July, former Wildrose MLA Joe Anglin lost the Wildrose Party’s nomination for the next election to his own constituency association president, Jason Nixon.

Wildrose insiders -- most of whom are now PCs -- never really liked Anglin, a former Green Party leader whom they saw as a loose cannon on deck lack sufficient market-fundamentalist ideological purity. They almost certainly played a role in Anglin's defeat. Of course, that was back in the days when the Wildrose party was still a going concern.

Anglin might advise Smith to do as he did. That is, quit the party before the party could fire him and sit as an Independent, a position from which he is able advocate for the causes he really believes in, just as he was supposed to be able to do as a Wildrose MLA.

Of course, it is no longer clear if Nixon will still be interested in running for the Wildrose Party, since most of the people he presumably wanted to work with are now Prentice Tories, but that, as they say, is another story.

Perhaps Anglin and Nixon can fight it out again in a rematch for the Progressive Conservative nomination in the Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre Riding, for which, as of yet, no candidate has been selected. They could even have another go at it in the general election if the loser was unsatisfied with the second result.

Smith is said to be out of the country and unable to comment. She might want to keep it that way for a while.

This post is also found on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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