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Prentice PCs prepared to use bare knuckles on battered Wildrose remnants

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Danielle Smith

The announcement Sunday by the Progressive Conservative Party that Danielle Smith will fight for her nomination as the PC candidate in her Highwood riding on the same day the Wildrose Party she so recently led is choosing a new leader naturally generated a certain amount of heat and light in the media.

Both events are now scheduled to take place on March 28.

Perhaps because it was the weekend and the senior journalists who write political columns usually get weekends off, there didn't seem to be a lot of political analysis of what this means.

What it suggests to me is that while the Tories under Premier Jim Prentice may not be any better than their PC predecessors at running the economy or being forthright and honest with the electorate, they excel at bare-knuckle political tactics.

With an election obviously coming much sooner than later, all parties should take note that Prentice's attitude appears to be that all’s fair in love, war and politics -- especially politics -- and that behaving like a gentleman is for losers, no matter how well cut the suit you're wearing happens to be.

You don't have to be a very alert reader to recall that the five-member Legislative rump of the Wildrose Party was in such a state of disarray in December when Smith and 11 of her fellow Wildrose MLAs had just defected to Prentice’s PC ranks that they could barely make themselves think about the necessity of replacing her as quickly as possible.

They rambled on about holding a leadership convention in June, long after Prentice was likely to have been returned to power in a slam-dunk general election.

No sooner had they got possession of themselves and last week set a much earlier date, March 28, than Prentice's PCs slyly announced that Smith's nomination vote would be held the same day.

This is a shrewdly cynical move, which is certain to steal a great deal of attention from what should have been a province-wide opportunity to excoriate and mock Smith for her self-serving and opportunistic abandonment of democratic principles, not to mention the question of whether the nomination election is fixed to ensure the former Wildrose leader wins despite the certainty many members of the party in the rural riding south of Calgary are deeply disillusioned and resentful about what Smith and Prentice have been up to.

Instead, inevitably, the media focus will be on which of the sad-sack collection of obscure politicians manages to snatch up the reins of the faltering Opposition Wildrose party, and analysis of their chances of putting off the party's appointment with obscurity.

Battling for the tarnished Wildrose crown are former Strathcona County mayor Linda Osinchuk, booted by voters in Sherwood Park and environs in the October 2013 municipal election, former Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo MP Brian Jean, who just last year was composing crossword puzzles and musing about how he was leaving federal politics to spend more time with his grandchildren, and Cypress-Medicine Hat Wildrose MLA Drew Barnes. (Who? -- ed.)

Higher profile leadership candidates like former Canadian Taxpayers Federation operative Derek Fildebrandt apparently took a gander at the situation and quickly lost interest.

Meanwhile, the deal Prentice made with the Wildrose Eleven seems to be sticking -- leastways, all those who have sought PC nominations so far have been chosen by PC Party members who would have curled their lips at the thought a few weeks ago.

This is a testament to Prentice's control of the party, if nothing else.

This control was evident in other Tory nomination races too. Not so long ago, it looked as if the political career of Calgary-Currie PC MLA Christine Cusanelli was all but history. She had been fired from a minor cabinet post by now departed premier Alison Redford for trying to bill taxpayers for the cost of a flight for herself, her daughter and her mom to the London Olympics.

This is, of course, ironic in light of subsequent events involving airplanes and the premier -- and subsequent harsh commentary by Premier Prentice about them.

Nevertheless, Prentice is thought to have intervened to save Cusanelli's political career because he is concerned about the gender balance of the PC caucus going into an election.

Back in Highwood, Smith will be facing Okotoks Town Councillor Carrie Fischer, who sounds familiar but only for coincidental reasons.

Alas, Fischer is no relation to Princess Leia and is unlikely to be able to defeat the forces of Darth Vader on March 28.

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

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