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Tory civil war? Stream of unhappy revelations suggests Alberta PC party is starting to implode

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Jamie Lall

Is Premier Jim Prentice's Alberta Progressive Conservative Party on the verge of imploding?

It sure seemed that way it yesterday, with more bad news for the 43-year-plus "natural governing party" flowing through the news feeds into the consciousness of voters.

Yesterday morning alone saw reports that:

-    Staff at the Alberta Health Ministry broke the rules and knew they were doing it when they gave sole-source contracts to Navigator Ltd., a political strategy firm associated with the PC governments of Alison Redford and Prentice. To do it, the CBC reported, ministry officials back-dated contracts, paid in full for work that hadn't been completed and acknowledged among themselves that they were breaking the rules.

-    Even though there's a court publication ban on the family law case that led to Jonathan Denis being forced to resign as justice minister, there were reports that earlier this month Calgary police were called to the home of the former Prentice Cabinet member and his now-estranged wife. No charges were laid.

-    Former Chestermere-Rocky View PC candidate Jamie Lall went public with emails in which Denis, then still the justice minister, advised him not to talk to a Tory Party investigator and told him "Buddy, you are being set up," and "they're playing you for a dumb kid" when Lall was disqualified as a candidate to make way for a Wildrose floor-crosser.

And that was just the AM drive show!

By 4 p.m., the CBC had broken another story in which someone revealed the reason for Lall's disqualification: a restraining order sought by an ex-girlfriend in 2007.

Lall, by the way, is now running as an independent in the riding in which he'd expected run as a PC.

The Herald reporter characterized the situation as dirty laundry being aired in public. The story's headline writer, presumably in Hamilton and not trained in the Herald's usual caution about discussing PC goings on, termed it a "Tory civil war."

And who knows what we'll be hearing on the radio today?

Like last week's story about Redford Government deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk's unreported additional cellular roaming charges, all the stories except the CBC's report on the Navigator contracts had the sound of things that were probably leaked from within Tory ranks.

With voters seemingly abandoning the musty and threadbare 44-year-old PC dynasty for the NDP or the Wildrose Party, at least if recent polls are to be believed, the still-barely-governing party seemed to be foundering, unable to figure out how to respond or what else to do next, if not actually disintegrating.

It’s possible they've forgotten how to respond to a crisis after more than four decades in power with barely a serious challenge in all that time until the past couple of general elections.

Perhaps angry PC insiders, disillusioned at the turn the campaign has taken under the uninspiring leadership of Prentice, have decided they only have a week left to get their shots in at their former political home before the deluge hits?

Well, for his part at least, Prentice stood firmly behind the dismissal of Lall and just as firmly behind Denis, the provider of free advice via text to the disqualified candidate. Although, don't look for Denis to be back in cabinet any time soon, even if the PC Government survives next Tuesday.

At least the CBC's Navigator contracts story couldn't be blamed on chaos within the party -- it was the result of good old fashioned investigative reporting, the kind only the CBC does any more in Alberta, with the possible exception of a couple of bloggers.

Meanwhile, poll analyst Eric Grenier, author of the Threehundredeight.com website, wrote in a CBC opinion piece yesterday that because of the NDP surge in the polls, which shows the New Democrats ahead of both the Tories and the Wildrose, "Rachel Notley's New Democrats could win between 26 and 45 seats, with Brian Jean's Wildrose taking between 25 and 42. Jim Prentice's PCs could be reduced to between five and 31 seats."

This, Grenier argues, points to a minority government -- which if disgraced and abandoned former Wildrose leader Danielle Smith gets her way would then result in a Wildrose-PC coalition to ensure the 44-year-old Tory dynasty can survive in some form.

Of course, the "Tory civil war" would have to end first.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca. NOTE: This story has been modified to reflect the fact that Navigator Ltd. as such did not work for the government of Ed Stelmach, as reported here and elsewhere, although Randy Dawson, who today is Navigator’s managing principal, was employed as Mr. Stelmach’s campaign manager.

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