Edmonton Journal political columnist Graham Thomson

Sitting atop an unexpectedly huge bubble of public support with only three weeks to go before Alberta’s provincial election, the tough and disciplined Wildrose Party campaign team’s No. 1 objective is now to ensure no one sticks in pin in it in the short time remaining.

Since they themselves did not predict the heights to which Wildrose support was going to soar or the popular appeal of Leader Danielle Smith — even more polls are about to suggest she could capture a majority government on April 23 — they have two serious problems that could pop their balloon:

1)    The campaign strategy they’re stuck with suddenly looks dangerous because it was designed to motivate the party’s social-conservative voter base to undermine an overwhelmingly popular ruling dynasty, not to sweep aside a government unexpectedly in freefall.

2)    The lamentable quality of Wildrose candidates, most of whom were nominated months ago when no one, including the party’s own strategists, thought the party had much chance to form government.

With the Tories and suddenly unpopular Premier Alison Redford still reeling from the unexpected turn their fortunes have taken, the main threat at the moment comes from the media — at least that part not controlled by Sun Media, which is operating openly as part of the Wildrose campaign.

As for Problem No. 2, there’s not much Wildrose strategists can do except rig for silent running and hope no one notices some of the eccentric super-social-conservatives who just might, as Daveberta.ca author Dave Cournoyer pointed out in a frightening post on his blog yesterday evening, end up in Smith’s cabinet.

To control the media, Wildrose campaigners have showed their teeth to mainstream journalists who failed to make sweet and raised questions about whether all Wildrose policies are ready for prime time.

For example, the Calgary Herald’s Bob Remington, who dared observe in print that the party’s economic program just doesn’t add up, revealed in a blog post April 1 that when reporters don’t toe the line, the party “puts out a bullying press release.”

“For a party that represents liberty and free speech and accuses the PC party of intimidation and bullying, they are turning out to be bigger control freaks than the Tories,” Remington observed.

He updated his post later this week, adding: “On Monday, one of the charter Reform Party members working on Danielle Smith’s campaign contacted some members of the media and gave them s–t for re-Tweeting this blog. After one week of fawning coverage from their legions of cheerleaders in the conservative media echo chamber, the Wildrose is already so drunk with power that they won’t hesitate to attempt to stifle dissent with media intimidation.”

Another dissident identified by the Wildrose attack team — Edmonton Journal political columnist Graham Thomson — noted yesterday that he had “just joined the illustrious band of political columnists who have been ‘corrected’ by the Wildrose party for offering an opinion critical of Wildrose policy.”

Thomson’s sin was writing a column that dismissed Smith’s plan for a $300 Ralph Bucks Redux “energy dividend” to all Albertans as “a cynical attempt to buy favour with the public using the public’s own money” and “a bad idea when Ralph Klein did it and a bad idea now.”

Now, Thomson is a pretty mild-mannered guy, and he doesn’t react as strongly as some of us might to being called a nincompoop who can’t get his facts right by the party that may be on the verge of forming the next government. The trouble is, this kind of thing does have an effect on nervous media managers, and, just as the Wildrose strategists obviously hope, pressure likely will come down from media managers not to antagonize them.

Arguably, the Dani-Dollars idea criticized by Thomson is more than just a cynical ploy to buy votes — if the Wildrose gets power it will also offer a cynical tool to starve government programs of funds and hasten the privatization of everything.

But for now, the Wildrose campaign is very anxious to suppress the idea that almost every mainstream economist in the country dislikes the idea, just in case the Alberta public wakes up and starts paying attention before it’s too late.

The best way to do that in the short term is to make it uncomfortable for journalists who don’t say the right things.

None of this should surprise anyone who has been paying attention, of course — notwithstanding Smith’s disarming smile and engaging manner, these guys are the provincial auxiliary of the Harper Conservatives.

Heaven only knows what they’ll do if word leaks out about the raw meat Smith has been tossing to her social-conservative supporters on such issues as abortion and gay marriage!

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

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...