Jim Prentice & Danielle Smith

Surely if there were a political edition of the Darwin Awards, former Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith would be a nominee tonight.

Barely a year ago, as leader of the Opposition Wildrose Party, Smith was seen as all but a certainty to be the next premier of Alberta, as Alison Redford’s catastrophic tenure in the province’s top political job neared its calamitous end.

Then came the replacement of Redford as leader of the moth-eaten Progressive Conservative dynasty by Jim Prentice, a seemingly competent politician if not exactly a bonfire of charisma. This was a tough break, but hardly insurmountable, no matter what the Highwood MLA and her rapidly diminishing circle of supporters claimed afterward.

Then came the bizarre and craven deal to surrender the supposedly more principled Wildrose caucus to the Tories, purportedly because Prentice was the resurrection of true conservatism in PC ranks, but more likely because orders had come down from the Manning Centre, for all intents and purposes the political wing of the oilpatch.

For her troubles, Smith and many of the other 11 members of the 17-MLA Wildrose caucus that accepted the unwholesome Tory embrace were promised cabinet posts and influence in the Prentice Government — a deal that lasted barely 48 hours after the MLAs who had stuck it out through the Redford nightmare inside the PC caucus rebelled.

Many of Smith’s former supporters in the Wildrose Party were furious at her betrayal — and justly so — and large numbers of PC supporters were not all that enthusiastic about the idea of someone who had been slamming them for three years in the Legislature being welcomed to sit in the party’s front benches. Unlike Redford, who tried recently to make the claim, Smith truly had become the most polarizing figure in Alberta politics.

Airdrie MLA Rob Anderson, Smith’s House Leader and finance critic, faced the same backlash and had the good sense to get out with a few tattered remnants of dignity. He can “pursue new opportunities” for a couple of years with the not unreasonable hope of making a political comeback.

Not Smith. Scorned by her former party, distrusted by members of her new one, the former Fraser Institute apparatchik ran for the PC nomination in her old riding anyway against Carrie Fischer, a popular town councillor from Okotoks, apparently confident she could win with the support of Premier Prentice despite her recent history.

Yesterday, party members in Highwood handed Smith her walking papers. Her elected political career is done like dinner.

Prentice has hardly emerged from this debacle crowned with glory either.

You can decide if yesterday’s vote result means Tory party voters distrust Prentice almost as much as they had come to dislike Smith, or if he ruthlessly cut her loose when his promises to her turned out to be inconvenient.

If you’re wondering about the calming promises made in the budget that was tabled on Thursday by Prentice’s finance minister, Robin Campbell, Smith’s fate yesterday is something to think about.

Holding the Highwoods nomination vote on the same day as Smith’s former party was scheduled to choose a new leader was supposed to be a brilliant stroke of political gamesmanship. Instead, it may have breathed new life into the effort by the successful candidate, former Fort McMurray Athabasca MP Brian Jean, to resurrect the nearly moribund Wildrose Party.

We’ll see about that. Jean, not long ago the underemployed Crossword King of Parliament Hill, still has many obstacles to success to overcome. Just the same, yesterday didn’t exactly turn out to be the worst possible day for the new Wildrose leader.

As for his party’s former leader, about the only question remaining is whether she will beat it out of town as Redford did, or stick around and wait for some half-hearted consolation prize from Prentice. Too bad 2011 front-runner Gary Mar’s former position in Hong Kong has already been filled!

And as for the real premier of Alberta, well, Preston Manning probably now has some more work to do to ensure that the universe unfolds as it should.

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

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...