Alberta Premier Alison Redford

We know that being in power for more than four decades makes you lazy. Who knew 41 years in power would make you stupid too?

How else can we explain this strange, listless, disengaged Progressive Conservative campaign? How else to account for the foolish choices that preceded it?

The strategic brain trust now running Premier Alison Redford’s Conservative party lit a fire and stood back while the whole rickety Tory edifice began to burn to the ground.

Did anybody think to call the fire brigade? They couldn’t: Redford fired the political equivalent of the fire department last December when she stopped listening to the grizzled veterans in her ranks, then forced them out. These were politicians like Speaker Ken Kowalski who knew how to play politics with their elbows up and had proved it for 30 years.

At the time, when everyone (me included, mea culpa), still assumed the Conservatives were a shoo-in no matter whom they had chosen as their leader, sudden “generational change” must have seemed like a good idea. As history shows, it seldom is. Here in Alberta, it was utter folly for the Conservatives.

How else can you explain the fact the premier didn’t call the election when common sense says she would have won it handily — while she was riding the wave of her victory immediately after tabling her first budget?

This is conventional wisdom in politics, and for good reason, because it works. It is legitimate, too, because the premier who does it is not trying to govern without a mandate.

What were they thinking?

How else can we explain the fact the head of this pathetic campaign team actually thinks it helps the Tories’ cause to publicize the fact a fit young cabinet minister got in a scuffle with a constituent on the voter’s doorstep — and was given the bum’s rush by the cranky 67-year-old? Yeah, the old guy was a Wildrose supporter — so what? Who doesn’t sympathize with him?

As an aside, while campaigning unsuccessfully for city council, I too was ordered off a resident’s porch. The prudent response? Repeat after me: “OK! No problem, Sir! Have a nice day!” This seems to work well, disarms the grumpy homeowner and frees up the police for more important duties.

Speaking of Tweets, how do we explain the fact the Tory campaign team thought it was a good idea to send out Tweets mocking journalists and attacking potential allies in the period leading up to the election call?

How else can we explain the almost total absence of Conservative commercial advertising, positive or negative? There must be some, but I’ve missed it. A PC billboard? I can’t find it. The PCs are known to have millions of dollars in their campaign fund — what are they saving the money for? The post-election bun-fest?

On the topic of negative advertising, Prime Minister Stephen Harper gets it — and by the sound of it federal Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair gets it too, and thank goodness for that! If you can, you get in there and define your opponent first!

You think that’s bad? Well, sorry, but that’s the way it works. It may be unfortunate, but if you want to succeed in politics you’re going to have to use negative ads if you’re not starting from a position of overwhelming strength. If you’re too squeamish to do so, you’re never going to get to implement your program. So which is more important to you, feeling good about yourself or making where you live a better place?

It sounds very much to me as if Redford’s Tories believed their own rhetoric when they said they wanted a nice positive campaign instead of fighting this election like it was worth winning. So they sat around the campfire singing Kum-Buy-Ah while the skilful fear-mongers behind the Wildrose campaign defined them as enemies of freedom who were conniving to steal your property.

Either that or they simply assumed they were so far ahead it never occurred to them that they’d actually have to persuade Albertans to vote for them.

OK, forget commercial campaign advertising. What about old-fashioned election signs? In most ridings, the PCs hardly seem to have bothered printing signs — which are a key part of the name recognition required to win any local campaign. They’re not only being whupped by the Wildrose Party on this front, they’re getting creamed by the impoverished NDP! Indeed, in some ridings, many constituents haven’t even received a leaflet from the Conservatives!

Do Redford’s advisers actually imagine they can win this battle with a good TV debate performance Thursday night? Well, good luck to them! At least three other people who are going to be at that event are pretty good debaters too.

Does the Tory campaign team have some 11th hour surprise to win this campaign? If they think they do, it had better be the political equivalent of a hydrogen bomb, because otherwise it’s going to be too late and too little for them to recover.

Some current projections suggest the Wildrose Party could win more than 50 seats — and those are based on the best polls from the PCs’ perspective!

Books will be written on how the Wildrose Party won this election, but that’s not the real story. The real story will be how the Tories blew it.

Well, it ain’t over till it’s over, as Yogi Berra famously said, but this one sure feels like it is. As befits this weekend’s solemn Easter celebration, if Premier Redford and the PC government are resurrected now, it will be because of a miracle from on high!

As for the rest of us, my advice is to batten down the hatches, vote NDP and keep voting NDP. That way at least there will be one opposition party that knows what it’s doing.

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...