Being There, Alberta Style

As long as the roots are not severed, all is well. And all will be well in the garden.
— Chauncey Gardiner, Being There, 1979

Well, it worked, then, didn’t it?

It shouldn’t have, but according to a year-end poll recently reported by the Calgary Herald, Albertans are so mad at the Wildrose Party for the defection of 11 MLAs including leader Danielle Smith to the governing Progressive Conservatives that … wait for it … they’ve stopped supporting the Wildrose MLAs who didn’t cross the floor!

On the face of it, it would seem there’s something wrong with this picture. But, then again, maybe not …

According to the Insights West demon-dialler poll “provided to” the Herald, which presumably means the Herald didn’t pay for it but agreed to give it good play in return for first crack at the story, 62 per cent of the 603 folks polled “didn’t agree with” the Dec. 17 March of the MLAs over to the PC benches. The Herald went on to explain that 20 per cent of the respondents agreed with the change.

Three quarters of the respondents also apparently thought “betrayal” was a good word to describe what former leader Danielle Smith and the rest of her former Wildrose MLAs had gotten up to.

This kind of measurable public opinion may account for the historical revisionism that quickly set in as soon as the latest batch of defective Wildrosers had been served their PC Kool-Aid at the caucus room door by Premier Jim Prentice, for example, conservative godfather Preston Manning’s improbable mea culpa.

Apparently Manning would like us to believe it was all his fault, and we really shouldn’t blame Prentice for the noxious maneuver. A subtext to his apology may have been the thought no true Albertan could blame Manning for anything, what with his long years of toil for the ReFarm Party and a Triple E Senate, plus his grandfatherly manner and wavery voice. Come to think of it, the wavery voice hasn’t been much in evidence lately. Maybe he took elocution lessons when he still had his eye on 24 Sussex. Well, whatever, let’s just move on, shall we, fellow Albertans?

Anyway, notwithstanding the widespread disapproval of both the mass defection and the government’s obvious role in it, support for the PC party was up seven points to 42 per cent from another Insights West survey at the start of the month.

At the same time, according to the latest poll, Wildrose Party support plummeted 15 points to 14 per cent of decided voters from the previous survey, putting the party that once led the polls in fourth place behind the New Democrats and even the sad sack Alberta Liberals.

Maybe the pragmatic portion of the Wildrose Party’s supporters decided that what’s left of the party is hardly worth supporting now that the bulk of the members have bugged off to the Tory benches.

Or perhaps rural Alberta’s savvy voters have decided, as many have suggested, that the PC Party really has become the Wildrose Party anyway, and that a rose by any other name is bound to smell as sweet.

Or maybe like Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills MLA Shayne Saskiw, who is still part of the five-member Wildrose caucus, they’re more opposed to floor crossing when described as a takeover than when framed as a merger. “What happened was not a merger,” Saskiw huffed in a Lac La Biche Post story that is not yet available online.

Or maybe it’s actually a little early to know what Albertans have decided about this.

Whatever, the poll results were somewhat at variance with the post-defection Wildrose Party’s claim it experienced a surge in donations over the holiday.

“The surge in financing has been specifically related to the events of December 17th,” Wildrose fundraising VP Dave Yager, until recently the party’s president, told the Edmonton Sun. Alas, the Sun provided no actual figures for the rest of us to judge just how meaningful this bump or jump in donations might actually be.

Oh well. If disillusioned Wildrosers are so angry they’re following their double-crossing MLAs into the famously big PC tent, this would suggest Premier Prentice really is the political genius the PC Establishment thought he was all along. Leastways, that the successful campaign to surround and absorb the Wildrose Party has achieved its ultimate goal.

If this is the case, perhaps Prentice really will become the “generational premier” the National Post has declared him to be, and not merely Alberta’s answer to Chauncey Gardiner, the promising new political face who, according to Polish-American author Jerzy Kosinski’s 1979 screenplay for the movie Being There, could do no wrong despite being “stuffed with rice pudding between th’ ears!

This post also appears on David Climenhaga’s blog,

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...