Alberta Premier-Designate Alison Redford

Alberta’s Wildrose Party will have a great target in Alison Redford, you say? Don’t bet on it!

Last time, we considered six inescapable conclusions drawn from Alison Redford’s victory in the race to lead the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party:

–    Gary Mar blundered badly
–    Public health care matters to Albertans
–    We’re not in Ralph Klein’s Alberta any more
–    The Love Machine is broken
–    Labour votes matter
–    Democracy is dangerous to undemocratic elites

Now let’s look at the other side of the coin — the conclusions that are bound to be drawn from Redford’s historic party-election victory Sunday morning that are anything but inescapable.

Here are three that you can count on hearing from the likes of the Wildrose Party, the mainstream media and disgruntled supporters of other candidates within the PCs. They all sound plausible, but none of them are really supported by verifiable facts.

1 – The Wildrose Party will profit from Redford’s election

Well, the Wildrose Party will try, of course, and who can blame them for that?

But the Danielle Smith’s dwindling right-wing legions won’t win over voters from other parties who joined and supported Redford because they saw her as the most progressive Tory candidate. Nor will they change the minds of the many Tories who supported hard-liners like Ted Morton and Rick Orman on the first ballot, then ignored their candidates’ recommendations and switched to Redford on the second ballot as an obviously tough and capable leader.

If historical precedents hold — as precedents tend to do — Albertans most likely will be prepared to give Redford a chance.

Redford, for her part, is an obviously skilled politician who will likely manage to make the Wildrosers look like extremists while appearing conservative enough for typical Alberta voters. And typical Alberta voters, remember, see themselves both as fiscal conservatives and as supporters of completely public health care and mostly public education. So Redford’s pitch may strike just the right note with them.

Add to this the fact that Smith, with her strident Fraser Institute dogma, looks and sounds like a callow youth compared to the more nuanced Redford.

When the general election comes, you can put money on Redford mopping the floor with the Wildrose Party and its leader.

2 – Low turnout in the vote means right-wingers have abandoned the PCs

This story that the decline in votes in this in-house Conservative Party election from 144,000 in 2006 to 78,000 in 2011 was caused by legions of old-line social conservatives and extreme market fundamentalists permanently abandoning the Tories serves the current needs of the Wildrose Party and those who have hitched their wagons to its falling star.

We’re talking here about the kind of people who are desperately sticking with Wildrose ideological nostrums as their party’s support slumps in the polls. These are the ideologues who would like to close down the Human Rights Commission, hand out education vouchers and privatize the provision of health-care services, come what may over at Tory HQ.

Now, these folks sincerely believe this yarn, of course — in the same way a fellow whistling past a graveyard really believes there are no ghosts. But just because they repeat it over and over again, doesn’t mean the rest of us have to accept it as gospel.

No doubt the erosion in the number of Conservative Party voters was partly the result of disillusioned ultra-conservatives joining the Wildrose Party — but are there really that many hyper-conservatives in Alberta? If so, why was the Wildrose Party always so anxious to pretend it was “moderate” and “centre-right”?

The low turnout may also have been influenced by a general trend toward electoral apathy encouraged by parties of the right, plus the fact the novelty was worn off Alberta’s system of directly electing premiers through privately run governing-party elections.

But it’s said here that the total turnout was lower in 2011 than in 2006 mainly because a key part of the Tory Old Boys’ strategy was to encourage the public belief that Mar’s election was inevitable, thereby suppressing the vote by supporters of other candidates while maintaining the illusion of democratic choice.

It worked. But like so many things thought up by the brainiacs who ran the unsuccessful front-runner Gary Mar’s campaign, it just didn’t work as well as intended.

3 – The “progressives” have taken over the Progressive Conservatives

Of course, that this would happen was precisely the hope and intention of a lot of the “new Tories” who signed up to take part in the election. And you can expect this story to be pushed by the mainstream media, because it encourages the idea there’s going to be a horserace between right and “left” in the upcoming general election.

Journalists love the horserace narrative because they have been taught that conflict and competition make for good stories that, as they metaphorically say, sell newspapers.

But it’s not really an expression of Alberta’s reality today. Redford is still a very conservative politician. And the Conservatives are still an appropriately named party.

You can expect the Redford PCs to stick pretty closely to the Big-C Conservative script — low taxes for the well-heeled, dogmatic emphasis on balanced budgets, a preference for mega-projects over managed economic development, hostility toward working people’s rights, distrust of green solutions and little patience for a major state role outside education and health care, where public sentiment demands it.

Since Redford is a smart politician with a good ear for the electorate’s mood, she’s more likely to grow in popularity than to sink. So if the opposition parties are counting on voters to tire of her quickly, they’re out of luck. Indeed, it’s a virtual certainty that she’ll be more popular that Premier Ed Stelmach ever managed to be. But she won’t stray too far from the eternal conservative verities of her party.

What this means is that over time the parties who offer clear progressive alternatives to the Conservatives’ tired formula — as the Liberals used to, the NDP still does and the Alberta Party may yet — will be in a better position to attract voters than the increasingly wild-eyed extremists of the Wildrose right.

It would help the more progressive parties if the Wildrose fable is partly right and the far right really has abandoned the PCs. A bad vote split on the right worked well for Canada for years, and could work for Alberta too. But don’t get your hopes up.

More likely, the Wildrose Party will swiftly degenerate into a bitter, increasingly marginalized and radical rump, cut off from the oilpatch funding that made its rise possible, while most of its members are welcomed back aboard the Tory mothership.

Oh well, it must have seemed like a good idea at the time…

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...