This is my personal post-election analysis of the PC sweep of by-elections.
Normally, by-elections are not viewed as a measure of popularity. They are incidental. This, however, was framed, (I think incorrectly,) as a major battle between Wildrose and the PCs.
I think the better view is that Wildrose could never have won. Albertans wanted to give Prentice a chance. There is no doubt they are angry. But a leaderless government, should he be defeated in his by-election, is worse than a new Prentice government. And his endearing manner, early first steps, and all appearances, signaled that he was perhaps worth a chance. So it was probably a foregone conclusion that Prentice would win his by-election.
His two handpicked rock stars were framed as necessary for a new face, a new regime and turning a new leaf. Albertans wanted to give Prentice a chance and if he needed these two outsiders, then we have to give him a chance with his two outsiders. And goodness knows, Albertans were ready for a new regime, a new face, and turning over a new leaf. The old Stelmach-Redford horrors were still fresh in all of our minds. So the two rock stars were given a presumptive pass.
If there was a vulnerability in the whole plan, it was with the Calgary rock star, Dirks.
The Edmonton rock star was well-liked, blooded in former elections, and had a solid base.
The Calgary rock star was, however, vulnerable. He had a reputation as a spendthrift earned while leading the Calgary Board of Education. Mike Evans’ well-composed financial analysis of the CBE Taj Mahal office building confirmed this beyond a shadow of a doubt. This widely-circulated analysis might have been a major point of vulnerability.
But Prentice answered this vulnerability with hundreds of millions of dollars of promises targeted on Dirks’ riding alone. This included an invasive flood-control plan, which is viewed by all as not only expensive, but probably dangerous. And this was buttressed with the promise of new school rooms and fast-tracked flood relief for this riding and its residents. And if that were not enough, they hired Alan Hallman. Speaking as one who has hired Alan Hallman for political campaigns, I can attest to the political skills and desire to win of this top-flight Alberta operative. He may well be the best in the business in Alberta.
Wildrose chose not to attack one particular potential vulnerability, but rather a province-wide “Send the PCs a Message” campaign. Perhaps their only chance was a targeted attack on the vulnerable Calgary rock star; but this was not the chosen path. Too bad, so sad.
But enough of the bad news. Let’s turn to the good news. The good news includes:
- No criticism of the Wildrose and its Caucus.
- Major praise for the Caucus and its steady hand and steady influence during the last year.
- No “lake of fire”, Danielle has successfully pivoted the Wildrose away from that world to the world of mainline political dynamics.
- The “fear” label would not and could not stick to Wildrose. Danielle has again pivoted the Wildrose successfully into mainline political competition.
- The competition was framed as a battle between two legitimate equals.
- The Wildrose campaign was executed with a degree of discipline and cost efficiency which is to be commended.
- The Wildrose fundraising machine generated significant returns from many, many small donors, which again validates the strong political future for Wildrose.
Danielle has asked for a vote of confidence. This is part of the Wildrose ethic, and it’s an appropriate step. But the real lessons from this campaign that occur to me are:
- The party has pivoted away from former misfires to mainline political competitiveness.
- Candidate selection for the by-elections was magnificent. All of the candidates were strong and credible, and are now blooded for the next provincial-wide election.
- If the Wildrose is going to make mistakes, this was the time to make them. The campaign team can be re‑jigged, leadership reorganized, and onward, and forward.
This is my view.
“Jim Prentice full” by Manning Centre c/o: Jake Wright – Flickr. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons. “Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith” by Wildrose Caucus – Wildrose Caucus: http://www.wildrose.ca/. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikipedia.