I’ll leave it to others to dissect why the PC’s ended up trouncing Wildrose in Alberta, despite all the polls and predictions. What interests me is what this portends for Stephen Harper and company.
Whether by happenstance or design, Wildrose leader Danielle Smith is a near-clone of Harper (except for her much-remarked upon charisma, which the Prime Minister is in no danger of catching). She is a field-operative for big-business, especially the oil companies, and for the Calgary School of economics, and its crash-diet approach to government. And she is a pragmatist who has separated out her party’s fiscal and social conservatism and placed the latter off to the side, where she hopes, bozo eruptions notwithstanding, it will be forgotten. It’s the latter which is a relatively new phenomenon in Canadian conservatism — this newfound recognition that separation of state and church might be a good idea after all, albeit it for strategic, not principled, reasons — and which makes her resemblance to her older sibling in Ottawa all the more striking.
And Albertans, of all people, have rejected her. Yes, I know she won her riding and led Wildrose to a total of 17 seats, up 13 from what they had before. But when an electorate turns on a party the way this one did in the last week of the campaign (and perhaps even in the last hours — it wasn’t until a Forum poll emerged on Sunday night, showing Wildrose down four points and the PCs up three, that we began to get an inkling of what might happen), then that electorate is sending a clear message: we have given you sober second consideration, and found you wanting. Sorry.
The big question is, of course, why they did so. Much emphasis will be placed on the bozo eruptions (which we chronicled here and here, while drawing attention to a longstanding one here), and on strategic voting (otherwise know as “anyone but the Wildrose Party.”) But if the results indicate, withal, a general exhaustion with Canada’s far right, it could spell a wider problem for non-progressive conservatives right across the country. Canadians have had a chance to take their measure, and increasingly, we don’t like what we see. Certainly where I live, in British Columbia, the Harper government grows more unpopular by the day, both for its aggressive pursuit of the Enbridge Pipeline and its ties to the even more unpopular provincial Liberal party. Torontonians look shamefacedly away from the ongoing bozo eruption in their Mayor’s office (and longingly towards, yes, Calgary, with its shiny, cosmopolitan Mayor). Quebeckers, of course, took Mr. Harper’s measure long ago. That’s what makes him so vulnerable to disaffection elsewhere — unlike most previous Prime Ministers, he doesn’t have Quebec to fall back on.
And so, as Warren Kinsella put it last night, “A hole has been kicked in a wall at 24 Sussex.” Or if it wasn’t, it should have been. The NDP are tied with the Conservatives in national support, even without Jack; indeed, much of their strength has to do with Thomas Mulcair’s strong showing out of the gate. Of course, all honeymoons eventually end. But as Stephen Harper looks to Alberta today and wonders, along with his fellow travellers, just what went wrong, he might also wonder how best to reconstruct his party to look quite a bit less like Wildrose than it does now. Because if Albertans are no longer buying what the far right is selling, what are the chances anyone else will?