Alberta, it turns out, isn’t the out and out redneck haven that some of us easterners might have thought it was.
And it looks like Alberta’s Progressive Conservative dynasty will live to fight another day.
I was going to write about how Premier Alison Redford and her PCs had won fewer seats in yesterday’s election, and about how she looked to be in a better shape to govern than Danielle Smith, leader of the Wildrose (a.k.a. the Wildrose Alliance) party, since Redford could likely count on the NDP and Liberals to support what would have been her minority government.
Suprise! The polls were wrong, or at least partly wrong, in predicting a Wildrose government. The newish party won only 17 seats, with 34.3 per cent of the vote, and becomes the official opposition.
The PCs, meanwhile, secured a majority, albeit a smaller one than last time, winning 61 seats with 43.9 per cent of the vote, versus 72 seats with 52.7 per cent of the vote in 2008, although they had only 66 seats when the 2012 campaign started. They also did it without garnering a majority of the popular vote, as they have in the past under former premiers Peter Lougheed and Ralph Klein.
So what does this say about Alberta and about Canadian politics more generally?
I think it tells us a few things:
• When given a choice of voting for a hard-right party, a majority of people won’t choose it, even in Alberta, where you might have thought that they would. Prime Minister Stephen Harper – the federal MP for Calgary Southwest – ought to be paying attention, and he very well might be, given how slowly he’s proceeded up until now with his plan to remake Canada in his own hard-right image. The Alberta result is good news for people who aren’t fire-breathing conservatives (read: most of us), since Harper won his majority with only 39.6 per cent of the national vote. It might be the best result he can ever expect to get, since hard-right voters with a few undecided floaters thrown in does not a big tent make.
• Alberta has a core of rock-rib conservatives who might represent up to one-third of the province’s voters. (That assumes, of course, that all Wildrose supporters are hard-right voters when some may have just wanted to throw the bums out. As well, despite 41 years of one-party rule, the province has regularly seen other parties win between 25 to 30 per cent or so of the popular vote, so this result isn’t anomalous from that standpoint.)
• As Harper has learned, you need to keep wacko candidates in line and so-called “bimbo eruptions” to a minimum. Next time, Smith can’t apply her personal libertarian philosophy to candidates who muse aloud that gays will burn for eternity in a “lake of fire” or that caucasians can better represent all Albertans than ethnic candidates can. She must denounce them in no uncertain terms.
• Centrist politics are alive and well in Canada, and even in Alberta, despite what easterners might think. As well, the Alberta result shows that there is a decided split between urban and rural Canada, although the PCs did fairly well in the northern part of the province.
• Leaders matter in our parliamentary system. Whatever you think of her politics (and they’re not mine), Redford is an impressive candidate and has the kind of gravitas that Smith just doesn’t have (at least not right now).
• Scare campaigns, such as I’d Never Thought I’d Vote PC, will work under the right circumstances. In this case, it looks like enough spooked (and urban?) Liberal and NDP voters moved to the PCs at the last moment, when polls were predicting a Wildrose victory.
But make no mistake: as was the case with Liberal Paul Martin minority federal victory in 2004, Redford didn’t necessarily win on her own merits. She won at least in part because of questionable utterances by wild-card Wildrose candidates, which gave credence to her scare-mongering about Smith’s party. (Smith didn’t help her own cause by invoking freedom of speech when asked about these comments, nor did she help herself when she said that she doubted the science of climate change.)
As Martin discovered in 2006, scare-mongering only works as a strategy until your opponent cleans up his or her act. Redford can’t count on Smith allowing such lack of discipline in her ranks the next time around. She’ll make sure to be better prepared, and she’ll clamp down on the loose cannons.
As well, Redford is on a relatively short leash, and she can’t count on her new coalition, such as it is, holding forever.
Yet even if her Redford’s centrist big tent disintegrates, Smith and her party must show by their performance in opposition that they’re prepared to govern. That’s no sure thing.
After what they saw in the campaign, Albertans obviously didn’t think they’re ready.
* * *
I’m too much of a basketball fan to let Metta World Peace’s mugging of James Harden go by without comment.
If you haven’t seen the offence in question, which occurred during a recent game between World Peace’s Los Angeles Lakes and the Oklahoma City Thunder, here it is:
Despite World Peace’s apology to Harden and his defence that he was just celebrating a dunk, this looked intentional to me. As a doctor friend pointed out to me, if he had hit Harden at a different angle, he could have paralyzed him permanently. As it is, he left the game with a concussion.
Given World Peace’s past conduct when he was named Ron Artest – most notoriously in a November 2004 brawl at the end of an Indiana Pacers-Detroit Pistons game in Auburn Hills, Mich., in which he and some teammates leapt into the stands and fought with spectators – and despite his good behaviour over the past few years and the fact he’s a key player on his team, he should have been suspended for the rest of the season, including the playoffs.
There are limits to dirty play. This isn’t the NHL, after all.
Today, the NBA announced he will only be suspended for seven games: the season finale and the next 6 games of the playoffs (or four games of the playoffs and two into next year, if the Lakers are swept in the first round).
For the sake of comparison, Raffi Torres of the Phoenix Coyotes was just suspended 25 games for a vicious head shot on the Chicago Blackhawks’ leading scorer, Marian Hossa, in Game 3 of their first-round playoff matchup.
When the NHL is meting out harsher discipline than you are, you know something’s wrong.
The NBA needed to send a message about World Peace. It didn’t.