The Final Push: Alberta’s Not So “Civil” War

Posted by on Apr 22, 2012 in Blog | 0 comments

Bruce Cameron, President of Return On Insight, April 21, 2012

 “A nasty divorce” was how Alberta Liberal leader Raj Sherman likened the split between the PCs and the Wildrose during the provincial leaders debate on April 12th. Others have used terms like “religious war” and “civil war.”  But there is nothing “civil” about this titanic battle that has divided communities and strained friendships across Alberta.

As the social media furor started to take off a week ago over homophobic and racially charged remarks by Wildrose candidates, the tone of the campaign turned toxic. A widely respected and well-liked former chair of the Calgary Stampede, George Brookman (who has friends on both side of the divide), tweeted his dismay:

“Albertans!!! Calm down. This is not a religious war, we are not tribal. Friends for decades are hurling insults, accusations. Stop!”

Why the frayed nerves and strained friendships?

Because this election has become a referendum on Alberta’s future. 

ROI spotted the referendum mentality emerging in Calgary one week ago, as the electorate increasingly took one of two sides: PCs or Wildrose. Data from over 90,000 Albertans who participated in CBC’s Vote Compass web tool confirms this big divide: 

“Vote Compass data suggests focusing on contentious social issues in the remaining days of the provincial election might help the ruling Progressive Conservatives hold hotly-contested ridings in Calgary and Edmonton.”

Political observers, pundits and pollsters in Alberta don’t agree on much in the final hours before Election Day, but one thing seems clear: 50 of the 87 ridings could be too close to call.

Minority government is a likely result, an outcome thought impossible only a week ago.

The vote is split in a number of volatile ways:

  • The proportion of undecided voters typically declines in the last week of the campaign, but right now it is increasing. Why? Because of the difficult “us versus them” choice facing Albertans.
  • In the last week of the campaign, instead of focusing the electoral debate on issues like energy policy and healthcare (rated as the most important issue, most media attention has focused on questions about intolerance.   
  • Faced with anti-Wildrose momentum in Alberta’s major cities, support for the Liberals and NDP is shrinking into single digits. And that strategic vote is going to the PCs, despite Liberal leader Raj Sherman’s increase in approval ratings and despite Brian Mason’s credible performance calling out PC and Wildrose missteps.

So if ROI is correct and the electorate is divided, what is the central question in this referendum?

  • Albertans who choose Wildrose will be seeking to change a tired old government and replace it with something which they view as more conservative and populist.
  • Albertans who choose the Progressive Conservatives will do so partially to stop what is perceived as the Wildrose Party’s intolerance and climate change ignorance, but also because the idea of handing power to the Wildrose seems like too big a risk to take. 

Referendums make for strange bedfellows and they generate immense voter angst. On Tuesday, when all of this is over, the Wildrose (and its official cheerleading outfit, Sun Media) will sit back and analyze how a big majority slipped from its grasp. They may well lament Danielle Smith’s choice to defend and dismiss intolerant remarks about gays, lesbians and ethnic minorities.

But most of all, Wildrose supporters will rue the day Smith spoke of her belief that climate change science is still unsettled. Making the link between social intolerance and ideological intransigence hurt the Wildrose badly in the final days of the campaign. 

The Edmonton Journal’s Graham Thompson summed it up well:

“Hunsperger is entitled to his odious views that gays and lesbians will burn in hell, but he is not entitled to promote intolerance against homosexuals by arguing, as he did in a blog posting, that government (in the form of the Edmonton school board) should not protect gay and lesbian students from discrimination.”

“Smith has failed to show leadership on the Hunsperger file and she is failing to show leadership on the climate change file. We might not know what a Wildrose government would look like, but we’re starting to get a glimpse of what a Danielle Smith premiership would be like.”

The intellectual corner in which Smith found herself was eloquently pointed out by self described fellow libertarian Paula Simons of the Edmonton Journal, commenting about Smith defending Hunspergers’ anti gay and lesbian rant on the basis of freedom of speech:

Hunsperger has an absolute right to speak. And I have a right—and a moral responsibility—to denounce his views, and to call into question the values of a party and a leader that defend him.  And you have a right to read his views, and mine, and draw your own conclusions.

And we will soon see what conclusion Albertans have drawn. 

But despite the negative impact of the whole Hunsperger-Leech outcry on the Wildrose campaign, Smith denying climate change may turn out to be the biggest “bozo eruption” of them all. 

Why? Because when Danielle Smith portrayed herself as a climate change denier, she raised a flag as red as the suits she’s been wearing on the campaign trail. Just think of all the people in the new towers in downtown Calgary, picturing Smith visiting Washington, or Toronto, or New York. Rejecting climate change science is akin to economic creationism in financial markets. And take a guess at how that will affect the biggest file facing Alberta: how to protect our oilsands from attack by environmentalists.  

When Smith scoffed at climate change, she poured fuel on the “lake of hell fire.”

In a race that is too close to call, especially in Calgary, climate change may be a game changer, strengthening support for the PCs enough to ruin a Wildrose coronation.

But the not-so-civil war will continue. 



Week 3: The Battle for Alberta’s Soul

Posted by on Apr 13, 2012 in Blog | 0 comments

Bruce Cameron, President of Return On Insight, April 11, 2012

During the first half of the Alberta election campaign, the PCs stumbled and the Wildrose surged to majority level support.  But Easter weekend appears to have been a temporary lull in the fighting, and a potential watershed moment.

Regardless of whether the PCs are able to mount a stunning comeback victory (and recent polls indicate it is possible), or if the Wildrose fends off the mid campaign PC upswing to win on April 23rd , we may all look back at the Easter weekend break to explain why.

Simply put: it’s all about soul, baby.  Alberta’s soul in fact.

The fight for Alberta’s soul boils down to figuring out three things: who Alberta is, what Alberta wants and how we plan to achieve it.  The PC-Wildrose fight dominating most of the media coverage really revolves around answering these questions.  Unlike the first two weeks of the campaign, however, this round has gone to the PCs, albeit not by an overwhelming margin.

Alberta has been growing faster than any province in the country for over a decade, and the changes brought about by that growth may determine the outcome of the vote on April 23rd.

First of all, Alberta is not nearly as socially conservative a place as most of the “lame-stream” eastern media speculate.  (That Republican code word, now thrown about by the Wildrose and its biggest cheerleader, Sun Media, is used to dismiss any journalism critical of right wing policies).

A fascinating study conducted by self professed Reform-Alliance expert Faron Ellis proves that point.  Ellis, a former pollster with JMCK, is now an instructor at Lethbridge College.  He conducted a study 6 months ago which clearly shows the Alberta electorate is socially moderate  to the point of being labeled progressive.

On most “social conservative” positions, from same sex marriage (72% support), to abortion choice (84% support), doctor assisted suicide (73% support) and even the use of medical marijuana (77% support), this is “not your father’s Alberta.”

When interviewed around the time of the Wildrose leadership race by Kathleen Petty of CBC’s The House (Sat Oct 17 2009), Ellis made a revealing statement that strikes to the core of whether Danielle Smith’s coalition of libertarians and social conservatives can keep it together long enough to form government:

“If the Wild Rose Alliance reverts to its old traditional social conservative basis, they are
pretty much, from my perspective, dead in the water. There is little to no growth potential there in the modern contemporary Alberta. There is a huge market for a more fiscally conservative party running the government but Albertans are not interested in trading, backing off on some leftwing social engineering for a whole bunch of rightwing moral engineering.”

The second aspect of Alberta’s growth that will help determine the outcome of the election are the changes taking place in suburban and urban fringe ridings across the province.

Take the riding of Highwood, directly south of Calgary, where Danielle Smith faces a tough battle against high profile PC candidate John Barlow. Highwood has two major population centres: Okotoks, a booming community where many people commute to Calgary, and High River, former home of Canada’s most well known “Red Tory”— Joe Clark.

The Joe Clark theme is more than a coincidence. Make no mistake about it—the battle started by Stephen Harper, Tom Flanagan, and Cliff Fryers to take out the old federal Progressive Conservative Party (with Red Tories like Jim Prentice, Joe Clark and Peter McKay)–has now moved into its final stages.  Why else would Harper have made the unprecedented move of freeing his MPs to support whatever party they choose in Alberta’s election?  Don’t be surprised if many of those federal Conservatives show up at Wildrose victory parties.

Karen Kleiss of the Edmonton Journal recently summed it up when she said “The battle playing out on the Alberta hustings in 2012 is the same conservative rift that caused the split between the federal Progressive Conservatives and the Reform Party in 1988, [and] . . . many of the players are the same.”  She goes on to describe the Reform roots of both Tom Flanagan, the key strategist for the Wildrose, and Cliff Fryers, [who] “did the same job for Reform party leader Preston Manning and was his chief of staff while in office. He later went on to become chairman of the board of the Manning Centre for Building Democracy, and chairman of Enmax.”

By the way, Enmax would love to see a Wildrose government repeal the misguided Bill 50 which green-lights the building of massive transmission lines, replacing it with a policy encouraging construction of gas fired power plants closer to consumer markets (like Calgary).

At the midpoint of the campaign, the PCs are experiencing a rebound in the polls for two reasons: first, they have slowly re-gained some sense of composure after a disastrous start, and second, Alison Redford’s fear-mongering about the Wildrose social agenda is beginning to resonate.

To truly understand the battle for Alberta’s soul, and what could be at stake in a province with “free votes,” “citizen generated referenda” and “social conscience” provisions, examine the articulately scary words of Link Byfield, a sure fire cabinet minister in any Wildrose government:

“The power of the secular state to license marriage is historically new. It emerged in the German religious reformation. Prior to that marriage was the preserve of the Church and of common law. Maybe it should be again.”

“Today’s so-called libertarians are in historical fact more conservative than the so-called social conservatives.”

“Public funding of education, ….has pretty much destroyed the authority of the family.”

“Once we get past the labels, conservatives of all shades and persuasions confront a single political enemy: “progressivism.”

Not your Father’s Progressive Conservative Party. Link Byfield, and by extension his “so-con” allies in the Wildrose, may be closer to your father’s Social Credit Party, but they are far removed from the changing Alberta of today.


Alberta Election Blog: Battle of the Pocketbook

Posted by on Apr 12, 2012 in Blog | 0 comments

After the thrills, chills, and spills of the first week of the Alberta election campaign, the second week seems downright pedestrian. What better way to settle things down into a predictable patter than for politicians of all stripes to start “bribing people with their own money”…….

To read more, click here to the link to my Alberta election blog on CBC:

Advantage Alberta Political Monitor Polls

Posted by on Apr 12, 2012 in Blog, Media | 0 comments

October 14th Release: Advantage Alberta Political Monitor
“Wildrose Alliance support is highest in Calgary, where a three way split is emerging between the PCs Liberals and Wildrose Alliance; elsewhere the PCs have about a third of voters’ support.”

October 13th Release: Advantage Alberta Political Monitor
“PC support drops dramatically to 30%; Wildrose Alliance benefiting; a majority of Albertans (58%) disapprove of Premier Stelmach’s performance.”