Electoral math is calculus, not arithmetic, so 15 more Tory defectors won’t necessarily bring down Alison Redford’s shaky government

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Alberta Premier Alison Redford and her crack team of Tory political strategists consult the Billion Dollar Brainiac, the Alberta government’s carbon- and vote-capture supercomputer, to figure out how many members must remain in her shrinking caucus for the party to survive a non-confidence motion. Actual crack Alberta political strategists may not appear exactly as illustrated. Just ignore the note that saysBon Voyage.” Below: MLAs Steve Young, Edmonton Riverview, and Matt Jeneroux, Edmonton-South West.

The assumption of just about everyone in the Punditocracy, the Commentariat, the Blogosphere and the Media Bloviarchy here in Alberta is that if Premier Alison Redford’s intramural opponents manage to persuade enough Tory MLAs to defect to the Independent benches, the government will soon be defeated on a vote of confidence.

Therefore, Premier Redford’s opponents within her own party reason – or so I suspect they reason – “if she understands we’re willing to destroy our party in order to save it from her, she may be sensible and step aside.” All the commentators cited above seem also to accept this conclusion.

If these assumptions are right, of course, the current Battle of Alberta becomes simply a matter of arithmetic, mainly subtraction:

  • There are 87 seats in the Alberta Legislature
  • After the 2012 election there were 61 Progressive Conservatives, 17 Wildrosers, five Liberals and four New Democrats
  • Two weeks ago there were 60 PCs, 17 Wildrosers, five Liberals, four NDPs and one Independent, the hapless Mike Allen, who mistook a Minnesota police officer for a hooker
  • Now there are 58 PCs, 17 Wildrosers, five Liberals, four NDPs and three Independents, Mr. Allen having been joined by Tory dissidents Len Webber and Donna Kennedy-Glans, both of whom who have better excuses than he did to find themselves on the opposite side of the House from the government

That leaves Ms. Redford’s PC Party with what should still be a comfortable majority: 58 seats to the Opposition’s 29.

But everyone is now operating on the assumption – probably correct – that there are plenty more dissidents where Mr. Webber and Ms. Kennedy-Glans came from. And, what’s more, that some of them will soon join the swelling ranks of the Independents.

Ten MLAs were at last Sunday’s rebel conclave in Edmonton. At least five more were said to be on the speakerphone, one of whom was Ms. Kennedy-Glans.

The others are still a secret, but it’s very hard not to suspect, given what we’ve been seeing on his Twitter feed and hearing in the rumour mill of late, not to mention his body language in the Legislature, that the obviously angry former Deputy Premier, Thomas Lukaszuk, is among them.

More of the renegades seem ready to dash soon – first-term Edmonton Tory MLAs Steve Young and Matt Jeneroux were dropping hints yesterday to reporters that they’d be next in the drip, drip, drip of defectors obviously designed to keep the pressure on Ms. Redford.

No problem, we won’t kick you out of caucus, responded Tory House Leader Robin Campbell in a gambit that seems designed to make Ms. Redford look even weaker – indeed, the last time he tried to get fired, Mr. Young was allowed to stick around too.

But everyone seems to be assuming that if 15 or more Tories can be persuaded to join the rebellion, there will be enough votes to topple the government.

I’m here to tell you it’s not that simple.

Imagine for the moment that 15 or 16 Tories join the rebellion and the Legislature begins to lurch toward a vote of non-confidence in Ms. Redford’s ministry.

The Wildrose Party would almost certainly vote in such circumstances to bring down the government. What could be better from Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith’s perspective that getting to go to the electorate now when all her planets are in alignment?

Mr. Allen might or might not. When they get the chance, it seems likely Fort McMurray voters won’t even let him give clarinet lessons to young ladies let alone represent them in the Legislature.

But who says the New Democrats and the Liberals, either acting on their own or together, would automatically line up to support the vote?

Sorry, but that is simply not an assumption anyone should make.

If Ms. Redford loses 15 of her MLAs and manages to hang on to the rest, it’s said here her government could make a deal with one of the two remaining opposition parties to prop her up for a year and a half while she tries to salvage her party. Maybe she could even hire back Stephen Carter, if he’s up to the challenge, to work another miracle on the Prairies.

Yes, opposition parties planning to vote non-confidence would scream bloody murder, but so what? If the deal were good enough, it would likely work to the long-term benefit of the opposition party that made it.

This could be especially so if – ahem! – that party’s supporters happened to be concentrated in one region of the province, say, Edmonton.

Yes, it would be a roll of the dice. But every day in politics is a roll of the dice.

Imagine if the Alberta NDP, for example, could persuade the government not only to spike the unconstitutional anti-labour like Bills 45 and 46 in return for its support, but to implement some genuinely progressive legislation.

That could include, say, a cap on accommodation costs for seniors, regulated electricity prices to ensure stable costs and reliable power supply for businesses and citizens, an end to the wasteful carbon capture corporate boondoggle and use of those funds in ways that benefit ordinary taxpayers, and encouragement of oil sands value added projects here at home that would create jobs and reduce environmental risks.

Notwithstanding the screams of some, that could be seen as a net political gain by the universe of NDP voters in the Edmonton region.

Yes, it would also be a hard pill for the Tories to swallow – they are , after all, now as far to the right as the Wildrose Party, just less forthright about it. But, as Dr. Johnson famously observed: “Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”

Will any of this happen?

Probably not. But it could. So don’t assume that 15 more Tory defectors automatically mean the end of Alison Redford’s Tory government. Because it ain’t necessarily so.

Electoral math is calculus, not merely arithmetic.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Categories Alberta Politics