Are moderate Alberta conservatives likely to find themselves waking up to a Wildrose nightmare?

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ILLUSTRATIONS: It’s a nightmare alright – but whose? Actual Alberta voters may not appear exactly as illustrated. Below: Wildrose Leader Brian Jean and NDP Premier Rachel Notley. (Both shown in CBC photos.)

The prevailing narrative in the Alberta media, as a headline in the reliably pro-Wildrose Edmonton Sun put it earlier this week, is that “Albertans are waking up to NDP nightmare.”

The yarn spun by the Sun’s political columnist, a former editor of the Byfield Clan’s nutty social conservative Alberta Report magazine, is that the NDP vote last May was merely a protest vote against the 44-year Progressive Conservative dynasty and that NDP voters didn’t really want an NDP government with NDP policies.

brain-jean-wildroseWell, we hear such claims regularly from mainstream media whenever the Canadian right suffers an electoral setback. The “honeymoon” is inevitably declared over as soon as decently possible, and absolutely nobody – even the Very Serious People making such assertions – takes any of it very seriously. Still, like the proverbial Big Lie, if you say it often enough, a certain number of folks will start to accept it as fact.

But is it really true that “most Albertans have awakened” from their delusions and no longer have any time for Premier Rachel Notley’s NDP Government, as both the Wildrose Party and the Sun, in its role as Wildrose’s Pravda, desperately want us to believe?

A recent poll, one of very few conducted at this early point in the Notley Government’s mandate, suggests something a little different.

The ThinkHQ Eye on Alberta poll published last Friday while your blogger was still enjoying the warm Mexican sun shows a considerably more buoyant outlook for the NDP than either media coverage or Wildrose commentary would suggest.

Leastways, while the poll shows a real drop in NDP support since the spring election – which is exactly what any new government would be expected to experience once they start to introduce legislation that inevitably gores someone’s ox – the NDP fall is hardly precipitous, as the Usual Suspects would like us to believe.

alberta-premier-rachel-notleyIndeed, the poll shows the NDP trailing the Wildrose by only four points province-wide (at 29 per cent of decided and leaning voters for the government, compared with 33 per cent for the Wildrose) and, importantly, still leading overwhelmingly in the Edmonton area (43 to 20 percent) and marginally in Calgary (30 to 29 per cent).

This is down significantly from the NDP’s big lead in the May 5 election. But the Sun columnist’s effort to portray this as a precipitous and probably irreversible drop, without looking too carefully at the regional breakdown, doesn’t really hold water.

It’s just as reasonable to argue this shows the NDP enjoying surprisingly strong and consistent support in the province despite its inexperience in government and the full-blown campaign in recent weeks to rattle and undermine its efforts over farm safety legislation.

Yes, the NDP’s handling of Bill 6 hurt the party during the period the poll was being conducted – Dec. 1 to 6 – as Ms. Notley has conceded. But it’s said here the hysterical and threatening response by the Wildrose Party’s supporters is not likely to help the Opposition party much either.

I mean, seriously, do Albertans really want to be governed by a political party that relies on Internet thugs threatening murder and sexual violence against female politicians? I frankly doubt it. Are they persuaded by the Wildrose leader’s pleas for his supporters to reign it in – which appear not to be working? That remains to be seen.

Which brings us to the second part of this interesting on-line panel survey – which must be considered with all the usual caveats about such polling techniques – and that is how well the PCs appear to be polling.

This may be worse from the Wildrose Party’s perspective than the continued strength of the NDP, as it shows the Progressive Conservative Party continues to enjoy considerable support among right-of-centre Albertans for its big-tent, middle-of-the-road approach.

Indeed, when you add the PCs to the mix, all three major parties are in a statistical tie in Calgary, the Tories are on the Wildrosers’ heels in Edmonton, albeit far behind the NDP, and they’re doing relatively well in small urban areas too. The Wildrose lead is truly commanding only in rural areas, which is not where it needs to make gains.

This undoubtedly accounts for the increasingly desperate tone of Wildrose Leader Brian Jean’s efforts to persuade the PCs to join the Wildrose now, before they wake up to the reality that conservative Albertans are more comfortable with the PC brand than Wildrose extremism – which, it is predicted here, will be a trend shown by future polls if PC loyalists can keep their party out of Mr. Jean’s hands.

This situation leaves Mr. Jean on the horns of a dilemma – to persuade PCs there’s an urgent need for them to join the Wildrose Party as soon as possible, he has to acknowledge the NDP continues to be a credible government, granted too far to the left from his perspective; to persuade Albertans to vote for a socon-dominated Wildrose Party they’re clearly uncomfortable with, he needs to portray the NDP as out of touch and on the ropes. It will be hard for him to square this circle.

So we have a situation in which the NDP is down a bit, but far from out and certainly not all washed up; Wildrose strength is considerably shakier than portrayed by party loyalists in and out of the media, and reliant on support from some pretty sketchy factions; and the Tories, at least if they keep their wits about them, have the potential to remain a major player.

In other words, if the PC leadership falls for Mr. Jean’s sales pitch, it’s moderate Alberta conservatives who could very well find themselves waking up to a Wildrose nightmare.

That, in turn, could turn be good news for the NDP in three and a half years.

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Speaking of nightmares, as we just were, what if Jim Prentice, Alberta’s last PC premier, had waited until now to call an election? And what if I had run and won a by-election as an NDP candidate? This disturbing alternate history was presented last night by political blogger Dave Cournoyer. It is competing, if you ask me, with the suggestion Russian President Vladimir Putin may be immortal for the weirdest news commentary of the day yesterday.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Categories Alberta Politics