Will simply uniting Alberta’s right add up to victory over the NDP? A conservative strategist concludes it won’t

Posted on February 09, 2016, 12:30 am
9 mins

PHOTOS: Oh, what fools these Tories be? Please forgive this Puckish caption. Former Progressive Conservative campaign manager Susan Elliott, below left, suggests that her party’s members think carefully before they let themselves get hitched to the party led by Brian Jean, below right. In the background of this Wildrose Party photo grabbed from the party’s website, PC interim Leader Ric McIver appears to be thinking much the same thing.

Will simply uniting the right add up to instant victory over the NDP the next time Alberta marches off to the polls? Not necessarily.

Longtime Progressive Conservative strategist Susan Elliott recently asked this question in a thoughtful post on her blog, From the Conservative Kitchen, raising some interesting and important questions Alberta’s PCs in particular really ought to be asking themselves.

ElliottMs. Elliott knows a thing or two about this stuff. She’s a “principal,” as business partners are called nowadays, in an issues management company called Strategy Portal, but more importantly she is a former PC party campaign manager with a long a respected pedigree in conservative circles.

At the core of the argument in her blog post is the thought that just because PC voters and Wildrose voters are to the right of the NDP in the normal course of events, they are not necessarily the same people, or even particularly sympathetic to each other’s worldview.

Yes, it’s true that if you simply combine the 28 per cent of voters who went Wildrose on May 5, 2015, with the 24 per cent who voted PC in that election, that adds up to a higher number than the 40 per cent who voted NDP, Ms. Elliott observed. But, she asked, “is it that easy?” Her conclusion is that it’s not.

As an aside, I had to smile nostalgically when I read this because it reminded me so powerfully of the days Alberta New Democrats and Alberta Liberals sat around arguing with themselves and each other about pretty much this same thing. These kinds of arguments, of course, tend to get settled by events like the one that happened on May 5.

Regardless, let’s continue with Ms. Elliott’s line of thinking, as she goes on to ask two important questions:

  1. Would the PC base, those who stuck with the party in the low-water year of 2015, be able to live with “the more right-wing personality” of the Wildrose Party?
  2. Would those who left the PCs for the Wildrose, many of them in frustration and disgust at its centrist positioning, be able to live with such a marriage?

I’m guilty, of course, of putting words in Ms. Elliott’s mouth because I think her description of the Wildrose Party having a “more right-wing personality” considerably understates the situation. So you should really read her argument for yourself.

JEAN-McIVERBut she does take this discussion where it needs to go, particularly for PC supporters, and that is to the question of why the voters the PCs lost in 2015, compared to the party’s results in 2012, didn’t appear to go to the Wildrose.

She quotes pollster Eric Grenier’s conclusion that since many Wildrosers in 2015 gave the NDP, the Liberals or the Alberta Party as their second choice – anyone but the PCs, as it were – even a combined conservative party would have lost to the NDP.

Of course, 2019 won’t be 2015, and Albertans may be in a mood to once again change their government. But if they are, they still might hesitate to replace them with an extremist, rural-oriented, socially conservative and highly ideological party like the Wildrose.

This would be especially so if, as Ms. Elliott suggests, the NDP decides to redistribute ridings to reduce the undeniable over-representation of rural voters that now exists in Alberta. “They are more likely to adjust the formula to yield more urban and suburban seats,” she correctly concludes – indeed, it could be argued they will have little choice.

“The only party that could today combat the NDP in those multiple urban seats is the Progressive Conservative Party,” Ms. Elliott concludes. “The Wildrose demonstrably cannot. In the last two elections combined, they have won just four urban or suburban seats.”

Ms. Elliott is also correct, I believe, to argue that most Albertans, particularly those who live in cities and larger urban centres don’t see themselves as particularly “right wing” or “left wing,” but as centrist pragmatists.

So there’s no doubt that in 2019, the NDP and the opposition parties will be fighting it out for that centrist vote – which explains some of the recent NDP strategies, such as their cautious decision not to increase resource royalties.

To go beyond Ms. Elliott’s arguments, this is why the Wildrose Party seems so desperate to press its marriage suit on the PCs as quickly as possible, while they’re still led by an interim leader, Ric McIver, and still reeling from the unexpected outcome of the 2015 election.

Wildrose strategists know that if Brian Jean is the groom, the more time passes, the worse he’ll look to the potential bride.

Similarly, the market fundamentalist ideological machine – Thinktankistan, the mainstream media and the academic right – want to marginalize the Tories because they see that party as too centrist and pragmatic. What better way to eliminate that problem than by subsuming them in a radical, but renamed, Wildrose Party?

They’re willing to take the chance of dealing with that small-c conservative enemy first, before they turn to what they see as the Main Enemy, the NDP, in the hopes of leaving dissatisfied centrist voters with no real choice on the right and thereby winning all the marbles for their radical program.

The possibility some PCs may view a hostile reverse takeover with less enthusiasm than Mr. Jean and have their own unity plans as a result may account for the long and nervous letter sent yesterday to supporters by the Wildrose leader.

Wildrose constituency associations are encouraged, but not required, to seek out grassroots Tories in their communities and begin informal merger discussions, Mr. Jean wrote. “A few recent developments are, however, troubling,” he went on.

“Some organized groups, outside of either the Wildrose or PC grassroots, are trying to commandeer and direct these conversations,” he said in the email. “This misguided attempt to shortcut deliberate, meaningful, and personal conversations between party members has been attempted before. It was a disastrous elite-driven top-down ‘unification’ attempt by MLAs that ultimately led to the NDP majority” – which, not incidentally, made Mr. Jean’s leadership possible.

“Please do not allow the allure of a short cut, presented by outsiders, to derail what must be a transparent, grassroots-driven process,” he told his supporters.

Hmmmm… What’s this then? A reverse reverse takeover by ambitious Tories? The “Alberta Prosperity Fund”? Or some kind of opposition #kudatah?

Inquiring minds want to know.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

17 Comments to: Will simply uniting Alberta’s right add up to victory over the NDP? A conservative strategist concludes it won’t

  1. Jim Storrie

    February 9th, 2016

    “The idea that the PCs and Wildrose share the same voter pool is simply wrong,” writes Grenier: “The right wasn’t divided. Rather, the anti-PC vote was divided between the New Democrats and Wildrose.”

    great news. if my comrades and I can just reconcile our differences with the ‘Rose, our New Wildocratic Party will never lose!

    Reply
    • Project 9

      February 9th, 2016

      Defibrilatory Reform Agglomeration Party. Ya! That’s it!

      Reply
  2. Gail

    February 9th, 2016

    Historically uniting the right seems to have worked rather well for the right and not so well for the left so I’m not entirely convinced on this point.

    Reply
  3. political ranger

    February 9th, 2016

    once a con, always a con!
    once you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all
    they always look so alike

    Your cute distinction, David, based on geography, is just a distraction. The Conservatives are all of the same make-up, some louder than others, some less intelligent than others but all “extremist, … socially conservative and highly ideological” nut bars.
    Just a small bit of education and knowledge of the rest of the world, often found in urban dwellers but not exclusively so, shows how ridiculous and self-serving this conservative ideology is.

    Reply
  4. Dave

    February 9th, 2016

    The 2015 election proved beyond a doubt that Albertan’s are not so ideologically right wing as they were thought by some to be. When times were good and they all had good paying jobs, they were content with the provincial government and voted accordingly. But with the oil price tanking and with Prentice blaming them for the decline and asking them to pay for his party’s mistakes, they proved to be quite open to a nicer alternative offered by the NDP.

    Now with the price of oil going ever lower, they may not be so happy with the NDP, but neither Prentice nor Notley can be blamed for the world oil price and if there was a Wild Rose government in power it would not be able to change the price of oil either.

    The lesson to be taken from this is that Albertan’s being used to the good times simply want them to return.
    Who can blame them for that. But whatever government Alberta has will not be able to effect a change in the economics of oil by itself. It’s a world wide thing and won’t be changed by Alberta.

    Reply
  5. February 9th, 2016

    It’s worth remembering that the Conservatives began their 44-year reign by defeating the Social Credit, a hard right-wing party.

    Reply
  6. Witless

    February 9th, 2016

    I’ve lived here for a bit. From my view, the rest should shun us. We lord’d it for our well taken. Now it’s our turn.

    Reply
  7. Jared Milne

    February 9th, 2016

    Of course, the funny thing is that even Ralph Klein wasn’t quite as far to the right as some of his supporters like to depict him.

    After, he rejected the Byfields’ call to use the notwithstanding clause to overturn the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Vriend case, he let the overturning of the Defence of Marriage Act roll over and die, he put more money back into the system once he balanced the books and paid off the debt,

    None of these things prevented Albertans at large from supporting him.

    And for that matter, do you really think Stelmach would have done a royalty review if Liberal and NDP supporters were the only ones calling for it? And what about voters passing over Danielle Smith in favour of Alison Redford?

    Even during the Tory dynasty years, there was-and historically has been-a very noticeable streak of centrism and red Toryism in Alberta.

    Reply
  8. Jason

    February 9th, 2016

    On the bright side, at least we will know where they all are at once……

    Reply
  9. Alvin Finkel

    February 10th, 2016

    The Wildrose adherents are a different breed from the Tories. The Tories are fiscally quite conservative and they always think business is right and labour is wrong. But they see the need for at least minimal accommodation of the plebs and they are modestly socially liberal. Read the pages of Wildrosers and what you tend to find is people who are market fundamentalists, racists, haters of unions, homophobic, and scarily angry about almost everything. And why would I bother reading such pages? On a reasonably regular basis, Wildrose supporters, sometimes in an organized way, send comments to the Change Alberta Facebook page, which one of the Wildrosers called a ‘Notley friendly page where we should go to trash her.’ We ban them immediately, but I read their pages first and they are mostly sick, sick, sick.

    Reply
  10. February 10th, 2016

    I don’t think the Wildrosies are extremists or odd folks. I have met one Wildrose MLA and he was an ordinary citizen. The funny thing about political parties is that they make every other party into extremists but in reality all political parties are the same. Political parties are only really interested in their own parties and their own survival. Citizens are there to be the path to power.

    I have voted for the PCs and they weren’t very good at anything but mythmaking and wasting cash. We could have had a ton of cash in the Heritage Trust Fund but Suncor has more assets than we do in the Fund.
    In this last provincial election, I voted NDP. What did I get for voting NDP? A group of folks who don’t seem to know how to work with voters. My feeling is that we have advisor folks from the federal level who are used to Harper’s ways and now we have a cone of silence over departments and I don’t like this lack of transparency one little bit. I still haven’t got answers to questions I have sent to Alberta Connects that were sent to Sarah Hoffman’s group and why is this? I’d say because the answers to these questions aren’t as media friendly as they should be.

    Reply
  11. political ranger

    February 10th, 2016

    seems like a fair bit of revisionism going on here
    Now we’re all convinced that Alberta Conservatives and the PC party were always a really nice bunch of folks with our best interests at heart.
    Not true today and never was true in the past.

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      February 10th, 2016

      I’m not saying that. I’m saying they;re more moderate and centrist than the Wildrose.

      Reply
      • political ranger

        February 11th, 2016

        Well, ok.
        When they are both way, way over there at the far, far right comments including phrases like moderate and centrist are really not appropriate.
        They never were moderate or centrist; they were always, and importantly, still are extreme far-right nutbars and wing-nuts.

        So, I’m not sure the value of distinguishing one from the other. It’s a form of entertainment, I suppose.
        But it’s also a way of blurring the lines and the memory of just how bad and how ineffective the right is at governance.

        Reply

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