Preston Manning joins the sales team for the new, new, newly united Wildrosey Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta. Actual beloved godfathers of the conservative movement may not appear exactly as illustrated. Below: The real Mr. Manning smiling benevolently, Alberta Premier Jim Prentice in a Joe-Clark-like moment, former Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith when she was still pretending she thought the Prentice PCs were evil, and former federal Liberal Conservative cabinet minister David Emerson.

Don’t worry, Danielle Smith will soon be deputy premier of Alberta or occupy a similarly influential post.

Likewise, Rob Anderson will be finance minister or something similar, if not by next week, as soon as Christmas and New Year are out of the way. Perhaps one or two of the other Wildrose Party defectors will join the cabinet of Premier Jim Prentice as well.

Nothing is absolutely certain, of course, especially when all the important business of Canada’s “most ethical and transparent government” is conducted behind locked doors as far as possible from the prying eyes and ears of taxpaying citizens and smart aleck bloggers. Mr. Prentice certainly doesn’t phone me up and tell me what his plans are.

Still, the man himself is already dropping hints, and when you think about it, this is the only future narrative that makes any sense.

A deal was made in Edmonton in a dark and secret place, and the terms of that deal are going to have to be kept or the wronged party could do serious damage.

And this wasn’t just some handshake agreement with a smooth-talking sales guy either. As befits a group of people whose promises aren’t necessarily made to be kept forever, there was a detailed written document, some of which at least we have seen. Somewhere there may even be a signed copy with all the fine print.

Preston Manning, the godfather of the Canadian right, not only came down from on high in Calgary to bless the union, but played a role in brokering the secret deal. He’s now using his soothing persona to evangelize on its behalf.

So you can also count on it that there was a quid pro quo, with the imprimatur of Mr. Manning himself and the solemn agreement of both parties, plus a certain amount of strategic leaking to well-placed reporters just in case. What the media reported thereafter was that Ms. Smith and Mr. Anderson have portfolios waiting for them.

Right now, while they work their way through the (perhaps to them surprisingly) intense public reaction to the unprecedented and breathtakingly cynical deal for the opposition to quit en masse and join the government party, both groups have the power to make trouble for the other if the deal goes south, and neither has anything to gain from that happening.

Remember, Ms. Smith is now not powerless in caucus. She has a rump of at least 10 supporters there, former members of her former party, and probably more.

Finally, the closed-door deal – from which you, Ms. and Mr. Voter, were completely excluded – has to include cabinet posts for key Wildrosers or, to be blunt about it, they simply wouldn’t have come across. 

So the logical conclusion is that Ms. Smith’s cabinet appointment and the others are a done deal, and the deal will be completed sooner than later.

If I were one of Mr. Prentice’s more vulnerable current cabinet members – say, like Finance Minister Robin Campbell, Minister of Licence Plates Stephen Khan or Tourism Minister Maureen Kubinec – I’d be quite worried about this. Cabinet must remain small to present the right image during the short-lived austerity opportunity provided by temporarily low oil prices, so a couple of loyal Tories will have to go over the side, and those three are all candidates for the high jump.

As for Mr. Prentice’s claim during Wednesday’s news conference that any such appointments had been delayed because of resistance in his own caucus, this hardly seems credible.

At the moment – at least until the full integration of Ms. Smith and the rest of the Mudville Nine into the caucus – Mr. Prentice is a premier in complete and total control.

He may have been presented during his leadership campaign as a candidate gently akin to former prime minister Joe Clark, to whom he bears an occasional passing resemblance, but he turns out to be a leader more in the style of current Prime Minister Stephen Harper. So the PC caucus will do what he tells them, when he tells them, with very little backchat.

No, the problem is the blowback in Southern Alberta from the jaw-dropping cynicism and outrageous careerism of an opposition party folding its tent to join a government of convenience with a 43-year-old behemoth that’s hardly had a good idea since Don Getty took over in 1985. This is as the Wildrosers themselves regularly reminded us until just days ago, it must be remembered.

The dealmakers may also need a little time to solve the problem of recalcitrant Wildrose Party executives determined to hang onto the party’s bank account, and furious members cutting up their membership cards with chainsaws and posting recall petitions on social media.

No doubt Mr. Manning will help with those problems, pouring some grandfatherly unguent on the troubled waters, as may a couple of the MLAs left in the five-member Wildrump Opposition party who for practical tactical reasons of their own need to delay their departure for Tory Nirvana for a spell.

Meanwhile, the key participants in this carefully staged production all sound a little like David Emerson, the Liberal cabinet minister from the Vancouver-Kingsway riding who in 2006 switched teams to Mr. Harper’s victorious Conservatives two weeks after the federal election didn’t turn out as he hoped.

Like this week’s Wildrose defection, that deal too was hatched in secret.

Soon afterward, Mr. Emerson claimed to be “flabbergasted” that anyone would have been upset, telling the CBC: “I am pursuing the very agenda that I got involved to pursue when I was in the Liberal Party supporting Paul Martin. I’m continuing to pursue it.” What could be more reasonable?

Or, as Ms. Smith put it on Wednesday afternoon, “if you look at our statement of principles, our aligned values, it’s very clear that the lion’s share of Wildrose policy is contained in those shared values.”

This may take a few days to blow over, but, when it does, count on it, Ms. Smith will get her influential cabinet post.

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  1. someone talks the talk but does not walk the walk

    Regarding the floor and the talk of eliminating privilege in the corrupt conservative government of Alberta. On the former Danielle Smith is walking the walk but if Jim Prentice was to deliver on the latter he would eliminate the most massive in terms of dollars, corruption that comes from his own government’s policy … what I am talking about is the flat tax. Eliminate the flat tax in Alberta and put Alberta’s billionaires on a level playing field with the other billionaires in Canada. Not in any other province but only in Alberta the flat tax allows a few very wealthy to keep collectively $2 billion in their pockets each year since 1999. They like to blacken Redford for some tens of thousands spent on her PRIVILEGE but lets put things in perspective … $2 billion a year every year privilege compared to what was it? $70,000 of airplane rides. They like us to focus on side issues. If they really wanted to eliminate privilege they would start by killing the flat tax.

  2. Another sad aspect of this event is that in Alberta at least, it has totally overshadowed one of the most significant political events of the year: the decision of US President Obama to reopen diplomatic relations with Cuba after over 50 years of isolation.

    While the haters are all over this decision, based on Cuba’s widely acknowledged poor human rights record, this is not a logically consistent objection: one does not only have embassies in countries one likes, and the US has long maintained diplomatic relations with far worse regimes than the Castros. In fact, IMHO, the US’ diplomatic isolation and embargo against that little country has perpetuated the regime’s hold on power, and made that tiny island far more significant in world affairs than it deserves. I think that had the US opened up normal relations after the fall of the Castros’ main sponsor, the Soviet Union, by now they might be out of power and there might be a more democratic government in place.

  3. “Cabinet must remain small to present the right image during the short-lived austerity opportunity provided by temporarily low oil prices….”

    Temporarily low oil prices? I guess. Maybe. Albertans should, of course, hang on to the dream. I mean, how could it really be the way it seems?

    1. I have two words for anyone who believes the current decline in oil prices is not temporary: Supply. Demand. This severity of the decline is driven by principally by the Saudi/OPEC decision to pump like crazy, which in turn is part of the U.S.-encouraged strategy to protect the U.S. dollar as the world’s reserve currency and punish the Russians for their actions in Ukraine and Crimea. It will not last in the long term because demand continues to outpace supply. I don’t think it will last in the short term because the Russian capacity to withstand pain is greater than the American (and that includes Canadian) ability to do the same thing. I may be wrong about the second part, but I am not wrong about the first. I am prepared to place a gentleman’s bet that by this time next year, oil prices will be roughly back where they were before the steep decline. I also believe the Prentice Government thinks the same thing and is using the price fluctuation to achieve political and ideological goals.

      1. I don’t overall disagree, but I’d quibble a bit and suggest the decline may have been precipitated by the Saudis, but the severity is due to the bat-shit-crazy overreaction the markets have to any actual changes.

      2. Yes David, the Saudis are driving down the price of oil. They are doing it at the behest of America in order to punish the Russians. I also believe they are doing it to maintain their market share, especially in China. In order to achieve that second goal, they are keeping the price down, by maintaining supplies high, which coincidentally hurts Canadian oil exports. We could quibble about how much it costs the Saudis to produce a barrel of oil compared to Alberta. I have seen and heard all sorts of numbers – none of which I believe. One thing is certain it costs Saudis less. As a consequence they can afford to sell for less than we can.

        So, the price of oil is $58 USD now. So what? It has only been this low since Sept/Oct. People forget it was selling for near $100 USD for most of the year. Average it out and you certainly don’t get $58S USD/barrel for 12 months, which is what Prentice wants people to think.

        There is no doubt oil will bounce back as it has done many times before, and it will do so within 6 months. The problem is that Prentice brings down his draconian budget in March and he will undoubtedly use the pretext of low oil prices to carry out the Wildrose agenda. What will he do when the price goes up? Absolutely nothing and we will be stuck with an austerity budget for the remainder of the year. A few months before the next election he will dole out some money and buy votes.

        We don’t stand a chance. We are @###ed no matter what. I just hope his Wildrose budget doesn’t hit my sector too hard and that I still have a job after the oil goes back up to $100+/barrel. When you live in a petro state and everyone votes for a petro-sponsored political party, what do you expect? Until Albertans change their voting habits we are all hostage to big oil and their political puppets.

      3. But if this is based on the decision of the Saudis to protect their markets by running high cost shale out of business (with oil sands being collateral damage) wouldn’t that mean that prices remain low for as long as it takes to cause serious damage to high cost producers? I mean, what good is it for Saudi to ‘pump to protect’ if the boys in the Bakken and Ft. Mac just resume their activities (and, once again, threaten Saudi markets) when the price goes up?

        By the way, I’m a bit wary of this notion that the U.S. is somehow behind this with the Saudis to hurt Russia – it would be cutting off one’s nose (in the Bakken and Eagle Ford) to spite the Russian;s face. I mean, the former two regions vote – the Saudis don’t.

        That said, I’m not confident enough in my hypotheses to put down a wager!

        1. Have you ever played chicken? America is betting that Russia will blink first. Saudis don’t do anything without checking with America first. Right now many sectors within the American economy are benefiting from low oil prices. If you believe that in Canada oil accounts for about 10% of our GDP, then it is very likely the majority of the US GDP is also not directly related to oil production. Yes, low oil prices hurt the American oil producers, but again the majority of the US economy is NOT oil. Right now America is buying this commodity for for less than the cost of producing it themselves in N.Dakota.

  4. I would be surprized if the Wildrose member got anything other than token positions in cabinet. The deal is done and the damage is done. The 11 are stuck and will be glad to be on the back benches.
    The more ambitious ones like Smith and Anderson will be thinking of the long game. If they keep their seats in 2016…and realistically why wouldn’t they? People in Highriver and Airdrie going to vote for Liberals? Then they will be building a career and thinking about the post-Prentice era in 2024.

    1. No, people in High River and Airdrie will not vote LIberal, but they are likely to sit on their hands in 2016. In fact, I wonder if this supremely cynical act turns out to be a watershed in modern conservative history, such that a change in the political winds begin to blow (and blow all the way to Ottawa). Oh, I don’t mean that the base or true believers will ever change their vote. Rather, the swing voters, not just in Alberta but across Canada, will be horrified at such an event, connect the dots, and include all conservative parties in their voting calculation.

      Any gentlemen betters out there?

  5. “I am prepared to place a gentleman’s bet that by this time next year, oil prices will be roughly back where they were before the steep decline. ”

    A gentlemen’s bet, then. Ok, if you’re right, then I will swim in a lake, river or stream outside of Alberta for thirty minutes. If I’m right, then you will swim in a tailings pond for thirty minutes. Agreed?

  6. Obama is on the victory lap. Cheney had his 14 year Haliburton hegemony. Now it’s all about Iran gets choked, as do all the signatories to the Asian/BRIC alliance, because… Putin. Such a polyglot of stupid I have never yet witnessed. Why I think I’m going to resurrect Stanley Kubrick and Peter Sellers to remake Dr Strangelove!

  7. “Airdrie and High River voters”…..don’t forget Okotoks (with three mormon churches in one town)…as well as several other towns as well. Airdrie is actually not part of the Highwood riding. Highwood extends past Okotoks…but ends south of Calgary. Airdrie is north of Calgary.

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