One of the dirty little secrets of Canadian politics at the end of the beginning of the 21st Century is that a lot of political professionals have come to recognize the awesome power of fear.

Former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper (Photo: Screenshot of UCP video).

And nothing instills fear like a really bad example. 

And that is why, contrary to the unenthusiastic little lie Stephen Harper told Alberta voters on Friday, Justin Trudeau’s Liberals in Ottawa are most certainly quietly crossing their fingers and hoping for a victory by Danielle Smith’s United Conservative Party in today’s Alberta general election. 

If the trend in recent polling of Alberta’s electorate is right – not about which party is most likely to be able to form a government, but that the results and the seat tally will be very close, and potentially unstable – the Trudeau Liberals have surely realized they would be far better off with a bad Conservative government in charge of Alberta than a quietly competent NDP one. 

Fear, after all, is a powerful tool to keep voters from experimenting with something new. 

And if that something new happens to be a Conservative government run by Mr. Harper’s latest successor, Pierre Poilievre, a Smith Government in Edmonton with a narrow mandate and a strong desire to do dangerous stuff will be a gift to Mr. Trudeau. A gift that he will accept.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Photo: Justin Trudeau/Flickr).

Sure, Ms. Smith with her separatist Svengali, Rob Anderson, whispering in her ear, can be expected to try to provoke a constitutional crisis with Ottawa.

But remember that the federal government holds powerful cards to deal with whatever she tries – and if she does, it will present the Liberal government, grown long in the tooth, with an opportunity to scare the bejesus out of voters elsewhere in Canada about what a federal Conservative government could get up to. 

This, of course, would be bad for Alberta and those of us who live here. But I imagine the Trudeau Liberals are aware of that and they’re willing to take the risk. 

Mr. Harper’s actual words were, “the Trudeau Liberals are voting NDP in this election.” Of course, the Trudeau Liberals don’t actually have a vote in this election – leastways not the ones who don’t live in Alberta. So, accepted literally, that’s nonsensical. 

Mostly Mr. Harper tried to do exactly what Mr. Trudeau will do to Mr. Poilievre if Alberta voters give him the opportunity today. Strike fear in the hearts of those thinking for voting for the other side. 

Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Mr. Harper’s 58-second UCP endorsement video, the second one he has made for the provincial Conservative party, was almost as unenthusiastic as the first one, although at least this time he managed to choke out the name of the United Conservative Party and its leader, Danielle Smith. 

He didn’t say anything about existential threats, although whatever you say about Mr. Harper, he’s no dummy, so he certainly recognizes that she presents such a threat to Conservative hopes of beating the Liberals in the next federal election, whenever that is.

I should add that the federal NDP might not be all that unhappy with the same electoral result, either, although for slightly different reasons. 

Notwithstanding all the UCP pish-posh about federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh being Ms. Notley’s “boss,” her success and the undoubted effective advocacy of Alberta’s fossil fuel industry that would follow would present Mr. Singh with political challenges not dissimilar to the ones his rhetoric sometimes creates for Ms. Notley. 

In Friday’s other big-name endorsement, an existential threat is exactly how former Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi, pitching for Rachel Notley and the NDP, described Ms. Smith. 

Former Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi (Photo: Cindy Hierlihy).

Citing Ms. Smith’s lack of fiscal discipline, the “bizarre things” she says and does regularly, her lack of judgment, and her disrespect for the rule of law, Mr. Nenshi concluded, “I truly believe Smith is an existential threat to our province. There’s never been anyone like her in power in Alberta before. We simply have no idea what she will do as premier …”

It’s hard to argue with Mr. Nenshi’s assessment of the danger Ms. Smith presents. But if we’ve been paying attention to what she believes – she’s been talking and talking and talking about it for at least 20 years – we in fact have a pretty good idea of what she will do, given the chance, a few recent statements to the contrary notwithstanding. 

It includes dismantling our public health care system, grabbing our pensions to prop up the oil and gas industry, allowing petroleum companies to pollute with no financial consequences, and perhaps dismantling our country too, if she can get away with it. 

As for the rest of Mr. Nenshi’s wordy essay, it’s almost as unenthusiastic as Mr. Harper’s 58-second blurp and, in my opinion, barely worth reading beyond the obvious warning of the dangers of another term for the UCP. 

And that is all I have to say. I have no prediction. The stakes are obviously very high. And in an election this close, your vote can actually make difference. So just go vote! 

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  1. Yes, Smith will make the PM’s life difficult if she wins, but politically it will be bearable as she will probably hurt the Federal Conservatives more. Her strident, perhaps even separatist approach will turn off people in other parts of Canada and likely turn them more against Alberta and also by extension the Federal Conservatives.

    Of course having Smith for Premier will be less awkward for the Federal NDP. You haven’t seen Poilievre enthusiastically campaigning for Smith, this is why. Even Harper’s endorsements seem more perfunctory than enthusiastic.

    I also feel this election may be too close to call, so I hesitate to make predictions too. I’m not so worried about Canada, I suspect it will survive Smith’s attacks and antics. However, the real damage may be done here in Alberta unless we stop it.

  2. Which leaves things as problematic …

    Smith has her own cadre of brown-nosers and wingnuts to do her bidding, so if the outcome is an unstable UCP government, there could be even more interesting things coming down that pipeline.

    For one thing, a much, much larger cabinet. Smith has a lot of mouths to feed and she will feed them. How large a cabinet? I suspect that every single UCP MLA will, with a very narrow win, will demand a cabinet portfolio. A fifty member cabinet? Why not. They will have to find a much larger cabinet room, but one thing is certain is that Smith doesn’t care how she looks when she does something unbelievably stupid. So…a massive cabinet, half of whom will be Parl. Secs. to the official members of cabinet, who will also have such a bizarre array of titles, it will boggle the mind. The Minister of Space Travel? Sure. Another expensive boondoggle to put something from Alberta on the Moon. Maybe Elon Musk can help with that? A Minister of Water? Minister of Rain? Minister of Sewage? Minister of the Morning Dew? Water is important, so it deserves an insane amount of attention. How about the Minister of First Dates? I mean somebody has to advise fumbling teens if they are doing it right? The Minister of Dad Jokes? Yeah, those things really need to be regulated. And the Ministries of Broccoli and Peas & Carrots — vegetables that have never gotten their due — their time is now!

    So get out there and vote and see if Alberta shoots itself in the face again.

  3. Time to plan on a class-action lawsuit against the Federal Government. I never had an agreement, implied or otherwise, with the Alberta Government to create and administrate a pension plan for myself. The Federal Government, on the other hand, has a solid legal foundation for the Canada Pension Plan, one that involves me financially from cradle to grave. If the UCP win today then they will try to instigate their agenda, and it will be time to sue the Feds so that they can’t just agree to hand my pension over to another level of government without my express consent. Although I’m looking to leave the province before Danielle Smith can execute the TBA murder/suicide pact, the Feds have an obligation to me as a Canadian citizen and I intend to make it so that Danielle Smith and TBA don’t get their hands on my pension.

  4. It says something about the UCP when PM Trudeau and Liberal strategists are hoping for a UCP victory secure in the knowledge that it will help them in the next election.

    Even more when senior CPC political advisors in Ottawa are hoping for an NDP victory. They know the chilling effect that Danielle Smith and the UCP will have on Conservative voters in those critical urban ridings in Montreal, GTA, and Vancouver.

  5. Great column, David, and I think you are correct regarding which Alberta outcome would work best for Justin Trudeau.

    The converse of your suggestion, of course, has to be what outcome would work best for Pierre Poilievre. Mr. Poilievre must surely be hoping that a gaffe prone UCP premier won’t cause him the kind of embarrassment many of us are expecting.

  6. “Existential threat” is a great summary…. but only if you’re an urban lefty working in a white collar or college certified profession. No Fort Mac worker or Calgary day trader will suddenly be stricken on Hwy 2 and decide to vote NDP. Don’t forget, this province voted Social Credit for decades and happily stuffed script into their overalls like so many 1970’s Canadian Tire shoppers.

    So, if you could, please include me in your order of bumper stickers. “You voted for Smith so don’t blame me” has a nice ring to it.

  7. The more one hears “the stakes are high” the more one wonders if “the stakes are really that high.” Is there a whole lot of differences between the mainstream political parties these days? South of the border election cycles get hyped up and turn into screaming matches about cataclysmic differences. A vote for this guy is a vote against democracy and civilization! The choice is yours! Yet this weekend Biden and the GOP quietly got together to reach a bipartisan agreement on the debt ceiling which includes record setting military spending. Strike a private deal on Saturday night and tell legislators they must approve it or else the world economy will crash.

  8. I can hardly wait for the litany of “voting irregularities” alt-right Alberta voters make up.

  9. Agreed…just go vote…even if it means spoiling your ballot as a form of protest for neither.
    Things are tight either way.
    2 Outcomes…..Notley comes back for a 2nd chance hopefully learning not to repeat the same mistakes made in her 1st 2015-2019 term that lead to her demise and Smith goes down in AB history as one of the shortest serving Premiers of AB for 7+ months.

    Or Smith comes back with a loss of seats, but sufficient for a majority. Which would then mean all the controversial things she did or gaffed about didn’t have a big impact as some hoped for. Voters would see her as human. Then 1 Term Notley’s time is at an end.

    In fair defense of Smith, when Kenny left, she did inherit a gov’t in trouble with a very short amount of time to govern and turn things around. Also if the AB economy is doing well, then that helps her chances too.

  10. From next-door in BC:

    Yes, I don’t want to see the nutbars continuing to run the show; I have friends in Edmonton, and they’re good people who don’t deserve this.


    I still remember how ignorantly belligerent Notley was in pushing the Trans-Mountain boondoggle. At the end of the day, whether we get hard-core (Smith) or soft-core (Notley) climate denialism, the extra CO2 molecules in the atmosphere all look the same. The Mauna Loa data will continue to be the ultimate lie-detector:

    Sure, Notley had to play to the crowd at home, but don’t ask me to give more than a one-handed clap if she defies the polls and manages to get back in.

  11. Okay, vote yes, but vote properly. That is, vote NDP or stay home.

    So, if you plan to vote responsibly, then vote, but if you plan to vote for batshit crazy lady and her Nazi hordes, just stay home.

  12. Don’t ask what colour the sky is in my world but……………………………………….*

    NDP 52 seats
    UCP 35 seats

    While wishful thinking (I guess the prediction above is pretty much the definition of such, however we move on), one desired result of this outcome would be the decrease in the use and promotion of polls in the electioneering process. As DJC has pointed out repeatedly, their value and application is significantly diminished in today’s society. However for media, they are an effective way of promoting a desired narrative and upping interest (clicks and eyeballs if not newspaper sales), so they may live to be reported another day, even if wildly inaccurate and self serving.

    For all Albertans on voting day, to echo the old southerners, ‘Vote Early and Vote Often!’.

    *Actual results may vary.

  13. Alberta has lost it’s mind.
    Daniel Smith?
    What does it take to upset conservative voters?
    If she was coming for your first born to sacrifice their blood to Satan?
    Would that do it?
    Alberta – is there a threshold that is not so obvious where you could maybe start to care?
    I’m always going to be looking over my shoulder at that 1 in 2 Albertans who made this all happen and wonder what goes on in there, in those heads – the same way I wonder about the internal thoughts of all the creatures I visit at the zoo.

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