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.
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.
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.
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.
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!