The Alberta election result will be digested for some time, apart from a last minute lone poll showing movement, almost nobody predicted this result. In fact, if you were listening or watching yesterday, there was a certain fait accompli in the commentary, an now almost embarrassing presumptive analysis, that went so far as to use past tense. Oh dear. For my part, I was never entirely convinced, intimated as such to some tweeps, but was as shocked as anyone when the results came in. A few thoughts on what I think happened last night.
I note Danielle Smith put some electoral blame on the controversy created by two of her candidates. I would agree with that conclusion, but would also add her reaction to the comments as equally impactful, it denoted a person not ready to lead, it revealed the absurdity of Smith's libertarianism, amateurish the way she didn't categorically rebuke intolerance. I'll add one more candidate that changed the dynamic of the campaign, Danielle Smith herself, her views on climate change for instance are something hasn't been given the attention they deserve in this equation.
In my experience, Albertans have a rebellious spirit which is pervasive and vibrant. That said, Albertans are also aware and pay attention to outside perception, despite the eff you disposition at times, there is a real pride which finds much inspiration from contrast. I also believe the Albertan voter is highly sophisticated, political conversation is routine in the province, people are engaged, past turnout belies robust debate relative to some other parts of the country. Within that, I think what we saw last night, first and foremost, was many reacting to the potential perceived negative realities of life under the Wildrose. The optics of a denier trying to sell Alberta oil to an already sceptical audience was a factor. A perceived return to "redneck" Alberta, undercutting all the positive reassessments of late, played a role in sober second thought for many. Alberta has changed, and last night represented a confirmation at the ballot box, a highly calculated resistance to superficial change mantras, a real weighing of consequence which is rare and to be applauded.
The entire political calculus in Alberta changed, a seismic shift on the spectrum. The right wing of the PC's are gone, replaced by an amalgamation of the center. Redford has been criticized as a closet "liberal", but the strange irony in the end, that reality made her palatable to those more concerned about an extremist right wing movement taking control. Wildrose attacked Redford's political leanings, but whatever erosion on the right flank was made up for by the new emerging reality in Alberta, this isn't your father's province and amazingly there existed enough centrist leaning voters to form a coalition of sorts. Fiscally conservative, socially moderate, outward thinking, that view had an audience, or at least was tolerable enough for many to vote strategically. I suspect moving forward the new paradigm will hold, Redford will govern from the center and Wildrose as official opposition will highlight the contrasts.
Last night is also a much needed repudiation of pandering policies, gimmicky rebates and other simplistic solutions to complex problems. Again, Albertans showed a level of sophistication in resisting superficial goodies, a strategy which has worked quite well on the federal scene (sorry Tom Flanagan). Wildrose preyed on insecurity, it created imaginary outside boogeyman, in the end a confident Alberta emerged, in many respects it appears the province has arrived and ready to assume its emerging role in the federation with certain responsibilities.
I don't want to be hyperbolic, but the federation dodged a bullet last night. I sensed an almost last straw flavour from the outside, a perception that should a far right, firewall presentation take control, many in the rest of Canada would reach a breaking point. Intolerance met with intolerance, no appetite for commonality, further inward erosions and lots and lots of acrimony. Smith may have stirred up the federation, but niceties from some other jurisdictions would be replaced by equally blunt counter and I have no doubt whatever we perceive as Canada would suffer. With Redford, at least we have a leader that is looking for partners, that is intellectually aware of a wider world, responsible. I still see tensions, but relatively speaking, no comparison to the two way vitrol that would likely have emerged with Wildrose.
One thing to watch for moving forward, the relationship between the PC's and the federal Conservatives. It is true that most of the federal Conservatives were lining up behind Wildrose, many openly trashing Redford and the PC's. Now we have some awkward realities and a bit of a chasm between the two entities, which should add a interesting new wrinkle.
And with that, one of the more fascinating provincial elections in Canadian history comes to a close. Sanity prevails, back to the caves deniers... Phew.