Partisans of Alberta's Wildrose Party will understandably be tempted to fall into "we wuz robbed" syndrome. They should resist. Mightily. The result of Monday's provincial vote was win-win for conservatives and Conservatives.
Wildrose, after all, quadrupled its representation in the legislature to 17 seats. If that is a long way from the sugar plum dreams of majority government that were dancing in supporters' heads during the campaign, it's still a major feat for a party that didn't exist five years ago.
More, the party and its leader, Danielle Smith, threw a major scare into a government that has ruled the party for 41 years. Dynasties generally fall in chunks, not in a single go. Having the impetus for change come from the small-c conservative side is a good thing—at least if you happen to be a small-c conservative.
Alberta's newly elected Premier Alison Redford is clearly such a large-C conservative that the C often looks more like an L—as in Liberal. And while regaining a majority government—albeit with a reduced number of seats—must be gratifying for her, she will be constantly reminded of the threat to her government that lies in the conservative official opposition across the aisle.
Again, that's a good thing, and this time not just from an ideological perspective. Because of its place on the political spectrum, because it was born from deep conservative dissatisfaction with the previous Progressive Conservative government, Wildrose has the chance to give Albertans a vigorously effective opposition for the first time in a very, very long time.
The shift promises to afford Albertans much greater accountability. It also gives Redford the disciplinary stick to, shall we say, motivate her own party out of the deep intellectual slumber and ethical complacency into which it has fallen. Democracy wins, hands down, in that environment.
As a result, so does Wildrose. Clearly, the party is not quite yet ready for prime time. While it ran a generally effective campaign coming out of the gate in late March, it collapsed into chaos when the empire finally struck back in the final week. Nor does it seem to have had the requisite infrastructure to get out the vote needed to fulfill pollsters' prophecies.
Sure, partisans can argue, as partisans will, that their party was the victim of one of the most vicious smear campaigns in Canadian politics since Stockwell Day was eviscerated in the 2000 federal election just for being a Christian. It is true that Progressive Conservative operatives manufactured the two so-called "major controversies" afflicted upon Wildrose late in the campaign.
One of Redford's key strategists, Susan Elliott, confirmed as much when she told the Globe and Mail this week that the Tories could not get off the defensive for the first three weeks of the campaign. They only turned into positive territory on the Friday before the vote, Elliott said, when the "controversies" took their toll. Compliant journalists who abetted the PC propaganda coup with unrelenting media whoop-whoop might want to consider whether they are really in the right line of work.
But as corrosive as such tactics are to democratic engagement, they are now part of what we call politics. They have to be expected. They have to be countered before they can have the least effect. They weren't. The result is that Wildrose will spend a very healthy preparatory period in opposition before it rises to fight again in the next election.
That it will, I am sure. For while I am not, and never have been, a partisan of Wildrose or any other party, I do know from working with Danielle Smith many years ago that is she is a truly remarkable apprentice. She will watch. She will learn. She will challenge Premier Redford from the conservative side. And how impressive is the prospect of these two women, representing the full conservative continuum, leading their parties against each other?
Win-win doesn't get any better.