Opinion

Lessons from Alberta

By Lorrie Goldstein, Toronto Sun

Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith speaks to the Calgary Sun editorial board at the Sun offices in Calgary, AB Apr 18, 2012. (QMI Agency/Jim Wells)

Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith speaks to the Calgary Sun editorial board at the Sun offices in Calgary, AB Apr 18, 2012. (QMI Agency/Jim Wells)

Here are three lessons learned from Monday’s Alberta election:

(1) The media got it wrong because the pollsters got it wrong.

In every election, pundits read the polls and then write pieces explaining why what the polls are showing is “inevitable” based on “facts” they select to prove their case.

In this case, the media narrative about a looming Wildrose Alliance majority because Albertans were “ready for a big change” proved to be dead wrong for one of two reasons.

Either the pollsters got it wrong from start to finish and the media followed them into the Dumpster.

Or, if it’s true, as some pollsters now say, that their surveys over the campaign’s last weekend showed the start of a late Progressive Conservative surge, then there wasn’t enough time before Monday’s vote for pundits to rewrite their narratives, explaining the new “inevitability” of Premier Alison Redford’s last-minute victory. In either case, pollsters and pundits ended up looking foolish.

(2) Albertans aren’t much different from Ontarians.

In both provinces — Albertans on Monday and Ontarians last October 6 — voters held their noses and returned to power incumbent political parties with controversial records on spending, waste, deficits and ethics, as opposed to taking a chance on relatively unknown political opponents.

In the end, voters in both provinces cast their ballots in their own perceived economic self-interests, as voters usually do, deciding it wasn’t worth gambling on untested political parties with relatively unknown leaders — Tim Hudak of the PCs in Ontario and Danielle Smith of the Wildrose Alliance in Alberta.

In fact, Ontario voters were more rebellious than Albertans. They reduced the eight-year majority government of Premier Dalton McGuinty and the Liberals to a minority.

Albertans rewarded the 41-year political dynasty of the Progressive Conservatives with yet another majority.

As my Sun Media colleague David Akin noted Wednesday, this means by the time Albertans go to the polls four years from now, the Alberta PCs will have outlasted even the 42-year Big Blue Machine PC dynasty in Ontario that ended in 1985.

(3) Smearing your opponents as racist, women-hating, homophobes can still work.

Unlike others, I didn’t make any grand pronouncements about who would win in Alberta and why it would be “inevitable,” having learned from past mistakes.

But I did err in assuming the tactic of one party dominated by middle-aged white males, save for their leader, the PCs, smearing another party slightly more dominated by middle-aged white males, save for their leader, the Wildrose Alliance, wouldn’t work.

Alas, it did. I assumed it would fail because it no longer works when federal Liberals and NDPers try to do it to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservatives.

But I forgot it took Harper almost a decade as Conservative (and Canadian Alliance) leader to convince Canadians he didn’t have the “hidden agenda” the opposition accused him of, before he finally won a majority last year, after two Conservative minorities and one defeat to a Liberal minority government.

That will be the big challenge for Wildrose leader Danielle Smith going forward in Alberta.

To convince voters over the next four years that she is someone who is, like most Canadians, conservative on fiscal issues but liberal (or, more accurately, “live and let live”) on social ones.


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