Alberta needs a vicious street fight-style election
By Markham Hislop
Five days into the Alberta election campaign and NDP Leader Brian Mason and I have noticed the same thing: it’s nasty out there, folks!
Mason has just released an open letter to the leaders of the other political parties – Alison Redford, Danielle Smith, Raj Sherman, Glenn Taylor – asking for an end to the hostilities.
“I’m writing because I’m concerned about the negative personal tone that has developed in the first five days of this campaign,” he wrote. “In the past week we’ve seen one leader’s loyalty to Alberta questioned. A leader has attempted to interrupt another’s public event. There has been public doubt expressed regarding another leader’s commitment to saving Albertan lives in drunk driving accidents.”
The man has a point. Experienced political operatives may want to correct me, but I don’t recall an election in which party leaders responded to each other’s announcements and press releases with press releases of their own, trying to correct perceived errors or taking exception to the policy in question.
Frankly, I am not surprised.
Smith can smell blood. Recent polls showing Wildrose neck and neck with the PCs suggest she has a real shot at becoming premier. It was only weeks ago pundits were suggesting she should be happy with official opposition and a chance to prove to Albertans she deserved the big chair. And with old Reformer Tom Flanagan at the helm of the Wildrose campaign Smith has someone who knows how to throw a punch.
Alison Redford has been on the ropes a bit in the early going, but there’s still a lot of campaigning to do. And let’s not forget that coming from behind seems to be campaign manager Stephen Carter’s modus operandi. He did it with Naheed Nenshi in 2010, when it looked like Ric McIver was a shoo in right up until the final week, and then again with Redford, who knocked off the favourite of the party establishment, Gary Mar, for the party leadership last year.
But the big surprise has been Liberal Leader Raj Sherman. The former ER doc and one-time PC MLA has shown far more moxy than anyone gave him credit for. When he won the Liberal leadership last year, defeating popular MLAs like Laurie Blakeman and Hugh MacDonald, Sherman was seen as a weak sister who wouldn’t be able to hold his own against the big girls.
The jury’s still out whether his aggressive campaign style will resonate with voters, but by God the man is a lot more interesting than the stuffed suits who preceded him, Kevin Taft and Dr. David Swann. Yesterday he called Redford’s announcement on the expansion of the Alberta Oil Sands Technology and Research Authority, a pedestrian issue if ever there was one, “Soviet-style government solutions.”
That kind of eye-popping rhetoric may not raise eyebrows coming from Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum during the Republican primaries, but it isn’t often seen in sedate Alberta.
“I ask that you commit with me to a discussion of the issues that make a difference for ordinary Albertans every day. Let’s have a vigorous, but fair debate this election,” wrote Mason.
I respectfully disagree with Mr. Mason. Unless by vigorous he means a vicious street fight with switchblades and lead pipes.
Alberta needs a rough and tumble election campaign. Voters have become too apathetic: 2008 saw the lowest voter turnout in the province’s history, with only 40.59 per cent trooping to the polls. A fight for the right to be premier and to lead the Alberta government is exactly what is needed to reawaken people’s interest in their own democracy.
Bring it on!