Alberta Politics Just Got Interesting
They are the Wild Rose Alliance. And, after last night, you wouldn't come across sounding like a crazy person if you suggested they could bring about the demise of a political dynasty that has ruled Alberta unopposed for the last 38 years.
I'm not saying it will happen. Only that you can write the screen play out, without relying too heavily on science fiction. Consider:
Step 1: Win the Glenmore by election. Check.
Step 2: Elect Danielle Smith party leader. She's in her late 30s, has extensive media experience, is articulate, and doesn't look or sound like a crazy right winger. I'd never vote for her myself, but it's hard not to look at her and say "there's someone who could be Premier". Even though he's held the job for 3 years, I can't help but look at Ed Stelmach and think "he's a nice guy, but boy, is he ever in way over his head".
In short, Ed Stelmach is Harry Strom, and it's not a stretch to think that Smith could be Peter Lougheed for the 21st Century. (note to WRA: I know you guys aren't big on royalties, but I demand royalties on that line should you use it!)
Step 3: Get former PC and now independent MLA Guy Boutillier to join their caucus. Just like that, they'd have as many seats as the NDP. [Edited to add: And maybe lure a few disgruntled PCs across the floor too]
Step 4: Build up the party. Fundraising won't be a problem since the money will flow directly from the oil wells to the WRA bank account. But, to be taken seriously, they'll need to marginalize the crazies and put forward a difficult to demonize platform. They'll need to recruit and nominate capable candidates well before the next election. And they'll need to build up a membership and volunteer base.
Do that, and the 2012 election could be interesting. PC minority? Wild Rose minority? Hell, with the WRA siphoning off PC votes on the right, the stage could be set for a Liberal minority. At the very least, Alberta politics just got interesting.
Now, at this point, I should probably back up. Because, after all, this is all based on one by election. And by elections are weird animals. Hell, the Liberals stunned the world by winning Ralph Klein's old seat in Calgary Elbow in 2007 and, a year later, Ed Stelmach stunned the world by winning a Klein-esque 72 seats - including the aforementioned Elbow. But look closely at what actually happened in Elbow:
PCs: 52% to 38% (-2,951 votes)
Liberals: 37% to 46% (-133 votes)
In short, PC voters stayed home. And when I extrapolated those results city-wide, it only left the Liberals with between 8-15 seats in Calgary (out of 22) - hardly, enough for them to form government given Alberta heavily skewed rural map.
So now, let's look at what happened in Glenmore:
PCs: 51% to 26% (-3,573 votes)
Liberals: 33% to 34% (-437 votes)
Wild Rose: 8% to 37% (+3,027 votes)
This wasn't just a case of half the PC vote staying home...they switched. And considering the 2008 Glenmore results were fairly close to the province-wide numbers, you don't need fivethirtyeight to tell you what happens if you extrapolate them province wide.
When you consider this, the comparison to Elbow becomes almost laughable.
Yes, Glenmore might be a blip, like when Albertans elected a western separatist in a 1982 by election. But the PCs had some brutal by-election results in the lead-up to their 1993 "close call", just as the SoCreds did in the lead up to their 1971 wipe-out. Sure, that canary may have died of natural causes, but the PCs have got to be worried. Or, at the very least, they should be.
So, having mapped out the road ahead for the upstart Wild Rosers, what does last night mean for the Liberals and PCs?
Well, for the Liberals, there's good news and bad news. The bad news is they're stuck in neutral. The good news is the PCs are going in reverse. If there's a party capable of stealing 20-30% of the PC vote on the right, suddenly a lot of urban seats are in play for the Liberals. And suddenly, you can win a minority government with 30 seats. There's a lot of work to do, but a strong Wild Rose Alliance is good news for the Liberals.
For the PCs, the first test will be Ed Stelmach's leadership review. The man still has a 70 seat majority, so it's hard to see him being pushed out - but it now seems likely he'll be humbled. Assuming Ed stays on, the PCs are going to be feeling a lot of pressure to shift to the right. Whether or not that's a good move tactically is debatable, but it's something everyone (especially the ALP) should keep their eyes open for.
I'm not in Alberta anymore so I can't get a sense of what this all means and what the mood on the ground is. For that, you might want to check out the links below. But, from this outsider's perspective, my gut tells me something big happened in Calgary Glenmore last night.