Sex and booze took the 2012 Alberta election spotlight this week alongside visceral anger over MLA compensation and the "money for nothing" committee.
The first issue thrust into the election debate was the Ontario Court of Appeal decision challenging the constitutionality of Canadian laws against prostitution.
Given Alison Redford’s background as a lawyer who worked on Parliament Hill, as well as her stint as Alberta Justice Minister, this is an issue she should have "hit out of the park." Drawing upon Danielle Smith’s musings as a Calgary Herald columnist in 2003 suggesting legalization of prostitution is worth examining, the prostitution issue seemed a perfect one on which the PCs could score some early points.
Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid was one of the first people to rush to Smith’s defense. In what has become an unapologetically pro Wildrose column, her former colleague said, "That’s the problem with being a columnist, of course - every stupid damn thing you ever said is forever available." Don should know that if anyone does.
An interesting observation was made by Calgary Grit Blogspot:
"This won't be the last time an old article of Smith's is going to surface - especially if her poll numbers hold. As Michael Ignatieff learned . . . . thoughtful writings get distilled down to damaging sound bites during political campaigns. The difference, I think, is that Smith appears to be a far more talented politician than Ignatieff, so she'll stand a better chance at fending off these attacks."
Redford has tried to cast the prostitution issue as illustrative of Smith’s unbridled individualism, contrasting it with Redford’s concern about upholding community values and safe communities. But is it really about that, or is this just another skirmish in the battle of the sexes?
No matter how much preparation goes into campaign strategy, the electoral battlefield constantly changes. In this case, the attack by Redford on Smith (dredging up her words from 2003) didn’t land a damaging blow. Why?
PC strategists failed to anticipate two things:
Public opinion on legalizing (or at least decriminalizing) prostitution is split in Alberta, with more men (62%) opting for decriminalization than women (40%). (Source: Angus Reid. http://www.jenkinsresearch.ca/library/Jenkins-2010-IssueReview-Prostitution.pdf )
This split is therefore likely to play into the established gender gap, resulting in a strong lead for the PCs among women and a strong lead among men for Wildrose.
Furthermore, four polls were released reflecting political sentiment just prior to the writ being dropped, showing Wildrose in a virtual tie with the PCs across the province and ahead in Calgary. Any single issue, even one as politically explosive as prostitution, was going to be overshadowed by new numbers indicating a potential photo finish on April 23rd.
In fact, most of the blows the Tories have been dealing with, reflected by the latest polls, are self inflicted.
I liken it to trimming your toenails with a howitzer.
The list is long: .05 legislation, six figure MLA severances, changes to the Education Act, even the whitewashing of the Transmission line issue (which will appear on the election radar soon, feeding into fears by rural landowners of government seizures of land). And at the top of that list is the "money for nothing" committee, which took on mythic proportions as an example of PC entitlement and arrogance.
Alison Redford’s dramatic "mea culpa", requiring all money to be re-paid by Tory MLAs, may have finally turned the page on that potentially mortal wound for the PCs. But only time will tell if Redford can pull a page out of the Klein playbook and make it work.
She has shown decisiveness in dealing with MLA compensation, even if it is a bit late. But that same single minded attitude also led to a hasty decision on another potential vote loser: .05 legislation, which she announced shortly after winning the PC leadership.
The .05 legislation is a perfect example of an issue that will exacerbate the widening gender gap. Hoisted upon caucus with no public or internal consultation, the issue is a no-win scenario for Tories among their traditional rural base. Reputedly, a former senior Minister from a rural riding in Alberta literally begged Alison Redford not to enact the .05 legislation, because he saw what a potent weapon it would in the hands of the Wildrose to target men in rural ridings.
Sex and booze. All we need is rock and roll.