Alberta's wonky election polls aside, rogue Tories are sign of bigger trouble

It is a very odd thing about the Alberta election, Kathleen Petty writes. Jim Prentice's ruling Tories are getting clobbered in opinion polls that no one seems to believe. Still, the signs of something coming apart are not hard to find.

Jim Prentice's PCs are getting clobbered in opinion polls that no one seems to believe

Out standing in a field, Conservative Leader Jim Prentice campaigns for re-election last month. How close a race is it? (Reuters)

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Words to live by in Alberta.

Poll after poll after poll shows Albertans are prepared to jettison Jim Prentice's Conservative government.

Among decided voters, a three-way race emerged shortly after the writ was dropped almost three weeks ago. That was remarkable enough.

Some recent numbers show the PCs are actually trailing the NDP and Wildrose parties. Yet, those same polls also show voters believe the Conservatives will win this election.

So the people being polled don't believe the polls. (Or more likely don't believe their fellow Albertans will have the gumption to walk the walk.)

It's enough to make your head explode.

The lessons of 2012 are recounted ad nauseam. The polling then consistently showed the Tories were about to be turfed, and voter turnout was the highest since 1993.

Yet the Tories won their 12th straight majority. Wildrose Party strategist Vitor Marciano said the late-stage migration three years ago was jaw dropping, with 12-point swings in some places.

"I can't think of a swing that size in the last 48 hours in any other Canadian or American election," he said. "I think it was unprecedented."

The reason for the 180 by voters was blamed on the so-called bozo eruption by then Wildrose candidate Allan Hunsperger.

An old blog by Hunsperger was unearthed in the final days of the campaign in which he condemned gays and lesbians to an "eternal lake of fire."

Then leader Danielle Smith embraced her libertarian instincts rather than her political instincts and defended him, and the rest is not-so-ancient history.

Rogue Tories

Bozo eruptions of that magnitude haven't been a factor in this campaign.

Instead, what political operatives are watching for now are rogue candidates among the PCs.

Former leadership candidate Thomas Lukaszuk broke ranks this week on the two issues Albertans seem especially ticked-off about: taxes going up for pretty much everybody except corporations and an early election no one but the Prentice team wanted.

Lukaszuk is now equally irritated. He's calling for a small hike in corporate taxes and wants fixed-date election legislation honoured.

By way of explanation, the Tory incumbent for the riding of Edmonton-Castle Downs offered the obvious: "My number one team is team Castle Downs."

It was mostly the Jim Prentice-Rachel Notley show in the leaders' debate last week as the Conservative and NDP leaders squared off. (The Canadian Press)

Safe to assume, Lukaszuk isn't the only PC candidate getting an earful in his or her riding.

If, in the days ahead, you see more freelancing Tories that will be the surest sign yet the public polls aren't all that different from the internal party ones.

A phoney war?

Once upon a time, it all looked easy — too easy. Wildrose was decimated and rudderless, its leadership having crossed the floor en masse to the government benches.

The Liberals were also in disarray and leaderless. The NDP — well, they had a fresh new leader, but this is Alberta and the NDP have never been real contenders.

No problem then. Introduce a budget destined to please no one, call an early election and get back to finishing a 5th decade of uninterrupted power.

So, clearly, things are not going as planned.

The leaders' debate made it plain where the Tories think the threat is coming from.

 NDP Leader Rachel Notley (or "Notchley," as Prentice called her a couple of times) and the premier sucked up most of the oxygen during several heated exchanges.

Liberal Leader David Swann along with Wildrose Leader Brian Jean showed up, but all the action was to Prentice's left.

Ignoring their right flank probably isn't wise, but Alberta's Conservatives have no experience waging a two-front war.

But is it a phoney war?

The signs are all there, but we've seen them before. In 1993, the Tories were in tough against the Liberals who captured 40 per cent of the popular vote and 32 seats in the 83-seat legislature, including every seat in Edmonton.

They formed what still stands as the largest opposition caucus in Alberta history with the exception of 1917.

In 2012, it was Wildrose ready to take on the impregnable Tory dynasty. We know how that turned out.

Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean takes part in the leaders' debate in Edmonton on Thursday. Is he really nipping away at the PC's right flank? (The Canadian Press)

So here we are in 2015.

The PCs are the longest serving government in Canadian history. They are led by a politician generally heralded as a saviour after the dysfunction or scandal associated with his two predecessors.

The mid-campaign polls look dreadful but it's nigh impossible to find anyone who believes them.

Let's give the final word then to someone who can't even vote, one of several elementary students CBC asked to pose a question about the provincial election.

The 10 year old declined. Instead he offered this: "I don't have a question, but I just need to say … if you do the same thing over and over again, it will feel boring and if you do something new, it's fun. So my point is, pick someone new."

Out of the mouth of babes? We will see on May 5.


Kathleen Petty

CBC Calgary's Executive Producer

Kathleen Petty is the one of the founding producers of what is now called CBC News Network. Petty created and produced several shows for the network while also hosting for more than 17 years. In 2006, she moved to radio and hosted the national political affairs program, The House on CBC radio along with national election coverage as well as hosting the local #1 morning show in Ottawa. Since then, Petty has written political analysis for and is now executive producer of CBC News in Calgary.


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