It may be a clich?, but in the final hours of the Alberta election campaign it bears repeating.
Governments defeat themselves.
Sometimes it takes a while – in Alberta’s case that would be 44 years – but if the Progressive Conservatives under Jim Prentice were to lose Tuesday’s election, they will have shot themselves.
Prentice would forever wear the historical stain on his lapel as the man who fumbled a dynasty, but the current leader is also wearing the stain of the previous four tumultuous years of a dynasty trying futilely to reinvent itself.
NDP Leader Rachel Notley, should she win, will forever be known as the giant-slayer, the woman who made the improbable breakthrough in solid blue Alberta, but she is really benefiting from being in the right place at the right time.
The province votes Tuesday in the midst of contradictions – polls consistently show Notley with a huge lead, but virtually no one, at least none who spoke to the Star during a week in Calgary, believe she will unseat the PCs.
Anyone surmising there are suddenly deep NDP roots in this province may want to take a breath and look at Notley as a convenient vessel for discontent, a woman who looks young, fresh and authentic compared to the buttoned-down PC regime, a woman who has avoided close scrutiny because this vote has become a referendum on Prentice and the constant state of flux of the dominant party in recent years.
Notley reminds voters of the “never-ending circus,” of the Alberta government, which has had four premiers in four years. Wildrose Leader Brian Jean calls its “stench and rot.”
Prentice is rightly disappointing supporters with his tentative, deer-in-the-headlights style of campaigning, but he is also paying for Alison Redford’s profligate spending, as if she had inherited a monarchy instead of a government.
He is paying for the caucus unrest and the fundraising problems Redford left behind.
He is paying for the huge hole blown in revenues by plummeting oil prices and he is paying for a sense of entitlement in his party that comes from decades in power, not something that necessarily sprouted under his leadership.
An Ipsos-Reid study identified anger with the PC budget, the way Prentice and Redford “ran the province,” the winter floor-crossing orchestrated by the PCs and the Wildrose and the subsequent treatment of the Wildrose floor-crossers as major factors hurting Prentice.
Those numbers indicate Notley is being propelled by anti-PC anger more than her own merits, but the numbers should also be viewed skeptically because only those who are already fed up with the government are likely to respond.
There were 761 respondents, but only 301 of them were conducted over the phone, 20 per cent by cellphone. The remainder, 460, were part of the polling company’s panel.
Prentice backers believe polling in this province is over representing those who are angry with the PCs, but you don’t need to read polls to know the party is spooked, you need only watch Prentice and his surrogates.
They are playing the only card left to them. Fear of the unknown.
The Alberta business community, including some of the most deep-pocketed PC donors, have popped up to warn that a Notley government would stall pipelines and drive jobs out of the province.
(Five business leaders who went public in Edmonton have, according to the NDP, collectively donated almost $87,000 to the PCs over the past five years).
Prentice has invoked the name of Tom Mulcair, claiming he is scripting Notley’s pipeline policy, federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose told reporters it would be “a risky experiment” to hand Canada’s economic engine to the NDP, party strategists remind reporters about NDP governments in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, even Ontario.
It has worked before when the threat came from the right. It may work again. Change is scary, dynasties may be maddening, but they have the feel of a comfortable couch.
So, on this day, we’ll leave the punditry to Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, the man whose 2010 election victory alerted the country to Alberta’s demographic shift.
After meeting them last week, Nenshi declared Notley was not scary and Jean was not robotic.
Government stability as a marketing tool works better in China than Alberta, said Nenshi, who is slightly younger than the PC dynasty. Nevertheless, he predicted a PC minority. But he told Albertans not to fear change.
After 44 years, even a minority would be seismic.
Tim Harper is a national affairs writer. His column appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. email@example.com Twitter:@nutgraf1
Copyright 2015 Torstar Syndication Services