Though the voices are in a tiny minority, they are already becoming annoying.
Led by Danielle Smith and some other now homeless political types who found themselves politically homeless due to latching their careers to the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta, this small chorus is trying to convince people that the Wildrose Party must merge with the dying PC party to stop this perceived split in the right. I guess that laying your own political downfall at the feet of an imaginary ideological split among the province is easier on a person than accepting that one’s own political instinct was crap. It is weak rationalizing and it simply doesn’t add up.
I will lay it out in simple terms as math is hard for some!
Here are the vote gains/losses in this election compared to 2012:
Progressive Conservatives: loss of 154,357
Wildrose Party: loss of 82,224
Liberal Party: loss of 65,455
NDP: gain of 476,387
In 2012 the two parties that some consider to be right wing made up 78% of the vote in Alberta when combined. In 2015 this fell to 52% of the vote.
Let those numbers sink in. There is no split of the perceived right here. This is a collapse in support of the two right of center parties.
The 2015 election was not about right and left. This election was about trust and principles and it was won by populism. The folks foolishly muttering about merging parties had better realize this or we will see an eight year term of the Notley led NDP in Alberta. People don’t want to see a merged party of one ideology or another. They simply want to see a party that they feel they can trust for a change.
I spent about 13 hours per day on one of the campaigns in Calgary for the entire election. Right from the beginning of the campaign, the feedback and feel we were getting was disconcerting to say the least. Folks would call and ask what we were seeing on the ground and the best answer I could give was “it’s really weird out there”.
The anger of the electorate at the doors was palpable. People were outraged with the Prentice PCs and disgusted with his self-serving actions whether from drawing in the Wildrose floor crossers, the wretched budget, the never ending internal scandals or I think most of all an early election call that was clearly only done to serve the party in power. People were making it more than clear that they wanted to punish the Progressive Conservatives and they wanted to do it badly.
This led us to think we should be the clear second choice for people but that wasn’t the case. While people at the doors made it clear that they didn’t want to vote for the PCs, they became quite reticent when we would ask them to support us instead. While they loathed the PC party under Prentice, they were not exactly endeared by the Wildrose Party either. Whether fair or not, we were still suffering under the hangover of the floor crossings and people simply didn’t know the new leader. At best most doors in the early part of the election appeared angry but undecided.
The debate was the turning point. People were waiting to get a clear look at who the alternatives for governing our province really were and they watched the debate closely. The contrast in the debate could not have been more clear between the leaders. Prentice came across as an arrogant weasel. Swann came off as the has been that he is. Jean came across as wooden and repetitive and Notley came across as dynamic, principled and energetic. In that 1.5 hours the minds of the electorate went NDP and it was folks from all sides of the spectrum. Not right or left.
When the election is about trust, it is a clear handicap having a brand new and unknown leader. While people do not dislike the new leader, they are not yet ready to embrace him either. Jean’s opportunity to get to know a large segment of Albertans was in that debate and to be blunt, he blew it catastrophically. Jean had been coached to stick to a simple script and to never deviate. He was coached to dodge specifics on questions by repeating a stock line and he was coached to avoid thinking on his feet. The Wildrose needs to fire that coach!
In watching that debate, even I as a hardcore, partisan Wildroser had to wonder if I could vote for a party led by this robot. One columnist best described Jean’s debate performance as “ghastly” and I think that hits it on the head. Nothing irks me faster than seeing a leader dodge questions. It makes them look untrustworthy and there was no worse time than during that debate to appear so. Even being wrong on a couple specific facts yet appearing sincere and energized would have been better for Jean in that debate.
Policy specifics meant nothing in that debate to voters. People were looking for energy and a sense of sincerity. Notley won it by all accounts.
A silver lining here is that Brian Jean’s debate performance was out of character for him. In following rallies and events Jean showed a fantastic and genuine energy and wit. When seeing Jean at other gatherings, it is tough to imagine that this is the same puppet like fellow that we observed just a few weeks ago at the debate.
Inexperience and a simply harrowing series of events in this last three months really do explain much of Jean’s appearance as a leader in the 2015 election. From a whirlwind leadership race, to the death of his son to the call of the general election Jean simply never got a moment to breath and adjust to these changes. With four years as leader of the opposition Jean now has the time and will have the resources to grow into the role that he has earned. I am confident he will do so and as Albertans get to know him, that trust will grow.
While time and genuine effort will help grow that trust that Jean and the Wildrose need, embracing the remnants of the corrupted and withering PC party through a merger would have the opposite effect. Alberta’s most despised party has now been packaged in a neat 9 seat rump and a growing and invigorated Wildrose Party would be insane to embrace the baggage and mistrust that comes with that party.
Navel gazing about a right wing split will do nothing to displace the NDP government. Notley won on trust and will only lose when a party that has gained trust shows up to challenge her.
Bear this in mind, almost every person who claims that the Wildrose and PC parties must merge now were of the same chorus of people who loudly and confidently declared the Wildrose Party as being dead last December.
Sort of says worlds about their political instincts doesn’t it?