Wildrose Byelection Post-Mortem: They're Dead, Jim?

Four by-elections, four wins for Alberta’s Natural Governing Party™, the Progressive Conservatives.

And most of the post-mortem chatter has been about the Wildrose party.

Going in, the consensus was the Official Opposition party stood to win one, maybe two of the four seats up for grabs.  They were in tough against former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel in Edmonton-Whitemud (Mandel, with no experience in the field, is now officially our Health Minister. Good Lord…), and stood little chance of winning in Calgary-Foothills against the new, now-elected Premier Jim Prentice.

So that left Calgary-West and Calgary-Elbow up for grabs.  Both went to the PCs, with the Wildrose actually placing third in Calgary-Elbow, behind PC Gordon Dirks and Greg Clark, the leader of the upstart Alberta Party.

So what happened?

Calgary-Elbow was where the focus was.  Alison Redford’s old riding was supposed to be ground zero for the anti-PC backlash, the place where Albertans would show their disgust of the endless newspaper stories of corruption.  It was the place where Albertans were supposed to ‘send the PC’s a message’.

Voters did send a message: they are once again willing to buy into a PC rebirth. 

In all four battles, Alberta voters indicated not only were they going to give the Jim Prentice era a shot, they also told the Wildrose their message had failed.

It’s not a question of the Wildrose policies being ‘too far-right’.  The only folks still singing that tune are either radical, far-left progressives who purposefully perpetuate the false narrative, or people who aren’t informed. 

The reality is, on top of swirling stories of malfunctioning constituency associations and allegations of top-down party management including hand-picked candidates for the next provincial election, the Wildrose party caused a bit of internal strife when they re-imagined their policy platform at the last AGM.  Long-time members warned that the problem from the last election wasn’t the policies themselves, but the failure of the party to properly explain them to the voting public. 

Opponents, especially the PC’s, grabbed that failure and framed the Wildrose policies themselves.  The policies weren’t the problem, the failure to communicate them was.  When the Wildrose decided to ‘soften’ their platform (see: move to the middle), they become almost indistinguishable from the governing Progressive Conservatives. 

Many voters yesterday went into the voting booth with one choice to make: the policies are similar.  Do I go with experience or with the rookies?  Albertans chose the Devil they know.  (Note to Alberta Party fans: revel in your surprise second-place showing in Calgary-Elbow.  The concerted effort showed in the numbers – but remember that elsewhere, the AP barely registered a blip.)

So now the Wildrose finds itself in a quandary.  If they stay where they are, they will be seen as PC-lite.  If they shuffle a bit back to the right, they will only add fuel to the narrative fire. 

What do they do?  Danielle Smith is likable and qualified.  The problem really isn’t with her, but those around her who guide the steering of the Wildrose ship.  The ‘brass’, as it were. 

The feeling might be that Smith has taken the Wildrose as far as she can take them, but who is there to replace her?  A current MLA?  A ‘big name’ from outside a la Jim Prentice? 

It’s wise to remember that if these 4 constituencies were in rural areas as opposed to urban, the results could have been significantly different and we’d all be talking about the Wildrose as the legitimate ‘government-in-waiting’.   But they weren’t.  And that is another problem.

The Wildrose is having all kinds of difficulty penetrating the Big City Fortresses.  Certainly more popular in Calgary than Edmonton, if the Wildrose is going to succeed they will have to find a way to lure the urban vote.  If they can’t do that with Smith, it’s hard to imagine who could.

When it comes to the Wildrose, change is now inevitable.  The only question is what form that change will take.

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