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Entries in opinion (1)


A Thorn among the Rosies

Red Jacket (15x11 watercolours and India Ink)

A straw poll among my extended family suggests the emergent Wildrose party will win by a landslide when Alberta elects a new government in less than two weeks.

I was in Alberta for a funeral and as a Winnipegger who long ago married an Alberta girl, I thought about how often I've made that westward trek from Manitoba and how Alberta has always seemed a welcoming and perplexing place, at once both strongly kindred and strangely foreign.

Opinion polls suggest Premier Alison Redford's Tories are about to take a whuppin' at the hands of a surging Wildrose party: a political force with serious backers and serious money, led by my former journalistic compatriot Danielle Smith.

Change in the air

The Tories were some 10 to 13 percentage points behind the Rosies in popular support at the Easter break, though that gap appears to have tightened in the time left before the April 23 vote.

And so I asked my salt-of-the-earth Alberta relatives, farmers, entrepreneurs, business-folk all -- those who made up a big chunk of the 420 in the little church in Duchess -- to predict the election outcome.

Unless they change their God-loving minds between now and then, I venture a good 90 per cent of my in-laws in Medicine Hat, Brooks, Calgary and all the way up to Vegreville and Leduc will cast their lot with Wildrose.

The feel of a quite-revolutionary change is in the air.

"The NDP infiltrated the Conservative party, buying up memberships and the like," one of my nephews whispered, implying Redford's Tories have become too socialist-red for their britches and the people's voice is echoed in the neo-conservative, libertarian, freedom-loving Rosies.

Others in my family of election prognosticators said the PCs have simply been in power too long. With that comes the odour of cronyism, wild spending of taxpayers' money and legislation in areas where the government has no place.

Several of my Alberta family said they like the Wildrose idea of being able to recall malfeasant MLAs and have citizen referendums on important issues.

A fart in the perfumery

Proof of the profligacy and arrogance of Alberta's political elite was the pre-election news MLAs collected thousands of dollars for sitting on a legislative committee that had not met since 2008. This transgression came up often, and people's noses curled as they spoke of it, as if they had just sniffed a fart in a perfume factory.

It seemed a bit odd none of my relatives had raised their voice in protest of these things before now. At the same time, no one expressed fear over the future of medicare or threats to the Canada Health Act and whether their arthritic bones would be properly looked after if Wildrose wins.

"I haven't heard that," said the nephew. It seems Albertans don't worry about the same kinds of things we do in deficit-addled Manitoba. They have a deficit, too, but they will deal with it by 2013.

At one level, Alberta is unlike any other province in Canada. When it comes to politics, even Quebec, I dare say, has more in common with the rest of Canada than Alberta.

Because Alberta, at least in modern history, has been a political monolith. One voice, the Progressive Conservative party, has dominated since 1971.

Except from her infant crib, Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith, born in 1971, has never seen anything other than a PC government in Alberta. Now she has a chance to install something other.

Cool Libertarian

A poverty of vigorous public-policy options in Alberta is something I know Danielle has long lamented. We had many discussions about the events that shape our nation and our world when she and I worked together in Calgary to make the national current-affairs TV program Global Sunday.

Danielle lives and breathes public policy. She is cool under pressure. She is a fiscal hawk but socially progressive. She is interested in good ideas.

She is honest and reliable.

Danielle also leans toward the libertarian view that with personal freedom comes individual responsibility. Everything she has done in her life has led to this moment as the political momentum tilts toward change. Alberta politics suddenly resonates with potential impact for all of us, even here in Manitoba.

Public discourse in Alberta is no longer boring and predictable. It is unpredictable and fascinating.

(A version of this was published in The Winnipeg Free Press on April 12, 2012). 5CAH63JZR7XE

(Top: Red Jacket: 16 x12 watercolours and India ink on Cold Press paper)