Nobody said politics made too much sense. Sometimes it’s downright weird.
OK, so Jason Kenney gets 51.4 per cent party support in a leadership review last May and subsequently steps down as Alberta premier. Five months later, Danielle Smith scores 53.7 per cent backing by the same party and happily replaces him.
It’s all a matter of timing and momentum, of course. But, aside from the vastly different outcomes of those two votes, it must worry the United Conservative Party that such obvious division among its members hasn’t budged much.
So, given the close result on Thursday night, it wasn’t surprising that Smith (who managed a political resurrection Lazarus himself would have envied), was brandishing olive branches with so much vigour even that famous dove returning to Noah’s Arc would be outshone.
Heck, other than breaking into French, it’s difficult to imagine how much further she could have gone in trying to reassure everyone, everywhere, she’s no wild-eyed separatist, intent on demanding a UN seat for Wild Rose land.
But, healing wounds within the party, the Tory supporters and (most importantly, the Alberta electorate), will require more than soothing words and gushing tributes to those half-dozen defeated rivals for that premier’s job.
Still, it was telling there was no mention that night of hot-button issues such as moving to a provincial police force, replacing the Canada Pension Plan with an Alberta alternative, or that red-meat promise to thwart Ottawa on its buy-back scheme for banned rifles.
Let’s face it. Any new leader only has so much political capital to spend and, given Smith’s infamous double-cross of the Wildrose Party in switching to the PCs almost eight years ago, her store is wafer thin. So, tilting at windmills that the majority of Albertans give less than two figs about would hand the May 2023 election to Rachel Notley and her determined Dippers.
The problem remains, however, that some of Smith’s most ardent party supporters care much about those issues, seeing in them a chance to rid the province of anything smelling of Ottawa, no matter how few regular folk care. Symbolism can override sense when there’s enough hot blood flowing through the body politic.
Of course, for most people, the true issues are obvious. Heck, we face them every day: sky-high inflation in the aftermath of a two-year pandemic, one which further burdened an already creaking health-care system, caused untold harm to our kids’ education and exacerbated a host of social ills, from depression to substance abuse to abject loneliness.
Surely that’s enough for any new premier to get on with? And, we actually have resources to tackle such problems, courtesy of the rise in energy prices and the almost unnoticed amount of new investment currently pouring into Alberta. Play it smart and play it right and Smith would get the mandate she desires so much.
Ah, but these days things are not so simple. Virtue signalling cuts both ways and those backing her ascendancy will just as enthusiastically engineer her fall, if it appears she’s again (in their eyes, at least) engaging in political backstabbing.
So, does our new premier dance with those who brought her to this legislative shin-dig, or pivot and concentrate on the issues important to those folk who generally lean Tory – there are lots of them in Alberta, for sure – but have better things to do with their time than joining a political party?
We shall see. While politics rarely makes sense it does occasionally provide a fascinating glimpse into human nature.
Pass the popcorn: the next eight months will be wild.