Progressive Conservative leader Alison Redford during the Leader's Debate at Global Studios in Edmonton on Thursday, April 12, 2012.
Credits: CODIE MCLACHLAN/QMI AGENCY
The federal Conservatives used to be called the Progressive Conservatives. Not anymore - they legally changed their name to the Conservatives. It's more accurate.
In the remaining eight days that the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta will exist, let us be equally accurate, and call them just the Progressives. It's more accurate that way, too.
Under their liberal leader, Alison Redford, the Progressives have tried something new this election. They've run against Alberta.
That has worked for political leaders before. But they've usually been federal Liberals running against those scary western rednecks. It was safe for Jean Chretien and Paul Martin to run against Alberta when they knew they wouldn't get seats in the province anyway. It's novel for an Alberta politician to do the same.
For example, Redford says she is "frightened" by the Wildrose view on conscience rights. Redford says voting for the Wildrose would be a "stumble backward" to a less-tolerant society where not everyone is "included and respected."
Redford never quite speaks clearly - she prefers a fuzzy language of legalese and buzzwords, a tic she picked up in her years working for the United Nations. But her campaign surrogates fill in the blanks. Tom Olsen, a Progressive spokesman, warns that voting for the Wildrose will lead to a province-wide "bloodletting." Seriously, he says that.
Susan Elliott, the Progressive campaign manager, suggests there is a blacklist of "targets" for citizen-initiated referendums, part of the Wildrose plan.
"Ethnic minorities are targets. Gays and lesbians are targets." Seriously, she says that.
Elliott says that Danielle Smith, the leader of the Wildrose - a 41-year-old, modern woman - represents the "party of the middle-aged male."
But the Progressives aren't just using this "insult" against Wildrose. They're using it against their own party, too. The Progressives are running newspaper ads showing a greasy 1950s-era man wearing horn-rimmed glasses, with the slogan, "Not your father's PC party." They are running against middle Alberta - the people who gave them majority governments in every election since 1971. Olsen makes the ultimate insult: He says Wildrose is "being run by Reformers." He mocks Wildrose for receiving the endorsement of Deborah Grey, the first Reform MP elected back in 1989. Olsen says Albertans "don't want to go back" in time.
We've seen this campaign before. It's what the Toronto and Montreal-based Liberal Party ran against Preston Manning, then Stockwell Day, then Stephen Harper. It's smears and fear-mongering and accusations of bigoted secret agendas. It works well out east - it wasn't until just last year that the Conservatives finally won seats in Toronto. But it never worked in Alberta. Despite those slanders, Reform always won nearly every seat.
It's a smart approach for federal Liberals who purposefully write off Alberta. But it's suicide for an Alberta party. The Toronto Globe and Mail's endorsement won't pay off in Calgary or Fort McMurray.
Perhaps Redford thinks her personal appeal is strong. Maybe she thinks her choice of party colours - NDP orange - is better than old Tory blue. But she is not well known - she spent much of her adult life out of the country working for the UN and other organizations, and even applied to become a citizen of South Africa. She squeaked into her own riding with just 42% of the vote. You'd think someone like that wouldn't take potshots at the federal Conservatives, who won 67% of Alberta's vote.
The campaign isn't over yet. But Redford's debate performance was a dud, and the polls put her at least 10 points behind. The 41-year winning streak of the Alberta PCs is about to come to an end. They're about to be beaten by a conservative party called Wildrose. But equally to blame are the leftists who ran the Progressive campaign, and thought calling Albertans bigots would work as well in Calgary as it always did in Toronto.