Ba-a-a-attle for the Alberta voter

The early days of the Alberta election showcase the Wildrose tacticians at their best


Photo from

To kick off the Alberta election, here’s Danielle Smith with some sheep, as featured on This should not be taken as some sort of sly joke about voters, either on her part or on mine. It’s an excellent photo-op, and will be all over the news this morning; it is literally irresistible. In general, the early days of the campaign have me formidably impressed with the Wildrose tacticians. I imagine, if only because I’m used to pretty slapstick Alberta oppositions, that some snickering comic-book brain-thing in a jar is using servomotor arms to thrust and slam the levers of a great machine. But it’s probably nothing as romantic as all that; just Tom Flanagan dashing off a few memos.

Why is Danielle Smith messing about with mutton? What you notice instantly is that it is hard to the imagine the austere, intellectual lawyer Alison Redford mucking about amidst the sheepdip and talking country with mustachioed gentlemen in overalls. I might be wrong; I expect she’ll give it a go. But Smith just looks more comfortable in this setting than one can easily imagine Redford being. She’s having fun. Does Premier Redford ever have fun? I suspect her idea of fun is a lot like mine: locking the door and settling in with Grotius’s Mare Liberum or Mao’s Great Famine or something.

Redford’s team can’t allow the election to be defined by this sort of thing. The winning ground for the premier to fight on is accomplishment, not personality. Danielle Smith has been a newspaper columnist. She sat on a school board for a bit. Alison Redford helped bring democracy to South Africa and the Balkans. Honestly, which one are you going to trust with the top job, given only that information?

But an election is not an LSAT test, and Redford’s first months in office have not been auspicious. She won her party’s leadership, as Ralph Klein did in 1992, on a challenge to the torpid old guard; once in office, she kept the old boys (and purged the women). She offended core Conservative constituencies with early initiatives: roadside trials for not-really-drunk drivers, controversial intrusions into home schools, slipperiness on “fixed” election dates and on a promised judicial inquiry into government intimidation of physicians. In a time of austerity she passed a budget with a 3% spending increase—with a massive 11th-hour bribe to doctors made too late to be counted.

Some of this is politics as usual in Alberta, especially that last one. But even the most adamantine cynicism must recoil at the gag law which prevents Elections Alberta from disclosing the outcomes into its investigations of illegal donations to the Progressive Conservative party and its constituency associations. As Smith explained in a press release that got swamped by the election call, the former CEO of Elections Alberta had recommended that such investigations “shall be conducted in private”. In the eventual text of the election law (passed when Redford was justice minister), this maxim became a permanent oath of silence: Elections Alberta officials can never publicly identify guilty individuals, corporations, or political parties.

This has led us to the bizarre spectacle of corrupt politicians and institutions being “censured” in secret—and if a secret censure sounds like a contradiction to you, that’s because it is one. (Does someone get yelled at in a locked room? What does this even mean?) Redford now says, in the face of this absurdity, that the secrecy is intended to prevent a “McCarthyism approach” to investigations of illegal kickbacks. You’ll recall, though Alberta’s educated premier doesn’t, that McCarthyism targeted people for their ideas—not, say, for skimming money for partisan purposes from schoolchildren and the disabled. When Danielle Smith is done frolicking with biblical mammals, she may move on fairly briskly to challenging Redford’s ethical standards, and that could be promising ground to fight on, too.

* * *

Distribution of Alberta voting power, 2006 & 2010As a sort of postscript, the Conservatives do deserve credit for upholding transparency and justice in one matter: the late re-drafting of electoral boundaries, completed in 2010. By 2006, the effort to keep roughly equal population sizes in each Alberta constituency had fallen apart; the histogram at left here illustrates this nicely, with its strong resemblance to a bombed-out skyscraper. Ridings are plotted on the diagram according to the influence or “power” of each eligible voter in them, with the provincial average defined as 100. As you can hopefully reckon for yourself, some voters in the 2008 election were literally twice as influential as others: there were almost 40,000 voters in Calgary-North West but fewer than 20,000 in Drayton Valley-Calmar. Only half the ridings were within 10% of the overall average population.

After redistricting, the vote power is bunched within much tighter limits: half the ridings are now within 6% of the average population, and no riding is twice as populous as any other. The mathemagical skyscraper stands tall and proud on a narrow base, as justice and the country’s sacred Charter of Rights demand. (Nerd note: by the Gini coefficient, a measure of inequality usually used in discussions of income, the overall “inequality” of Alberta voting power moved from 0.1 to 0.05, where perfect equality would be zero.)

By a comic twist of fate, past inequalities in riding populations worked in favour of the Conservatives; the map is always evolving more slowly than population is changing, so the Alberta PCs (and the Socreds before them) benefited from relative strength in depleting rural areas, just as the federal Liberals long profited from their largesse to parts of Canada that were emptying out. Fairness has now given Edmonton one new seat and Calgary two in the legislature—and this happens just as the PCs have chosen an urbane, liberal leader, one who will claim many votes from tribal large-L Liberals in both cities.

The Wildrose Party, for its part, is strongest in some of the rural southern patches most favoured under the old distribution of power, but reduced to relative equality under the new. Maybe Miss Smith should switch from lambs to urban chickens.


Ba-a-a-attle for the Alberta voter

  1. Secret censure is witless and meant to protect pols from their actions. Canada is a banana republic in many, many ways. We have good democratic institutions but our pols/bureaucrats behave like fools and knaves. 

  2. Colby, we’re all waiting for the first “Myron Thompson moment’ of the campaign. And now we have twice the chance of comedy gold. This could be fun. maybe the Liberals will surface long enough to get some laughs, too.

    • Umm, we’ve been laughing at the Liberals for years here.

  3. I was wondering why something described as a roadside trial without proper oversight wouldn’t appeal to the law and order side of Conservatism.  Then I realized it’s messing with the drunkard vote.

    • Extra-judicaial punishment has nothing to do with law and order. That would be a police state you are thinking of, and yes, we all see it’s allure for you.

  4. something, something, something until the cows come home.

  5. Danielle Smith is a very good communicator and is very polished in public appearnces.  Unfortunately, her ideas are about 50 years behind the times.

    • Which ideas?

    • How is that, which ideas?

    • I agree. Personal responsibility and keeping your own money is so passe.

      • I don’t think a “personal responsibility” campaign would go over too well with the Wild Rose base.

        • Then you don`t know the Wild Rose base.

          •   I wasn’t referring to their strongly held conviction that other people be held responsible.

  6. Funny no mention of the “pay for nothing” committee, which is the Tory imbroglio proving to have the longest legs.  Though members of every party got the money, the opposition MLAs have either paid it back or, in the case of the NDPer, reflected the mindset of her public sector union supporters in wondering what all the fuss about getting paid to do nothing is about. 

    As damaging as the public contempt for the politicos involved has been, an equal amount will probably occur as a result of the internal rift within the PC party that has formed.  For e.g. the chair of the committee obviously didn’t take kindly to Redford’s gentle persuasion he should pay it all back and abruptly announced he wasn’t going to to run again.  Displaying the sharp political acumen she’s increasingly becoming known for, Redford and her team selected a local mayor to run for the Tories in his stead.  One minor problem – he’s one of the municipal guys apparently caught up in the “illegal kickback” scandal!  Suffice it to say, I don’t like his chances.

    Also curious was that you failed to reference the opening election salvo from the human rights behemoth who “…helped bring democracy to South Africa and the Balkans” was to critically invoke the Ontario CA “prostitution” decision in an attempt to paint Smith as being to the left of her on social issues.  Good luck with that.  The Ontario decision must surely have been the first Charter-driven attempt at social engineering Redford DIDN’T like.

  7. The PC’s under Redford are conservative only in name. The lack of a credible conservative alternative has resulted in their continuous leftward drift and now sees them teetering on the edge of collapse.
    The rural seats will be a landslide for the Wildrose and Calgary is rapidly following the same trend.
    I wouldn’t be surprised to see Redford spending the bulk of the campaign in Edmonton in an attempt to shore up her slight lead there and to make a push to rally the left leaning vote to the PC banner.
    I can see a slim majority government for the Wildrose if current trends continue.

  8. Parties that are in power for a long time are always infiltrated by the opposition.  The Tories in Alberta are no different.  They have been infiltrated by people like Redford who are conservative in name only.

    I can’t wait to see them outflanked on the right by a true conservative party.

    • The party of Peter Lougheed has been infiltrated by, hmm, Red Tories.  Honestly, Peter Lougheed and even Preston Manning are too moderate for so called true conservatives.

  9. An “austere, intellectual lawyer”?   Oh, come on.  Redford has a law degree from Saskatchewan and some years in various international bureacracies.  That doesn’t make her Alexander bloody Kojeve.

    Is “intellectual’ here a backhanded smear for the benefit of Alberta voters?  Subtle.

  10. Note: “LSAT test” is like “PIN number”.  You’re better than that.

  11. Poor sheep looks terrified. They say animal have a sixths sense…