Mudslinging: Alberta’s latest growth industry

The dearth of attack ads in recent Alberta politics is testimony to its one-party nature


Behold: the first-ever extramural attack ad from an Alberta Conservative government. Don Braid says it’s the first, anyway, and if I didn’t know whether it was the first, he might be the person I’d ask.

Maybe it goes without saying, but the dearth of attack ads in recent Alberta politics is not special testimony to the politeness of those politics. It’s testimony to Alberta’s one-party nature. The Conservatives took over from Social Credit in 1971, in a youth-driven power shift: Peter Lougheed, in pushing aside a government that had delivered prosperity but was increasingly behind the times socially, was so civil and restrained and all-around decent about it that the whupped Socreds practically said “Please, sir, may I have another?” The federal Liberals and the radical ’70s NDP obligingly kept Lougheed in power for another decade and a half, and as Braid notes, the premier never so much as referred to the existence of other parties. Why would it have been in his interest to do so?

But even after Lougheed left the scene, the Tories didn’t turn to attack ads—not even in the 1993 election, when they were in a lot more trouble than they objectively seem to be in now. So why are Alison Redford and her team going nuclear in 2012, even if it’s only battlefield-nuclear? Certainly negative advertising is a more appropriate strategy, and a greater temptation, when you need to emphasize the distinctions between yourself and a rival party that’s culturally and ideologically similar to yours. But Conservative strategists might also be aware of gremlins hiding behind the very favourable top-line polling data. (These data have held steady, even in the face of fairly firm evidence of pervasive corruption and illegality on the part of PC MLAs.)

In fact, their fear doesn’t have to be data-driven. (They’re not much of a data-driven party, compared to the federal Tories and their robodialing quant monsters.) They might just be afraid of what will happen when Alison Redford gets on a stage with Danielle Smith and has to start answering direct questions about her flip-flops and her party’s prior record. The natural defence is a “safe hands” strategy that emphasizes the value of experience and continuity. And Redford doesn’t really have much choice, having kept around every Stelmach power broker who didn’t flee her caucus for the safety and comfort of a Unabomber cabin.

The anti-Wildrose radio ad is a “safe hands” ad. Like most such ads, it insults the listener’s intelligence all but openly. “Premier Alison Redford is making our streets safer by getting tougher on impaired drivers,” it declares right out of the gate. In fact, the point of Redford’s drunk-driving law, Bill 26, is to allow the police to slap existing on-the-spot administrative penalties onto drivers with a .05 blood-alcohol level—drivers who aren’t impaired by the Criminal Code definition (.08) and who are only questionably impaired by a common-sense one. Meanwhile, the Wildrose response has been to oppose turning cops into roadside judges, while explicitly favouring “stiffer sanctions for convicted impaired drivers.”

The comic aspect of this is that the scientific evidence, on balance, supports the idea that quickie nuisance penalties for drivers in the .05-.08 range may help reduce the numbers of people on the road driving at above .08. This is an indirect approach to the core problem of drunk driving—a case where illiberal sanctions against innocent driver X do appear, in studies from several countries, to have the effect of discouraging dangerous and culpable driver Y. This, I hasten to add, does not necessarily make it proper to punish X. (We could reduce drunk-driving deaths to pretty near zero by the simple expedient of outlawing the internal combustion engine.)

Nonetheless, the PCs do have an empirical case that Bill 26 will make the roads safer. (The main problem with their evidence is that interventions involving a lower blood-alcohol limit are usually conjoined with publicity drives against drunk driving. So when the lower limits succeed, it is hard to be certain that they’re responsible for the observed road-safety improvements.) Alberta’s electorate, ideally, would be left to weigh the possible safety gains intelligently against the chisel-like impact on civil liberties.

The Tories have instead revealed their colours by making a Toewsian argument that opponents are standing with drunken murderers; by misdirecting less-informed voters about who Bill 26 is “getting tougher” on; and by waving a bloody shirt, happily supplied by Robert Remington, that adds up all of those killed in accidents involving sub-impaired drivers and assumes that none of those accidents would have happened without the presence of booze. Sorry, folks. It’s going to be that kind of election.


Mudslinging: Alberta’s latest growth industry

  1. “…waving a bloody shirt, happily supplied by Robert Remington, that adds up all of those killed in accidents involving sub-impaired drivers and assumes that none of those accidents would have happened without the presence of booze”

    You’re usually pretty diligent with these sorts of things – what would be the figure for fatal traffic accidents during the same period that DID happen without the presence of booze, i.e. the “300 dead” figure loses much of its forcefulness if, in contrast, (say) 3,000 fatalities were caused during the same period by drivers who hadn’t drank a drop.

    • In the words favoured by the greatest of Herald greats: no matter how thin you slice it, it’s still baloney.

      • How Yedlin keeps the pounds off.

      • What is your opinion of the zero alcohol tolerance for the graduated drivers license?  Maybe we should have zero tolerance for alcohol for all licenses…drivers just don’t imbibe if they want to drive.

        • Easy. Anything with the words “zero tolerance” anywhere near it is inherently stupid.

  2. They might wish to take a look at how well this worked in B.C.   The number of deaths involving drunk-driving were down something like 40% after a year.  But civil liberties prevailed and cops cannot be an on-the-spot judge.  Now the lawyers are sooooooo happy – cha-ching!!!!  This has been a “Drunk Driving Lawyers” creep over the years, as now they challenge everything, equipment failure, due process, etc. 
    “B.C.’s new drunk driving law stuck in limbo”

  3. “their fear doesn’t have to be data-driven” – compare the number of Albertans that voted in the last (Redford) leadership race with the previous (Stelmach) one. That says it all right there. I considered participating again this time around just to vote for a complete loser, but didn’t want to give them the $5. And hey, presto! A loser won anyway.  I think  the WRP are a bigger threat than the media seems to believe.

  4. What? No provincial PC attack ads against Dalton McGuinty? Or against PET?

    This is indeed a new chapter. 

    Raw. Unrefined. Yeah, that’s the ticket!

  5. Hey Colby;

    I assume you still live in Alberta?  

    Alison the Red is making a mistake not going to an election right away.  She seems to make a stumble a day.  The Red PC’s embracing the anti-drunk driving lobby helps illustrate that Orwellian Allison is all about Big Brother, oops sorry Big Sister “taking care” of Allbertans by curbing freedoms. Her Joe Clark upbringing shines through instinctively. Witness: Immediate restoration of monies to appease the ‘Big Public School Industry’; Then the CAW, of all Conservative institutions, says she happy with having the Federal government pass the gun registry on to the provinces; Along the way she brings in an Alison in Wonderland budget with the highest spending ever and projections of future spending going through the roof; Then she flashes her lefty darling human rights credentials by bizarrely writing into the proposed new Education Act that Allbertans should ‘honour” the Human Rights Act, and; Now she may have pushed past the public’s tipping point for supporting the anti- drunk driving lobby!

    To this point the Allberta media seems to be pulling an Obama circa 2007-2008.  They aren’t vetting her, they love her, even the Sun.  She’s their perfect multi-culti, urban woman pushing up the glass ceiling.  This puts her in a protective bubble that doesn’t temper her instincts that play into the WP narrative about corruption,  big spending, socially controlling Big Government.

    Alison visited Lloydminster on the weekend to sell Bull.  Immediately afterward Daniel Smith visited and generated some excitement by who showed up to hear her:  Ex Treasury Board Minister, Steve West and ex Finance Minister Lloyd Snelgrove.  Snelgrove, according to the local paper The Source said “the leader of the party can make all the difference in the world. ‘I’d rather face a thousand lions led by a lamb than a thousand lambs led by a lion,’”.  This despite Snelgrove having no reason to support the local WP candidate, who oddly enough is a Red Tory himself, that as president of the Federal Conservative riding association clamored for more “largess” to his Board — not the riding, but his Board — and was involved in controversial attempts to unseat his Conservative MP.  Before that he ran against Snelgrove for the provincial PC candidacy and then was pushed or quit Snelgrove’s board for reportedly not playing nicely with others.

    Snelgrove, who went all-in against Redford in the PCs leadership race and now sits as an independent MLA, may be just having a hissy fit? Or, he may have genuinely tapped into a current of discontent that could bring a dog fight in the spring election and a reckoning of which leader is the lamb and which is the lion.  So far Smith is the most feline looking.  Who knew Alberta politics could be interesting?

  6. The Alberta PC party has long since perfected the art of voter suppression through despair or alienation.  They’ve often supplied the Alberta Liberals with their rejects as party leaders.  So they’re playing with fire by drawing any attention to another party.

    A Redford-led government will be disastrous for the protection of recreational wilderness, as Alison has shown no comprehension of why some people value a wilderness experience.  She is not bothered in the slightest by allowing the clearcutting of 30% of a designated “special place.”

    You can’t sling mud without losing ground.

  7. The Conservatives are running behind the eight ball all the way.  The Calgary Herald reports 22 MLAs are not running again leaving Redford scouring for Candidates.

    They have been busted on stealing Pensions in their trust and their surrounding industry support is pumping out job applications as if we were in a peak productivity era which, we are not. Comment
    Spin Doctors hard at work.

    The explanation of Alberta royalty situation, down from 25% to Zero since Klein’s first election is explained at

    They have gone forward with a pack of lies for their pre election budget  which leaves them only dirty tricks to play with.

    Of which, convincing illegal Americans in the oil patch (more of them than Albertans) that they can vote if they get a drivers license and an Alberta Elections organization which encourages that kind of chicanery.

    The NDP remain a protest vote in the Province and people are coming to realize that.  The Alberta Party is simply non existent and the Alberta Liberals are enjoying an unrepresented popularity.

    If Albertans turn out to vote there will be a Liberal Government in Alberta, dirty tricks or not!