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Fearing political right, Alberta Tories gear for March election
January 08, 2008
Only unscripted calamity, or very early sprouting of crops in Lamont, will now deter the Stelmach government from its election plans.
The Conservatives hope to drop the writ some time after the throne speech is emitted Feb. 4, but before Feb. 14, when a budget is scheduled to be read by a lame-duck finance minister.
This would get the election done by mid-March, before the farmers go back to work. Such countryside calculus explains why Alberta has had five March elections since 1975.
Considering that the Tories have only called nine elections since they were elected in 1971, it’s no surprise they’re warmly superstitious about any date around the Ides of March.
(Although one insider says jokingly, “Oh no, not a winter election — that’s when farmers think!”)
There’s danger in delay. The impending merger of the Alberta Alliance and the Wild Rose Party, given time, could be toxic for Tories.
After the royalty debate and a year of free spending, there’s enough room to the right of Stelmach’s party to hold a province-wide demolition derby of unemployed drilling rigs.
Led by MLA Paul Hinman, whose critiques of the government are often sharp, the Alliance-Wild Rose crowd hopes to hand Stelmach the same treatment the federal Conservatives got from Reform in 1993 — total devastation.
Tories will admit in their cups that their main worry is the empty political turf to the right, not the left, where New Democrats and Liberals scrap for limited terrain.
When disgruntled gas producers start calling the premier “Cement Head Ed” (I heard that one last week) there might be a market for something new.
Stelmach appears unconcerned. He seems to feel that Alberta, flush with newcomers, is shifting permanently to more moderate, middle-of-the-road views.
The premier might be right; then again, maybe not. We’ll only know after the election.
Faced with trouble at home, what’s an Alberta premier to do?
Find an external threat, of course.
And now, as if by magic, an election issue appears from Ottawa.
A committee appointed by the Harper government calls for a carbon tax.
The government immediately rejected the idea. But Harper’s Conservatives are a minority, and some Liberals now want further study. You never know what might emerge from a national election.
Here at home, such debates have always been electoral gold for Conservative governments.
Ex-premier Ralph Klein turned every hint of a federal carbon tax to electoral advantage in two centuries. And Stelmach will try to do the same, from a very different perspective.
Stelmach spent much of 2007 building defences against new federal taxes.
He can argue that companies emitting high volumes of CO2 are already paying provincial penalties into a technology fund.
He can say the province has a trading system for emissions credits. And he’ll point out that Alberta is the only province doing these things.
He’ll add that any further burdens on the Alberta energy industry will have disastrous effects on other provincial economies.
In fact, Stelmach will make those very points at a first ministers meeting in Ottawa Friday.
Soon after that meeting, Stelmach will be in Washington to promote Alberta as a secure supplier of green energy. That’s his claim, and he’s sticking to it.
On Jan. 28, the premier heads to Vancouver for a national premiers meeting on the environment, giving him yet another opportunity to warn off the shadowy foes who threaten Alberta.
For a premier on the verge of an election, he’ll be spending a lot of time outside the province — unless the outside world is going to be a big part of his campaign.