Tory pretensions give way to panic

CALGARY — Usually full of hearty PC cheer, the latest newsletter from Premier Alison Redford's party to its members comes close to pushing the panic button.

The looming campaign "will be the most competitive election campaign since 1993," it says.

And later: "As we mentioned above, this is going to be one of the most hard-fought campaigns most of us will be able to remember."

The pitch, besides being severely tense-challenged, is designed to motivate Premier Alison's Redford's volunteers.

But it's also the truth. This government is suddenly in the midst of a unique political meltdown.

The crisis of confidence deepened Tuesday, with news that the ethics commissioner has no ability to investigate Gary Mar's controversial fundraiser.

It was Redford who last Friday suspended Mar from his Asia job without pay, and then turned the matter over to the commissioner.

In a TV interview Tuesday morning, she patted herself on the back for acting in the proper matter.

By late afternoon Neil Wilkinson threw the mess back at her. The rules written for him by the PC majority do not let him peer into Mar's fundraising event.

It's complicated, of course. The commissioner feels Redford made an understandable misstep.

But she's a lawyer who, before becoming premier, was Alberta's justice minister. How could she not know this?

When John Chomiak, Mar's fundraiser and a former Ed Stelmach ally, called Redford's action a "stupid move," he was also signalling a dangerous feeling in the party.

Remember that Mar, right to the end of the leadership campaign, outpointed Redford on first-choice votes. She won only because of the complex second-ballot system.

Now Redford risks alienating many Mar backers, the very people the party newsletter tries to goose out of their armchairs.

Mar, of course, defends himself vigorously, insisting he'll fight for his reputation.

That in itself is a challenging move. He's a government employee now, not a politician, but he's thrown himself into public confrontation with his premier.

If Wildrose got to write the entire script for the campaign, a roomful of Tom Flanagans could not dream this up.

Also on Tuesday, yet another poll showed Wildrose closing in on the PCs.

In little more than three months Redford has blown 20 percentage points of her party's polling lead, and seen Wildrose climb back by about 10 points. The Tories' lead could be as low as five points.

The polls are now as close as they were in the pit of Ed Stelmach's troubles. If these trends continue, the PCs could actually find themselves in a fight on election day.

Jolted by one blow after another — the no-meet committee, Stephen Carter's offensive tweet, Hector Goudreau's threatening letter, the Mar uproar, health-care inquiry retreat, and much more — the government seems shaken and defensive.

Many PCs are convinced they tore up their ticket to another huge majority by failing to call a quick election last fall.

There was plenty of hubris in Redford's camp back then. Wildrose was waning. Some Tories even declared it dead.

The party passed on an early vote in the belief that Redford would keep getting more popular.

Asked by the Edmonton TV interviewer Tuesday if she regrets the delay, she said, "Well, the reason I didn't is another commitment I made is I want to pass a budget."

An admirable goal, perhaps. But leaders only get to govern if they do the political part right. Through an extraordinary combination of bad luck and dubious judgment, this one is getting a lot of it wrong.

Calgary Herald, Wed Mar 14 2012
Byline: Don Braid

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