Monday, February 04, 2008

Stelmach Rolls the Dice

Albertans to return to the polls on March 3

The alarm may finally have rung on Alberta's election watch, as the Edmonton Journal has reported that Premier Ed "Stalemate" Stelmach is planning to call an election for 3 March 2008.

The move comes amidst a rather intense media campaign by Albertans for Change, who have run an impressive number of anti-Stelmach ads on television, and increased jockeying between the provincial Liberals and NDP, as well as a merger of the further right-wing Alberta Alliance and Wildrose parties.

Although facing these particular challenges, the overall position of the governing Progressive Conservatives remains strong. So long as the NDP and Liberals duel it out with one another, they'll make little way winning over enough rural and urban Calgary seats to defeat the Tories. Perhaps the most legitimate threat to Stelmach and his team, the Wildrose Alliance, also took a hit today as Rob James, the party president, quit, citing concerns over the merger that recently created the party.

Historically, when a government in Alberta is defeated, it has been by an entirely new party, as the electorate begins to view older parties (such as the Liberals and NDP) as unable to govern.

The media campaign by Albertans for Change, self-described as "a coalition of the Alberta Building Trades Council and the Alberta Federation of Labour, which together represent nearly 200,000 working Albertans", will certainly appeal to many of those who want to see the kinds of policies the ads seem to advocate (rent control, for one).

But those people weren't likely to vote for the PCs in the first place.

However the first post-Ralph Klein election in Alberta shapes up, there's little question that Ed Stelmach is taking a tremendous risk. He could have waited as late as November 2009 to call an election. In the meantime, the cash-strapped Liberals and NDP could have exhausted their modest war chests on a false-start election.

Instead, they'll go into the election with the advantage of having spent a solid couple of weeks messaging in advance of an election.

Of course, to be fair, this is an advantage that Liberal leader Kevin Taft and NDP leader Brian Mason both desperately need.

It also would have given Stelmach -- with a commanding majority in the Legislature -- an opportunity to build a record he can sell to Albertans. To date, his list of accomplishments as Premier of Alberta has been less than stellar.

On this note, however, this may all be for the better. While it's unlikely that Albertans will be looking forward to a new government after all the polls are closed and votes counted, it's very safe to say they could be looking forward to a stronger opposition. This, naturally, is a start.

But, then again, one has to consider the increasingly real possibility that Stelmach may lose.

For better or worse, Stelmach is gambling with the future of his government, and considering the closest governing alternatives -- the permanently irrelevant Brian Mason or Kevin "if you can't beat 'em write mean things about 'em" Taft -- he may be gambling with the province's future as well.

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