Don Braid: Alberta’s election will give other Canadians a good giggle

Other Canadians tend to laugh at Alberta’s version of democracy. This time, they’ll howl.

Consider how weird this is — Wildrose, the official Opposition, will campaign in the looming election with a leader who isn’t even running for the legislature.

Heather Forsyth, the MLA for Calgary-Fish Creek since 1993, had long intended not to run again. In December, Danielle Smith’s infamous defection to the Progressive Conservative government, along with eight other Wildrose MLAs, thrust Forsyth into the party’s interim leadership.

The Wildrose executive has scheduled a leadership vote for June. But the election will almost certainly come before that.

Premier Jim Prentice, after plundering Wildrose, now ensures that the party’s campaign will be fronted by the lamest duck in the provincial pond.

Alberta elections focus intensely on leaders. A party with an office temp for a leader is mortally weakened.

Forsyth is furious at the premier.

“I’m in that peculiar situation because the premier has broken his word,” she says, referring to the provincial law that sets the next election for the spring of 2016. (Or at least, we thought it did.)

“He pulled a Redford and a Stelmach,” Forsyth continues. “He said during the leadership campaign that he was going to govern differently.

“It’s just so wrong and undemocratic. Albertans should understand that this premier does not want to have an opposition.

“I say this in all sincerity to Albertans — do not give this premier a blank cheque.”

Wildrose will have 40 nominations set by the end of this week, she says, but there’s no guarantee that the party will be able to find candidates in all 87 ridings. “We’ll just go with what we have.”

The NDP, which has a long tradition of fielding a candidate in every riding, intends to do so again. That doesn’t make Leader Rachel Notley any happier with Prentice’s race to an early election.

She says she was stunned by dismissive remarks Prentice made last week.

“My job is not to get the opposition parties ready for an election,” the premier told the Herald during a trip to the United States. “That is not my job. My job is to take care of the province.

“They [the opposition] have had ample notice that we are in serious times and Albertans need serious solutions. People need to be ready.”

Notley responds forcefully.

“The fact is that part of his responsibility is to pass laws he adheres to. And so, to be breaking laws his caucus and his government have passed, then it is kind of his responsibility if the opposition is not ready.

“I think it’s incredibly dismissive, disrespectful and arrogant of him to suggest he does not have a role to play in that.”

The Liberals would also go into a campaign without a permanent leader, following the resignation last month of Raj Sherman.

Interim Liberal Leader David Swann will at least be running for a legislature seat. He was acclaimed for nomination Monday. The party has so far scheduled nomination meetings in only a few other ridings.

I think it’s incredibly dismissive, disrespectful and arrogant of him to suggest he does not have a role to play in that

Three of the five Liberal MLAs — Sherman, Kent Hehr and Darshan Kang — won’t be running again. Calgarians Hehr and Kang are both nominated as federal Liberal candidates.

Without Hehr, Calgary-Buffalo is at risk. The PCs already have a solid candidate in entrepreneur and arts community leader Terry Rock.

The Liberals have won that seat seven times in the last nine provincial elections. It’s the closest thing to a safe Liberal riding south of Edmonton-Centre.

This time could see a reversal of what the late Rod Love called “the head smashed-in Buffalo byelection,” following his own failed attempt for the PCs in 1992 to dislodge the Liberals.

While the opposition scrambles, the PC nomination train thunders down the track. Sixty-seven of 87 nominations are done or in the works. Fifteen MLAs and ministers are already acclaimed.

This could truly be a joke election. And the laugh will be on Alberta.

Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald

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