Editorial: Farmer Ed has a Wildrose problem

By Sarelle Azuelos

Shortly after winning the Wildrose Alliance leadership race, Danielle Smith announced that Premier Ed Stelmach hasn’t “even begun to imagine what’s about to hit him.” These are pretty strong words from someone so new to Alberta politics, but they do contain some truth.

Stelmach’s popularity has been in decline for the last several months, even leading to what could be called a last ditch effort advertorial where he outlined his plans to beat the recession. Despite promising a civil servant wage freeze and health care reform, the $134,000 spot did little to comfort Albertans. If anything, paying such an extravagant cost to host a 17-minute speech about responsible spending is rather hypocritical.

It’s true that the Progressive Conservatives have a sizable majority — they currently hold 70 of the 83 seats — but even a quick look at how they came to power proves that a majority doesn’t always mean security. The Progressive Conservatives came together and won a majority government in just over a decade. After a slow start, the Conservatives went from having six MLAs to 49 (out of 75) in four short years.

The Wildrose Alliance recently tasted its first victory in the Glenmore byelection where former party leader Paul Hinman came in first, followed by the Liberal and then Conservative candidates. They are now walking a very similar path to that of the early Progressive Conservatives — a fresh face promising change to a fed-up electorate. It doesn’t take much for the public to lose interest or patience with a premier and Stelmach’s recent performance isn’t making them more sympathetic. Albertans want the recession to end and they want results without hearing about cuts.

While the Wildrose Alliance doesn’t have an official platform as of yet, their policy can be boiled down to being further to the right than the Conservatives. This should inherently be more than enough to gain support, as the Conservatives’ have been commonly criticized about their slight slide towards the centre. The Alliance also promised more strict fiscal conservatism and a social libertarian stance. Albertans have been voting in right-wing politicians en masse for over 50 years, and this doesn’t seem like a practice about to change any time soon. There have even been rumours of discontent within the Conservative party, although Smith refused to comment on whether any would be jumping ship and joining her forces.

Smith announced that she will be running in Calgary North Hill during the next Alberta election. Her popularity in that riding hasn’t been polled yet, but chances are the incumbent won’t be able to simply expect a Conservative landslide yet again. Stelmach congratulated Smith on her win and he didn’t sound worried, even if he probably should be. Real competition has finally reared its entertaining head in Alberta’s political arena.