Danielle Smith, the Leader of Alberta’s Wildrose Party, is probably feeling a bit like Stephen Harper did during the 2004 and 2005-06 federal elections as this year’s provincial vote draws to a close. Smith is on the way to potentially upsetting the established party’s apple cart and becoming the new premier of Alberta. And boy, oh boy the establishment doesn’t like that one bit. So it has rolled out the Chicken Little strategy, borrowed from the popular children’s story: The sky will fall and the world will end if the well-heeled and entrenched are kicked to the curb by the supposed rube-like upstarts.
The Chicken Little approach was popularized by the federal Liberals in the last decade. It worked to some effect when Jean Chrétien was leader and Stockwell Day was the head of the Canadian Alliance in the 2000 election, though realistically Day and the Alliance were not a legitimate threat then to unseat the Liberals at the time. The strategy kicked into high gear under Paul Martin, who caused just enough anxiety about Harper’s so-called hidden agenda and lack of leadership experience to win a minority in the 2004 election. One must remember, however, the popular of the fiction of the day was that Martin would win massive majority after massive majority and be prime minister for a decade. Someone might ask him how he enjoys retirement, because he was still supposed to be our leader now.
The Liberals and their friends – some in the union movement, a hodge-podge of different environmental groups, a few in the arts community as well as others – went guns-a-blazing after Harper throughout the 2005-06 campaign. You’ll recall the usual smears about the Tory Leader messing around with a woman’s right to choose, destroying gay marriage, cutting down all our trees and turning Canada into a parking lot. In that election, the public listened to the hysterical cries from the established party and took them with a huge grain a salt. Harper, of course won his first government, a minority, in 2006. Thereafter the trajectory has been fascinating for Chicken Little’s proponents: Every time they have claimed damnation is upon the nation, the public has said damn them. In the case of the Liberals, where fear and loathing of anything but an order dictated by them is popular, they went from a majority government in 2003 to third-party status in 2011. That shows just how effective the Chicken Little approach is these days.
There are some very smart people working for Progressive Conservative Leader Allison Redford. I have worked with many of them before and have great regard for them as professionals. However, I must admit to being astounded to see them adopting a failed Liberal approach in what appears to be a desperate bid to hold onto power. They may win this election, but in the course of doing so they may doom themselves in the future as the federal Liberals did when they embraced Chicken Little. Of all political organizations in the country, you’d think the Alberta PC Party would get how much conservatives of any stripe despise the use of Liberal tactics on members of their own family.
The Wildrose Party didn’t put the Alberta PC’s in this position of vulnerability. They did it on their own, in part because they lost their compass and became disconnected from members of their own community. The clear desperation they are showcasing in the final days of this campaign could see the sky fall hard on them. They’ll have no one to blame but themselves