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Smith learns hard lesson in Alberta: Intolerance doesn't win elections

Let the word go out: Cut taxes if you can. Balance your budgets, of course. By all means be a fiscal conservative. But if you allow even a whiff of intolerance, of homophobia, of racism, of anything that smacks of "I'm-more-moral-than-you" into an election campaign, then the voters will cast you out.

Danielle Smith has learned that lesson to her sorrow.

To the great embarrassment of every pollster and pundit -- to this writer's knowledge, not one of them saw this coming -- not only did the Progressive Conservatives stave off a Wildrose victory, Monday night, Alison Redford kicked butt.

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The PCs won about 60 seats in the 87-seat legislature Wildrose clinging to a bare 19. A nine-point lead for the PCs in the popular vote. Calgary solidly Tory against all expectations. Wildrose virtually shut out of Edmonton and the north.

Either everyone was wrong from beginning to end, or voters stampeded in the last week away from Wildrose and toward the old, sclerotic, panicking, ready-for-the-trash heap Progressive Conservatives.

What caused that stampede? Well a video that hit the web last Tuesday called "I never thought I'd vote PC" might have had something to do with it.

It was made by a group of 20-somethings who were so appalled by the social intolerance of some Wildrose candidates that they were even willing to vote Progressive Conservative to stop them.

"Listen, I want you to know it's not like I have a hard-on for the PCs" one of them explains. "I would rather have my face eaten off by rodents."

But as his friends put it: "If you're in a riding where the Wildrose has a chance, don't you want to keep them out? At any cost?"

Yes, appears to have been the answer.

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So the first thing everyone will need to do is try to figure out how a viral video can capture the zeitgeist better than a multi-million-dollar campaign with its war room and internal polling and seasoned strategic advisors.

We will need to figure out why polls are increasingly failing to capture voter intention. Even the polls that declared the outcome too close to call will have to account for that nine-percentage-point gap. As for those that predicted a Wildrose romp, well….

Or we can forget about all that and draw a few simple conclusions. Such as this: In 2012, you can't go around warning that homosexuals will burn in hell, as one Wildrose candidate did, or that ethnic minorities can only speak to their own kind, as another did.

You especially cannot, as Ms. Smith did, defend such comments as a matter of religious conscience, or something that can be taken care of with a quick and only half-hearted apology.

Oh, and trying to reframe the abortion issue or those who oppose gay marriage in the context of "conscience rights" doesn't appear to go down well either.

Canada is a wonderful country and Alberta is a wonderful province. We don't just talk an open, tolerant and inclusive society, we vote it.

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And to the question: How can a province that elected a Muslim mayor in Calgary and a Jewish mayor in Edmonton elect a government like Wildrose?

The answer is: they didn't. They didn't even come close.

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