Alberta Election 2012: Panic mode or bumps in the road?

First week assessments of the campaign all depend on perspective

EDMONTON - After a dozen years in provincial politics, NDP Leader Brian Mason said he's noticed something new and unusual about the Conservatives this election campaign.

"They seem as nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs," Mason said Sunday before door-knocking with the NDP's Edmonton-Manning candidate Cindy Olsen. "They're really uptight. They're nervous — because they might lose."

"I'm glad that we have a competitive election. That's really a good thing, a very positive thing," he said. "I don't think we're well-served by dynasties that get elected with massive majorities election after election."

Across town at his Edmonton-Meadowlark headquarters Sunday afternoon, Liberal Leader Raj Sherman compared the Tories to a former champion boxer.

"I liken the PCs to Mike Tyson," Sherman said.

"Everyone thought Mike Tyson was invincible, and you know what, he got knocked out. He got complacent and arrogant and he got mean and he got knocked out by a good guy."

When asked who would knock out the Tories, Sherman said, "I believe the good guys are Albertans."

Sherman said a series of unforeseen challenges have shaken the Conservatives, including a tweet from a staffer questioning the childlessness of Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith, who later disclosed her private family struggles with fertility in response.

"The PCs are panicking," Sherman said. "They're crumbling. Their party was already divided with the advent of the Wildrose and now currently with the Gary Mar fiasco, with the no-pay committee, the party's already divided and they're in panic mode."

University of Alberta political scientist Jim Lightbody agreed, but he said it's not the Liberals and NDP giving the Conservatives their toughest challenge since Laurence Decore's Liberals in the 1980s.

"The Wildrose is a well-organized, well-financed, well-strategized campaign organization," Lightbody said.

"It's been a long time since (the Conservatives) have had to fight for a victory. In a very real sense, this is uncharted territory for the organization. They're used to mailing it in."

Lightbody said miscalculations and unexpected events such as Alison Redford appointing Tory leadership rival Mar as trade representative in Asia and allegations of illegal party contributions have shaken the Conservatives.

"They're reeling; they had the left, right and a couple to the solar plexus and what they're going to do is panic."

However, PC party Leader Alison Redford had a different view, saying Sunday she was "excited" about the first week of campaigning.

Reporters in Calgary asked whether she felt as if her party has been put on the defensive.

"It's been an odd campaign like that for everyone," Redford said. "I think if you look at all of the different campaigns, people have had days where they've been trying to find their feet."

She added a lot of Albertans she meets tell her they're not sure what party to vote for, but are still engaged in the provincial election campaign. She suggested that bodes well for a higher voter turnout this election.

"That's a good thing because I think that is a change in the electorate," she said. "They're genuinely considering what their choices are."

Only 41 per cent of eligible Alberta voters cast a ballot in the 2008 election.

Redford noted the first round of larger Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) cheques are being sent out this month. She said one of the reasons she wanted to pass a budget before calling an election is to help some of Alberta's most vulnerable citizens with a $400 a month boost.

"It is a vital program that supports over 44,000 Albertans and impacts their families."

She said voters should watch this week for Progressive Conservative announcements on health care, seniors and long-term care.

The campaign is "actually turning into what it should be now, which is a really viable debate between different perspectives," she added.

Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith spent a quieter day in her riding of Highwood, where she celebrated her 41st birthday with campaign staff in High River.

Edmonton Journal, Mon Apr 2 2012
Byline: Bill Mah

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