Alberta government no longer taken seriously

By Barry Cooper

A couple of weeks ago some bad news for the Alberta Progressive Conservatives was made public: they were low on cash. Worse, most of their money had come from the deep corporate pockets of the oil patch.

Energy sector donors were equally generous with the Wildrose Party, but it also raised nearly $1 million from individual donations. The PCs collected a little over $150,000 that way.

The implication was that the PCs have lost touch with ordinary Albertans who maintain sufficient interest in politics to support a party with their own money.

Last week brought more bad news. An Angus Reid survey showed that Premier Alison Redford had a 29% approval rating, down 18 points since December and 26 points since August. Her disapproval rating was a magnificent 66% and only 6% were unsure if they disapproved or not.

Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk responded: “We cannot afford to be distracted by some polls.” The premier said that having two-thirds of the population disapprove of the job you are doing was “par for the course.” She was looking only to the future, confident, happy, and proud of “a lot of tremendous policy successes.”

She added that she had great confidence that the Alberta electorate was composed of “critical thinkers.” She may be right about that.

The two bits of bad news came together at the premier’s fundraising dinner. The place was filled, of course, but many of the persons occupying seats were not movers and shakers. That is, the big guys bought the tables and sent the gophers to eat at them.

A lot of Tories are now wondering what went wrong. Where did the Alberta Advantage go? Part of the answer is that Redford has alienated just about everybody, including many members of her own party who, a short seven months from now, will decide whether she gets to keep her job.

The premier’s response to her dismal approval numbers was to declare that she was “absolutely not” concerned about her support in the party. But she absolutely will not specify what her target is when the leadership review comes up. Here is a thought: Ralph quit when he received 55%.

Sophisticated PC insiders have argued that before Redford gets the ax the party has to fix the electoral system to be used to choose a successor since the existing process produced two disasters in a row. This will be the only significant agenda item next fall. Once that’s done, it’s goodbye Alison.

When Redford gets the chop it won’t be because of her questionable policies or some notional bitumen bubble. Trust in her government has evaporated, and trust is a major part of any government’s legitimacy.

A further indication that criticism of the PCs has moved beyond policy differences is that the Tories have become objects of satire and ridicule. No one makes fun of a government doing even an adequate job. Poets and writers from Aristophanes and Machiavelli to Lenny Bruce and Stephen Leacock have shown that ridicule is fatal because everyone gets the joke: the government is comically incompetent and they know their future is in peril. Governments unsure of their legitimacy react furiously to ridicule.

A recent example was an April 10 YouTube video parody Just some Party that I used to Know based on the Gotye megahit of last summer. It was put together by Amanda Achtman (and yes, she is one of my students). It is very funny.

Her Twitter account was suspended because someone complained to the Twitter-police that she was spamming with a robot. She was not. The Twitterverse fiercely condemned the suspected complainants.

Three aspects of the video caper are significant: (1) it ridiculed the government; (2) Achtman’s account was temporarily shut down; and (3) when this crude attempt at censorship became public, the clip was replayed on national and local television and on a couple of local radio stations. A lot of people see the joke: in less than a week it has had nearly 10,000 views.

This is the worst possible news for the Redford government: they are no longer taken seriously.

Barry Cooper is a professor of political science at the University of Calgary. His column is distributed through Troy Media.

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