As you may know, an Alberta election is underway. Will godless socialists form government and/or opposition? Will Jim Prentice be the PC leader who finally breaks that hallowed "PCs look in trouble at the time of the election call and then handily win a majority" streak? Will voters remember their distaste of Danielle Smith/Alison Redford/Raj Sherman in the ballot box?

And is Wildrose trying to lose?

That's the topic that a few of us were discussing around beers over the weekend, and it's a fair enough question. Wildrose is at or near the top of the polls, the PCs are floundering and there's a real chance that Wildrose can lure in potential PC voters who realize the party is headed off a cliff and that the goddamned Notley socialists could slip in and ruin the province.

So all they need is a strong, competant but not flashy, optimistic and issue-driven campaign.

So where is it?

Quick, name a couple of Wildrose policies. Okay, the no tax hikes is one (and it's a huge one), but is there anything else? Oh something about ending school fees. Okay, good, good. Anything else? Anything? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?
Ben Stein would challenge Manning for the title of best Premier in Alberta history, if we draft him

Wildrose's website is fairly good at covering the issues, including the Wildrose 5 Priorities (don't feel too ashamed if you can't name them all) and they have a fairly extensive 20-page policy plan. That's great, and for the wired crowd it's a good document to see that Wildrose is serious about being a sensible and responsible government.

Those priorities, all under the umbrella phrase of "Standing Up", are:

  1. Balanced Budgets and a Savings Plan
  2. Patient-Centred Health Care and Seniors Care
  3. World-Class Education
  4. Democracy and Accountability in Alberta
  5. Rural Alberta
Of course, the wired (and non-wired) crowd have to find the damned thing first, and Wildrose certainly hasn't been pushing people to read it. Mentioning it in the Leaders Debate was good, that's important. But first, give people an idea what's in it so they aren't starting out cold. Details about the plan? Yes, that's a 20 page document that people can download and read at their leisure. But first Wildrose needs to push into the conversation what they believe, what they will do, and why people should want them to do it. That just hasn't been happening in the Wildrose campaign to date. There should be a series of radio and TV ads that express what Wildrose will do. Ideally, these should allude to but not mention the other parties, and highlight how these will make Alberta better. Brian Jean isn't the most energetic speaker, but he's surely capable of acting interested enough for quick soundbytes like
Hi, I'm Brian Jean, and a Wildrose government will roll back the pay increase for your elected representatives, publicly disclose the travel expenses for government officials, and make it easier for watchdogs and the press to obtain Freedom of Information requests that will hold us accountable to you, the people. Ending the Entitlement Culture and improving accountability in our government will happen with your vote on May 5th for a Wildrose government.
I timed that out and it hovers around the 26-27 second mark, long enough for a 30 second TV spot that gives an example not at all related to taxes which tells the public what Wildrose will do, hints at the famous scandals, and gives people an optimistic reason to think Wildrose is different. That's one spot. Brian Jean could do most or all of them, or introduce other members of the Wildrose team. Mark Smith (Drayton Valley-Devon) could talk about the Wildrose education priorities. Linda Carlson (Calgary-Acadia) could speak to the healthcare plan, and one of the young photogenic candidates like Megan Brown (Calgary-Elbow), Joe Byram (Edmonton-Centre, or Jae Shim (Calgary-Hawkwood) could be given the chance to speak about Wildrose plans like a budget that transparently and easily lays out what the government is collecting and spending every year, cap severance agreements for publicly funded executives, set hard targets for reducing regulatory compliance costs for small business, implement MLA recall legislation, reform all-party committees, and an open tender process so government contracts go to the best recipient rather than friends of the governing party. Such campaigns can be pushed into the digital world too: YouTube, Google ads, etc. There can be a lot more variety in the radio versions, but if Wildrose has 5 priorities then there should be five different TV ads, even if they "cheat" by not focusing entirely on the rural priorities but combining it with property rights and construction of infrastructure. Wildrose has pro-parent policies in schools, pro-patient policies in healthcare, and pro-citizen policies in administration. So talk about these! Make sure that when the casual low-info voter thinks about Wildrose that you've put a variety of ideas in your head. Even if they may not necessarily agree with the policies they will at least know about them. How many of these potential NDP voters who have genericly decided to support the party could name or, if pressed, admit to agreeing with them? Not a lot, I'd wager. Meanwhile, Wildrose is practically escaping their memory. Wildrose is still blessed with a pretty substantial war chest, it's time to actually spend it. It's possible, I suppose, that Wildrose is sitting on the money hoping for a late-campaign blitz of the airwaves. All the emails I'm getting asking for donations to "get the message out" would tend to support that. However, if you fall too far behind you then have to fight to play catchup. Surely putting Wildrose in voters heads now right now! has more value than saving up the war chest for a late-campaign push when you may be too far behind already. Wildrose supporters are making their own hashtags to warn why Wildrose is better than the NDP. They have to, it seems the party itself is slow to make it. Which leads me to where we came in: is Wildrose trying to lose? Okay, I don't mean it that way, I'll rephrase it the way somebody asked it to me: is Wildrose scared of winning? I don't see why they should be: yes they had to cobble the election together on short notice and maybe don't have candidates as strong to form the next government as they would wish. But one of the ideal advantages of being a small-government conservative is that once you accept that government is an evil of questionable necessity then the important thing is for those governing you to accept this. A competent or even skilled administrator who is expert at doing a whole bunch of destructive things is far less desirable than a competent or even unskilled administrator who is generically okay at doing a small number of things designed to be destructive. Not meaning to look at Notley's campaign too enviously, but she has shitty candidates too but manages to soldier on. And she's going to need uber-competent savants who can oversee the biggest government takeover of the economy in Alberta Government history.

Which segues right back to the top of the pile: early in the campaign we asked if Brian Jean was the right Wildrose leader, and it's fair to revisit that. His tendency to stick to the "no taxes" mantra along with his lack of personal charisma certainly makes it a tough one. But he is the leader Wildrose is stuck with [it could be worse, Wildrose could be stuck with a bland doctor who likes to lie about medicine! -ed] and he'll be the one that has to lead what's left of this election charge. Nobody's necessarily expecting him to go full on Churchill all of a sudden (though he did get credit for a great radio interview yesterday morning), but please know the difference between staying-on-message and staying-on-tunnel-vision-message. Wildrose has a lot more to offer than just holding the line on taxes, and while it's definitely the big wedge to drive between Wildrose and every other party, property rights are another one. Frame it the way it's meant to be framed: a human rights issue. No, in fact, it's the human rights issue. Wildrose thinks that your house and your car and your paycheque all belong to you, and Prentice and Notley (this may, if necessary, be the exception where Wildrose can attack the other two primary contenders) think it belongs to them and they have decided that you cannot be permitted to keep even what little you were keeping before. Wildrose doesn't believe RCMP should be allowed to become the Provincial Government's gun control arm, Wildrose doesn't believe that landowners should be an afterthought in major infrastructure projects (this is, don't forget, an issue for city dwellers looking at LRT-hungry governments in their path), and Wildrose doesn't believe in government managing shared water rights on behalf of the loudest and most well-off lobbyist. Wildrose believes schools and hospitals need to remain as accountable to the people as the Legislature.

Unfortunately, due the lack of an ad campaign, the Dancing With the Stars watching potential voter doesn't really know much about Wildrose outside of what they pick of via osmosis by an extremely biased and hostile liberal media. To combat this, Wildrose needs to be visible, they need to be positive, they need to stop talking about what others have done or will do and instead focus on what they will do. Allude to the scandals, even mention the other leaders when you need to differentiate...but differentiate. Put Wildrose policies out there and dare the public to be on your side.

If late in the campaign you feel the need to lure in PC voters by suggesting that they should abandon Prentice due to the NDP's rise, you first need to build a strong base of support. The debate over the merits of that move are better discussed on May 3rd. For now, the media blitz needs to start hitting the casual non-voter, and it needs to talk policy. That's how Wildrose can win.

The only question will be if that's what they're after.