The three-month election window introduced last fall by rookie Alberta Premier Alison Redford is now proving to be a headache – both inside and outside the party.
Ms. Redford broke a promise she made during her party leadership race last year to set a fixed election date. Instead, her party passed a law that requires a provincial election to be called between March 1 and May 31 every four years, beginning with this year.
MLAs and insiders have nonetheless long expected an April 23 election amid consistently strong poll numbers. However, over the past few weeks Ms. Redford's party has been mired in a series of controversies, including allegations by doctors of political bullying, questions about unethical fundraising and public outcry over unacceptable pay perks. Its opponents – chiefly, the right-wing Wildrose party – have held up the foibles as evidence of Tory corruption after 41 years in power. Former premier Ralph Klein's long-time chief of staff called it "three weeks of hell."
And so, this week, some in the Tory camp began to eye a later election date – early May – "just to be sure we have a little space between us and the negative stuff Wildrose has been throwing," said a source close to Ms. Redford.
"I think Alison Redford is regretting that fixed election period," added Duane Bratt, a political scientists at Mount Royal University in Calgary. "It's been a bad two or three weeks."
But on Wednesday, after Ms. Redford's caucus met, it became clear there wasn't an appetite to wait for a vote (though Ms. Redford insists caucus didn't discuss it). Several MLAs said in interviews they're ready for an election to be called as soon as possible. "Things are fluid. I think there was some talk about [calling an election]later yesterday, and I think things are slipping back," the source said Wednesday.
The writ could now drop as early as March 20, the soonest the budget can be passed, setting up a mid-April election. The Premier has only said the budget's passing will trigger the campaign. "I think you can draw your own conclusion from my statements," she said Wednesday.
The back and forth has renewed opposition calls for a fixed election date, and comes as Ms. Redford continues to attend campaign-style events – two Wednesday – and run taxpayer-funded government advertisements.
"Ultimately the Premier will do what the Premier always does, and that's what's best for her. Not what's best for democracy," said Liberal leader Raj Sherman, a former Tory who has called for a fixed election date. "But typical PCs, they always like to have a head start. But that's fine, from our point of view, we'll be ready to contest the next election."
Some PC party brass had hoped for an election call long before springtime, including some who wanted it after Ms. Redford won her party's leadership last October. "We just need to end the bleeding," one insider says now. Party president Bill Smith said it's up to the Premier to call it.
The election will nonetheless be a fight, by the Tories' own admission. "This will be the most competitive election campaign since 1993," said a newsletter sent this week to party supporters. "The PC Party faces a well organized and well-funded competitor," presumably Wildrose.
Every poll has shown the Tories are on track for yet another majority. The party won 72 of 83 seats in the last vote four years ago. Calgary pollster Bruce Cameron said delaying the election call makes little sense for the government – it gives the opposition parties potentially more ammunition, as well as more time to attack.
"It is like a death by a thousand cuts," he said. "To me, it just drags that on."
Outside Question Period Wednesday, Service Alberta Minister Manmeet Bhullar said his colleagues are in "hurry up and wait" mode. "Whether [the writ drop]happens two weeks from now, three weeks from now or four weeks from now, I think we're ready to go," he said.
Another Tory, former Liberal Bridget Pastoor, said there's even betting about when the date will come.
"I have money on April the 23rd, but I'm leaning toward April the 30th," said Ms. Pastoor, who says she also bet (and won) on Ms. Redford's Tory leadership campaign while still a Liberal.
"I think everyone's ready to go. Let's just do it and see what shakes down."