As Albertans head to the polls today with large numbers of voters obviously in a mood for change and the media telling us a Wildrose majority is unstoppable, Progressive Conservative Premier Alison Redford may have only one good card left.
If her hole card turns out to be an ace, it'll be because of the caution of the significant number of Albertans and their families who work for and with this government, its agencies and the many groups and businesses that depend on it to survive.
A political party can score points by gratuitously attacking such people -- as the Wildrose attack on "big government" without question has through this campaign, notwithstanding the party's too-cute claim to recognize the value of "front-line" government employees.
And maybe that will be enough to deliver the 50 to 60 seats that pundits and pollsters have been pretty consistently calling for -- although the final poll of the campaign, by Forum Research Inc., shows the race growing very close again.
And while this pitch may play well in Provost and Pincher Creek, it's less likely to do so in Edmonton -- or even places like Ponoka, home of the former Alberta Hospital Ponoka, a major regional employer.
In other words, you can't expect people and their families who depend on the government for their livelihoods not to understand their situation, and you can't blame them for voting with their families' interests at heart.
Remember, an Alberta government is much more than just the 87 people who sit in the Legislature. It encompasses a very large pool of citizens who toil anonymously in its ranks, in such public services as health care, in other levels of government that interact with the province and with such public safety workers as police, court workers and correctional officers.
So if, despite all the blatantly pro-Wildrose propaganda in the mainstream media these past few weeks, Redford somehow manages to pull the fat from the fire, it will be with the help of people like these.
Most of them, it can be said, will be motivated by a very human combination of self-interest and genuine concern for the fate of their province if they vote in significant numbers to save the Progressive Government's sorry hide.
A good example are the 100,000 or so people who work for Alberta Health Services, the giant province-wide "super board" the Conservatives under Ed Stelmach created, certainly for the wrong reasons, but which can hardly be dismantled now without grave consequences.
This group includes not just unionized health care workers, but large numbers of heath sector managers, physicians and other health care professionals, health facility contractors, their staff and all of those people’s families -- who surely recognize that, despite leader Danielle Smith's glib promises, their lives are in for a major shakeup and a long period of economic uncertainty if the Wildrose Party forms a majority government tonight as expected.
These are the citizens -- highly motivated to actually make sure they get out and vote -- who have been circulating a letter from health care researcher and University of Alberta nursing professor Donna Wilson, who is both a Registered Nurse and a PhD, warning that disbanding AHS would result in "immediate chaos" within the system. If every hospital in the province has its own independent board, she asks, "Would anybody plan where expensive new equipment or services are really needed in the province?"
Wilson also debunks the Wildrose claim that AHS has a top-heavy and expansive bureaucracy, an argument that is likely to carry weight with voters who happen to be part of it.
Consider Alberta's teachers, professionals who have been excoriated for their pension deal with Redford's Conservatives -- again, people who will make sure to vote, and who are legitimately fearful of the attack a Wildrose government with its loony education theories would do to their pensions, their jobs and the working conditions of those who managed to salvage their careers and remain in the field.
Or even Alberta's Mounties, who don’t necessarily see their force eliminated by some future Alberta firewall, like the one advocated by Wildrose campaign manager Tom Flanagan and his fellow Western independentistes in their famous 2001 Firewall Manifesto.
Or employees of Alberta municipalities and arm’s-length Alberta public agencies spun off from the government by premier Ralph Klein through the mid-1990s.
The list is quite a long one. The people who make it up, thoughtful and well educated. Are there enough of them to make a difference tomorrow night? It's hard to say. There are a lot of factors in play.
One thing is certain: they are unlikely to sit it out this time and not bother to vote.
If Redford's PCs manage to pull off another Miracle on the Prairies, like the one Ralph Klein worked in 1993 when it appeared Liberal Laurence Decore cast as more conservative than the Conservatives was about to knock him off, Wildrose supporters will go wild with rage and self-pity.
And if Redford does manage to survive thanks to such a miracle, she needs to remember very clearly who made it possible!
This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.
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