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Cone of Silence descends over deeds of Tory Jim Prentice's secret agents, real or imagined

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Like those Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki men from Russia allegedly crawling all over Ukraine and stirring up nothing but trouble, secret agents of Jim Prentice's campaign to become the next leader of the Alberta Progressive Conservative dynasty seem to be everywhere and nowhere these days.

According to a claim made yesterday by the equally right-wing Wildrose Party, "a person close" to Prentice called up a person close to Danielle Smith, the official Opposition party's leader, and suggested an 11th Hour Wildrose-PC merger.

After that, I guess, the entire Wildrose caucus would be consigned to the deepest of the backbenches for the rest of history, with Smith maybe being asked to serve as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Non-Contact Sports and Hobbies, or something, in Prentice's cabinet. In other words, pretty much where most of the originals in the Wildrose caucus started out -- plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose…

Well, Smith told the media yesterday that when the unidentified PC agent contacted her unidentified Wildrose agent, she dismissed the idea as a "crazy fantasy."

For its part, the Prentice camp said the whole thing never happened, so they were sort of saying it was a crazy fantasy too. "There were no calls made from Jim or anyone in his senior campaign team," a local paper quoted Prentice’s campaign co-chair, Jay Hill, as saying.

This is all very mysterious. According to the media, Smith wouldn't say who Prentice's secret agent was, nor did she identify what the paper called the "member of her inner circle" who heard the offer, although it's not so clear if she was asked about that particular person of interest.

Premier pro tempore Dave Hancock was quoted sniffily accusing Smith and unnamed political scientists of making it all up because "they don’t see their own place in the game" and "she is feeling left out of the process." Nyyaa-nyaa-de-boo-boo!

The aptly named PostMedia newspapers made careful note of the fact Smith's second version of the story, summarized above, was a little different from the first version, which appeared in Calgary Herald, in which the unnamed interlocutor contacted Smith directly.

As for those of us who indeed have no place in this game, we can only speculate about what the heck is going on.

But remember this: all the key Wildrosers and all the key Progressive Conservatives and all the key Alberta federal Conservatives know one another, are members of the same political movement and until very recently were members of the same political party.

So if something like this is going on, the chances are very good lots of people know about it, and lots of people know whom the key actors are. It's just us little people who don't get told about their machinations until it's all over but for the dust settling.

So there are almost certainly supporters of Prentice who are talking to supporters of Smith, any one of whom may or may not be authorized to do so.

It's not impossible, I suppose, that the Wildrose really did make it all up. But that seems quite unlikely to me. What would they really have to gain? After all, they have plenty of legitimate stuff with which to hammer the PCs. And they have every reason to believe, the confidence of Prentice's supporters notwithstanding, they will be the ones who emerge victorious from an election campaign.

It's also not impossible that, despite their denials, people who actually are close to Prentice thought approaching Smith was a good idea -- because that's the kind of deep political thinking you’d expect from folks who have concluded it's a sound strategy to keep voters guessing about whether their guy is even going to run and have been letting their opponents set the agenda for days while they futz around.

Meanwhile, the only other officially declared Tory leadership candidate, Ric McIver, the former infrastructure minister, also says unidentified supporters of Prentice approached him and pushed him to leave the race. He said he refused. The Prentice campaign called the complaint "ridiculous."

The same story quoted still-undeclared candidate Thomas Lukaszuk, the labour minister, as saying unidentified "overzealous" Prentice supporters also did the same thing to him. However, in Lukaszuk's case, the Prenticites seem not to have felt any need to bother with a denial.

Five other Tory candidates have pulled out of the race -- former municipal affairs minister Ken Hughes, the only one who was officially ready to put down a deposit on his $50,000 entry fee, plus Energy Minister Diana McQueen, Attorney General Jonathan Denis, Finance Minister Doug Horner and former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel. No word on whom, if anyone, they talked to -- or talked to them.

Indeed, the Cone of Silence now seems to have descended over whatever it is that’s going on, and the enigmatic Prentice -- Mr. Big himself -- is nowhere to be seen!

I don't know about you, but I'm starting to find this pretty irritating!

A closed-door campaign conducted by mostly anonymous agents on behalf of a silent candidate. Is this any way to run a democracy?

Prentice will file his candidacy papers today. According to sources, anyway, who cannot be identified because they are not authorized to speak on behalf of the candidate.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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