There is no better feeling in politics than winning without having to open your mouth. Because there is no need for Danielle Smith and her Wildrose buddies to do a thing at the moment.
All the heavy lifting is being done for her by the current PC government, which right now, more resembles Brazil’s footballers facing a German counter attack than the slick political machine it once was.
Yet, this should have been the moment for the government’s long-awaited comeback. After all, they have done it many times before — changing the leader and then rising like Lazarus clutching a lifetime warranty card in his clammy paw. But just when they had hopes the current leadership contest would drag them up from the Mariana Trench, where their polling numbers now sit, along comes the lead weight of the remarkable licence plate fiasco.
It really does take some doing to actually drive over yourself, but the Tories have somehow managed to do so with gusto.
Once again, it proves in politics that it’s the smaller things that come back to bite you. Ask average Albertans about the multibillion-dollar boondoggle that goes by the name of carbon capture and their eyes will glaze over quicker than a discussion of the Flames’ or Oilers’ upcoming seasonal hopes of a Stanley Cup.
But ask them instead about removing the provincial slogan Wild Rose Country from our licence plates, and replacing it with the bland alberta.ca tag, and quite suddenly, there will appear glint-eyed clarity in those same eyes. Because, as Margaret Thatcher once said about the federal PCs, the Tories should perhaps concentrate a little more on the noun and not so much on the adjective in their moniker.
By definition, conservatives should be wary of change and be defenders of those good things that citizens have long supported — things such as the wild rose slogan on their vehicles’ plates.
But of course, this is purely a political ploy, the increasing fortunes of the Wildrose party having scared the Tories so much, they worry every licence plate has turned into a moving billboard for their opposition.
If the Wildrose lot were down among the also-rans, like the barely breathing Alberta Party, then there would be no move to change any slogan. But that isn’t the case. So instead, some bright spark came up with this plan and then compounded the problem by dishing out the design of the plate-to-be to a U.S.-based company.
So, at a time when the three would-be-premier contenders should be battling it out in debate discussing things such as jobs, opportunity, industry and the environment, and getting the boost in the Tories’ fortunes such leadership contests and resulting publicity usually provide, they are instead fending off questions about licence plates.
It isn’t a one-day wonder, either. This has been rolling along most of the month and shows no sign of ending any time soon, as the three hopefuls try to come up with compromise solutions to a problem that should never have arisen in the first place.
The simplest thing would be for the Tories to declare they’ve listened to Albertans who are clearly unhappy with this move, and that it is obvious most people are content enough with the plates as they are, so the idea is being scrapped.
Then the three contenders for the top job can weigh in and take the wide open high road of telling everyone there are much more substantive issues to discuss and the plate brouhaha is settled and there’s no point in wasting any more time on such a small matter.
But simple doesn’t always mean easy. To move beyond this silliness means accepting this is indeed Wild Rose Country. It wasn’t an embarrassment for the Tories three months ago, but such an admission certainly is now. They have only themselves to blame.
Chris Nelson is a Calgary writer whose column appears every Thursday.
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