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Why the Pundits Got the Alberta Election so Spectacularly Wrong

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It was an otherwise forgettable issue of Newsweek, containing only one real article of note.

"Liberalization is a ploy," declared George Will's column, in response to recent gossip from the Eastern Bloc."The wall will remain."

It hit newsstands November 9, 1989. The very day the wall came down.

Now, multiply Will's embarrassment by a factor of 30 or so, and you'll have some idea what it was like to write about this week's Albertan election, which almost all of Canada's brightest journalistic lights wrongly predicted would conclude with the incumbent Tories getting turfed in favour of the upstart Wildrose Party.

Though editors have been working tirelessly to purge the most embarrassing dissertations of certain gun-jumping writers, thanks to the miracle of caching I can still remind you of this particularly cocky offering by Andrew Coyne, or these "Dewey defeats Truman" musings from PostMedia's Lee Berthiaume.

To be fair, most of the crow-eaters have been relatively good sports.

"Why did I allow myself to be misled by the evidence of two dozen polls over four weeks?" writes Coyne, in a tongue-heavily-in-check retrospective. "Why could I not have foreseen what absolutely no one else foresaw?"

Fellow National Post victim of premature prognostication Gerry "the PCs will lose" Nicholls echos the sentiment.

In retrospect, it's always easy to get judgey about other people's bad hunches, says Nicholls but "all those reasons people are giving for the PC victory are really just educated guesses too."

And what exactly are "all those reasons?" In a word: bozos.

In a startling coincidence, many of the nation's socially-progressive pundits have concluded the reason the Wildrose Party never went anywhere was because it had too many far-right so-con cranks within its ranks.

"In 2012, you can't go around warning that homosexuals will burn in hell, as one Wildrose candidate did, or that ethnic minorities can only speak to their own kind, as another did," says John Ibbittson at the Globe and Mail. Albertans have decisively rejected "the angry idea that gays are doomed to a 'lake of fire,' and the notion that white candidates have an edge," agreed the Toronto Star.

Indeed, if one believes the punditocracy, the two most defining issues of Monday's vote were where gays go after they die and the appropriate protocols for interracial communication. This was admirable because it shows Albertans aren't just a bunch of rubes willing to let their politics get hijacked by petty, irrelevant matters.

Of course, not everyone completely agrees that this election was all about a brave, progressive community rallying together to protest the Aryan brotherhood, which is literally the metaphor Warren Kinsella uses.

Ezra Levant over at Sun TV, for instance, says Premier Redford basically just used a textbook "unite-the-left" strategy to pander to Liberal and NDP voters at the expense of the Tory Party's traditional conservative base. The end result? "A left-wing former United Nations lawyer is now the boss of what used to be the most freedom-loving province in Canada." I've got good news, Saskatchewan!

Though I'm sure he'd hate this comparison, blogger Dan Arnold of Calgary Grit fame basically agrees with Erza, observing that "the PC base has shifted considerably" and that "Redford's mandate was effectively given to her by liberals." Since they now face a well-funded, well-organized challenge from the right, he says the Tories must make peace with the fact that elections can no longer be won "with a few simple chants of 'NEP!' and by outspending their opponents by a factor of 10."

In perhaps the biggest shocker of all, however, some editorialists have been making the claim that the unexpected downfall of Wildrose may have actually had something to do with local Alberta issues!

Paula Simons at the Edmonton Journal, for instance, prattles off a bunch of ways Wildrose leader Danielle Smith alienated Edmonton voters, noting she bashed "publicly and vehemently, some of this city's pet projects, from the Royal Alberta Museum, to the City Centre Airport lands redevelopment, to the restoration of the Federal Building," while Lorne Gunter notes that Calgarians have "clearly forgiven the Tories for the 2008 royalty grab."

I have no clue what any of this means, but I assume it's all pretty important considering the Rosers only won two seats in the province's two biggest cities. Which is kind of a no-no when you're trying to get a majority.

The one belief that seems to unite all Alberta-watchers, however, is that everything changed on Monday. The rise of Wildrose marked the biggest, most historic realignment of the province's party system since Peter Lougheed first unseated the Socreds in 1971, according to just about everyone. Official opposition status is just Danielle Smith's first setback on her inevitable road to power said others.

Conspicuously absent, however, was any mention of New Brunswick's Confederation of Regions Party, the Action Democratique in Quebec, the federal Progressives, or any other one-note party movement whose operatic crescendo to second place ultimately quelled  as sharply as it climaxed.

The press' obsession with viewing all Albertan political happenings through the narrative prism of dynasties -- either current or in-waiting -- has helped turn the actually fairly precedented rise of Wildrose into something much more gothically dramatic, presumably because gothically dramatic stories are way more fun to write about.

The Tories may have been given a scare, in other words, but as far as one-party regimes go, Albertans are still a long way from breaking out the sledgehammers and dancing on graffiti-clad rubble.