Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Federal Cabinet, PC Alberta Fortunes, and Ed's Media Strategy

Alright, so moving day has come and gone, and with it my excuse for a lack of timely updates.

Stephen Harper is reported to have called the Cabinet to Ottawa, presumably for the “pre-Christmas shuffle” we were promised. Any moves beyond Environment are in “all bets are off” territory, while Environment is rumoured to be going to Jim Prentice, as covered in earlier posts. I don’t have a problem with Rona Ambrose or the job she’s done, but given the awful communications strategy by the government when it came to the Environment portfolio, they definitely need a new face to present their policies, and get a “mulligan”. More on this if and when anything actually HAPPENS.

I recently read a newspaper piece suggesting the Ed Stelmach’s Tories were doomed to defeat at the hands of an Alberta Alliance featuring BOTH Ted Morton and Jim Dinning in key roles. This is about as likely as my sprouting an extra head. Ted and Jim are unlikely to be found in the same ROOM together, let alone on the same ticket. Ted may yet find his way to the Alliance camp, but Jim is likely done with politics altogether and is fundamentally out-of-step with most of the Alberta Alliance principles – that dog just won’t hunt.

Another recent newspaper report suggested that the PC’s were going to be in some serious trouble in the next provincial election. This is a very real possibility, but the winds need to blow JUST right to take it from possibility to reality. The Alberta Alliance is not the threat that its backers make it out to be – yet. The reality is that although the fiscal policies of the Alliance are keeping in step with the values of most Albertans, the social policies of the party make it unpalatable enough to most Albertans, even self-identified small-c conservatives, to keep the Alliance off the benches of power. Social conservatives, however, are VERY motivated voters, and the general malaise that sets in over time with supporters of the status quo will keep some PC voters away, while those who want to see a change, and a re-shifting of our provincial priorities to the right, will come out in droves for the very reason that they KNOW it’s going to be hard to unseat the incumbent party. The Alliance’s real power to affect the election, though, lies not in taking seats from the Tories for themselves, but in splitting enough of the vote on the right to allow the Liberals to come up the middle and take enough seats from the PC’s in the cities to put the Tories in a minority situation.

Mind you, this will only happen if the Liberals and Alliance do EVERYTHING right in the next election, which is hardly plausible. In all likelihood, if an election were held tomorrow, we’d likely see similar numbers to those we see right now, with maybe one more seat for the Alliance, and one or two Calgary seats falling to the Liberals. The end result would still be a large Tory majority. But, as my farming ancestors used to say, there’s a lot of hay to pitch before the sun goes down, so we’ll see what kind of public sentiment prevails when the time comes. For now, the Tories need to work hard at delivering on Ed’s promises and priorities and let Albertans see that they are a party that is still focused on delivering good governance, not just on being able to cling to the reigns of power with no idea where to steer the horse.

One other thing that needs to be brought up is Ed’s media strategy. As reported on Larry Johnsrude's blog, Premier Stelmach is already making friends in the media. Now, I understand that we all have a right to some modicum of privacy, and Ed Stelmach is no different. But in the business of politics, image isn’t everything, but it’s darned close… chasing off reporters with Alberta Sheriffs sure doesn’t contribute to the image the party wants Ed to have: that of the everyman, the humble farmer. I understand that it was Ed's "Security People" who made the call on how to deal with the trespasser, and in matters of imminent security unknowns, their authority supercedes his. Fine. But he needs to talk to them very seriously about how to handle situations like this in the future. Dealing with the media monkeys in such a heavy-handed way will only contribute to an image of a party that has lost touch with the average Albertan - a party that has grown decadent and arrogant over its 30 years in power. The Liberals and the Alliance would be very wise to strike on this while the iron is hot – first impressions last the longest.

This isn’t the Ottawa Tories, where the media has been so blatantly ANTI-your party for so long that you need to, excuse the expression, “build a firewall” between yourself and the media, to control the message and let them know you won’t be intimidated. This is Alberta – most of the Alberta-based media are at least fair, if not outright biased TOWARDS the PC party. Granted, the reporter in question was from MacLean’s, which is hardly Alberta-based. He hadn't even identified himself as media, so at the time he was just a trespasser on the farm, taking pictures and who knew (at the time) what else... But the details will escape most casual news readers and viewers. The bottom line, politically and image-wise, is that this incident illustrates and helps build a sense of a guy who maybe is a bit too big for his britches, which is exactly the OPPOSITE of the image the Tories are wanting, and needing, to sell to Joe Albertan if they intend to remain in power.


The Watcher said...

In reality, the Alberta Alliance is not much of a threat - at least while it is lead by Paul Hinman.

Over at my blog, Alberta Alliance Watch, I have been chronicling a number of stories:

1. The Alliance is in terrible financial shape - the biggest debts of any party, and very limited fundraising ability;
2. The party is deeply divided over Paul Hinman's leadership. Marilyn Burns has left the party; Randy Thorsteinson is constantly bickering with Hinman; the Board overruled Hinman and John Murdoch on Hinman's decision to formally endorse Ted Morton;
3. The AA's biggest media booster - Paul Jackson - has, in the past 8 months, (i) called on Hinman to step down, and (ii) has described the party as "seemingly dead" under his leadership;
4. The Alliance communications staff has been invisible ever since Jonathan Williams left;
5. The Alliance is at rock bottom levels in the polls.

I think many observers agree that there is room on the right for an alternative to the PC Party. However, the Alberta Alliance will not be that alternative.

I predict it will be wiped out in the next election, and will self-destruct in a paroxysm of bitterness and hate.

Anonymous said...


While I agree that Stelmach probably needs to instruct his security people to prevent another MacLean's-type article, I don't think this is something you can ever get away from entirely. Nor do I think that the MacLean's reporter should have been rewarded with an exclusive interview or photo op, for tresspassing on private property without notice. I wonder if the current premier had lived in a house in one of Alberta's larger cities, and an unidentified man had walked around in the back of the yard and not came to the front door and announced himself, if this article would have been written the way it was.

Call me cynical, but if the reporter/photog had been invited in, the article probably would have been slanted in "Premier Hillbilly"-style anyway. This is MacLean's after all, and that type of thinking appears to be in vogue these days (the last allowable form of discrimination and sterotyping). Sometimes there is no pleasing people. Maybe the Alberta-based media could be generalized as being "fair" to the PC Party. But make no mistake. The media do what gets papers sold and TV newscasts watched.

In other ways, I think the media strategy has been reasonably good so far. Opening up the Premier's swearing-in to the public seemed to go over very well with John Q Citizen. And I think that starting the Premier's website, publicly disclosing ministers' mandate letters, etc. are in the spirit of transparency that Stelmach sold his campaign on.

P.S. Glad you are posting again. Keep it up.