Thursday, March 1, 2007

An Open Letter to Ed Stelmach

Mr. Stelmach:

We've never met, but I want you to know that in the recent leadership campaign, there was a number beside your name on my ballot. I am a member of your party, and in all my voting life have always cast my vote for the Progressive Conservative candidate in my riding in provincial elections. Some of this was party loyalty, but most of it was a reflection of the esteem in which I hold the character of my local PC candidate.

I am writing to you using this method in the hope, however forlorn, that you might actually read it. Having worked for a time in a constituency office, I have little doubt that the vast majority of correspondance to you is in fact read and responded to by your staff - it's only practical. There are far too many letters to read and respond to each one personally, and I'm sure that your staff are clear on your priorities and you wishes to make each letter writer feel important.

However, it is of your staff that I wish to speak. Mr. Premier, in a short phrase: "They are letting you down".

I'm not "on the inside" of the inner workings of your office, so I won't pretend to know what's going on. As a member of the public at large, though, I can tell you what SEEMS to be going on: nothing. In politics, it is often the PERCEPTION of reality that counts as much as the reality itself: It's not really all that important to BE honest or trustworthy, so long as you APPEAR honest and trustworthy, you'll be the person elected. Your integrity is highly spoken of by all those who know you, so I have little doubt that, on the "honesty and trustworthiness" front, the perception of Ed Stelmach and the reality of the man are one and the same. However, the perception of PREMIER Ed Stelmach, to the common voter, is of a Premier who is doing nothing.

Mr. Premier, you and I both know that's simply not true. I'm certain you're working at least 12 hours per day, getting up to speed on virtually every aspect of governing the runaway train that is Alberta and its economy. But the public doesn't SEE that work happening... they don't see the late nights, the seven-day work weeks. They see that, since being elected Leader of the PC Association of Alberta, and Premier of the province, their government has seemed to grind to a halt. I have heard it said on several occasions that Premier Klein, in his last few months as a "lame duck" Premier, did more than you have since receiving your mandate from the members of the PC Association of Alberta.

Again, Mr. Premier, you and I know that's not the case. But Albertans are longing for a sign of your intentions - they want to know where you're going to take us. They don't need 50 pieces of legislation passed upon the first 50 days of the next Legislature sitting, they don't need any barn-storming speeches, they just want SOME idea as to what's going on. Your political opponents and detractors aren't sitting back and waiting, either: Already, Mr. Taft has begun defining you and your policies, whether accurately or not. In the absence of anything from your office to the contrary, people are going to start believing what they hear. I don't know if the problem is with the office's communication strategy, or if your advisors have told you that Albertans want some peace and quiet, but I'm telling you, as one of those Albertans: What we want is to hear from you about what path you intend to take us down. So far, all we've heard is that we have a $7 Billion surplus. And yet, despite this surplus, we shouldn't look forward to any additional money for schools, or hospitals. We have a $7 Billion surplus, and across the page from that announcement is a story about expectant mothers sent to Montana to deliver due to a lack of hospital beds.

I have little doubt that running a government is more complicated, more time-consuming, and more complex than anything I will likely ever TRY to do in my life. But Albertans, rightly or wrongly, expect that with the debt dragon slain and with record profits coming in, that the massive infrastructure debt that has piled up over the past decade will be dealt with. At this point, all we've heard is that local authorities are musing over whether they will have to borrow money, and put us back INTO debt, to build these much needed roads and facilities. While we as a province post a surplus of $7 Billion. Enough to build and staff 7 full hospitals. Or hundreds of schools. Or 100 major interchanges.

Mr. Premier, my Grandfather taught me the value of showing trust in your staff. He had plenty of hands working for him on the farm (near Athabasca), and he often made the point that the trust you show in your people returns to you in spades through their hard work. Sometimes, though, Grand-dad had to let people go because, despite their best efforts and intentions, they just weren't meant for the farm-life.

Ed, someone (or several someones) in your office is making you look bad. It's not necessarily their fault, but it's still happening. And if you don't do something about it soon, then Albertans are going to assume that the problem's not with the office, it's with the man who sits in it. And that will surely be a bad day for our Party, and for yourself.

Please, Mr. Premier - show us some leadership. Stand up and tell us where you're taking us. Don't let bad advice or poor communications allow Kevin Taft or Brian Mason to tell us what the Stelmach Government stands for - tell us yourself. We need to know what the plan is, or we'll be forced to conclude that there ISN'T one - while Kevin Taft spends all day telling us HIS plan. It doesn't sound like the greatest plan ever, but it's still more than we're hearing from our Premier's Office these days. If the plan is to HAVE us borrow money to build hospitals and schools, then fine - but TELL us, give us the rationale behind the decision. Every day that passes without a new hospital or new school is made worse by your silence on these issues - and by that $7 Billion sitting in the bank account while people sit in emergency waiting rooms, and kids ride buses an hour each way to school.

One last piece of country wisdom, sir: You only get one chance to make a first impression.

Someone in your office is squandering that chance. I urge you not to let them squander it completely.

- ES

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