Firstly, it will be Albertans' first chance to see how their newly-minted Premier, Ed Stelmach, interacts with his fellow Premiers. Ed's been in the political game for a while, but he hasn't been the Chief Cook & Bottle Washer of Canada's economic engine for all that long. Other Premiers, notably Jean Charest and Dalton McGuinty, are saying that they aim to take action on pollution and carbon emissions, but will not "impose" anything on Alberta. Being politicians, we'll have to wait and see if they mean what they say.
Indeed, Ed's performance is going to be watched very closely at these meetings, not least of all by the wolves on the right fringes of punditry whom have been baying for Ed's head since about 10 minutes after the second ballot votes were tallied.
If Stelmach shows a total disinclination towards co-operation at any real cost to Alberta, it will show that, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the salad days of inter-provincial co-operation are over, for better or for worse. Granted, Alberta faces its own unique challenges, as does Ed's government - let's remember that he has yet to win a general election, and a full mandate from Martha and Henry. Ed's job as our Premier is to help us meet and overcome those challenges. IF he can do that while still maintaining good relationships with the other provinces, it will be a bonus. But he needs to tread very carefully when considering what concessions he can afford to make to Dalton, Jean and the others: The voters in Mississauga and Sherbrooke don't pay Ed's wages, the voters in Drayton Valley and Athabasca do. He needs to remember that, because those same voters certainly will.
It begs the question, "what other option do Albertans have to protect the province from outside plundering?". Currently, the answer is "none", although those same howling pseudo-intellectuals would have you believe that the Wildrose Party is ready to seize power from the Tories as soon as this Winter.
Look, Nation, let's be clear on this: The Wildrose initiative is a good and healthy one for Albertans to consider. I encourage EVERYONE to visit their website, and come to your own conclusions. I agree with the group's founding principles. But this party is as ready to take the reins of power as I am (which is to say, not at all). It has no official platform, no leader, no policies, has yet to define itself on the political spectrum (although social conservatives are salivating at the chance to co-opt the movement), no capacity for fund-raising, and it doesn't even have official party status. By the time the party hits a ballot, it could look like anything from the UFA to the Alberta First Party to the Lougheed Tories. Wildrose may very well be a player in a handful of years. But it is NOT a factor in Alberta at present, and all the wishful thinking in the world by hardcore backers won't change that fact.
Stelmach needs to be wary of Henry and Martha's reaction to his performance, but to think he looks under the bed for the Wildrose Party at night is nothing short of preposterous.
The other interesting dynamic to watch in these meetings will be how the Premiers co-operate - or not - in their approach to the Federal Government of Stephen Harper. It's currently the prevailing opinion that the Harper Tories are "in like Flynn", and unlikely to head to the hustings any time soon, with a political dead heat in public opinion polls. The Liberals don't want an election, the NDP don't want an election, the Tories don't want an election, and (rightly so) nobody gives a damn what the Bloc wants. But one scandal, one slip of the tongue or one international mis-step could build enough momentum for one of the parties that we find ourselves with a new government in the next year, be it a Tory majority, or a change in governments altogether.
The Harper Tories have been good for the provinces in some ways, and bad for them in some others. It will be interesting to see if the Harper Haters (Danny Williams and Lorne Calvert, to start) will take the whole chance to just take a giant crap on the Feds at every step, or whether they'll moderate their tone somewhat in the face of political uncertainty. I'm betting on option A. Danny and Lorne would rather have Prime Minister Dion to try and push around. As for the others... as I said, the Tories have been good for them in some ways, and bad for them in others.
It could be that "neutrality" is a term we'll hear at this conference that isn't automatically preceded by the word "carbon".
For political junkies, this is going to be a fun 2 days in an otherwise bleak landscape (municipal election hype notwithstanding). Let the games begin!