Things have been relatively quiet as late, politically... and although several issues are coming to light in the past few days (Arctic sovereignty, Calgary's violent crime spree, Paris Hilton got a new dog) that will no doubt consume the public consciousness, one area lacking in any flashy sound bites or pulpit-pounding protests in the provincial political scene in Alberta. Things have calmed down for the summer - which gives us a chance to take a sober second look at the first half-year of the Stelmach regime in Alberta.
The thing about still waters, is that they tend to either run deepest, or to be stagnant ponds of scum - but enough about Paul Martin, we're talking Alberta politics. The problem with the old stand-by metaphors is that they aren't necessarily relevant to today's Henry or Martha Albertan. So, we'll go with the latest craze to sweep the nation's deep thinkers...
For the first few months of his leadership, Ed Stelmach wasn't playing a lot of hands. There was a lot going on - growth pressures, naming his cabinet, etc. - but he wasn't a daily presence on our television screens. You got the impression that nothing was happening. Ed seemed to be, in poker terms, bleeding chips. Whereas our former premier had a tendency to get right to the heart of things, raise "all in", and stare down any who opposed him (media, opposition politicians, AISH recipients, etc.), Ed seemed to be doing, well, NOTHING. Kevin Taft or one of his lieutenants seemed to be making the radio or television circuits every day, screaming about the lack of affordable housing. Those who were unhappy with his election to the party leadership over their own interests were upset at his moderate views, or his perceived rural bias, or the lack of Calgarians in cabinet. The raises and re-raises were fast and furious - who's maddest at Eddie? But when the betting came around to the Premier's turn, we got the last thing we expected after the past 15 years... we got silence.
"Is Ed even there?", we wondered. "Is he paying attention?". Clearly, some people believe that he's not. Mostly, they believe that Stelmach was the wrong choice for the PC Party, and is the wrong choice for Alberta. But, here's the rub: the guy who's sitting quietly at the table is often the guy with all the chips at the end.
Premier Stelmach hasn't allowed himself to be bullied by the groups and politicians clamouring for more impetuous actions on his part. He hasn't panicked when pressed. He hasn't found himself "pot committed", and had to follow good chips with bad. He's quietly, methodically, played the cards as they've come. He knows what he wants to do, and he's doing it on his timetable.
As anyone who plays poker can tell you, the person who wins the game isn't always the one who plays the best. And it is VERY rarely the person who gets dealt the best cards. Rather, it's the person who goes in with a game plan, and sticks to it. The PATIENT player wins, more often than not. It's called "playing tight", and Ed Stelmach is either asleep at the switch, or he has it down to a science. He's the player who stays in for 1 of every 10 hands. The player who gets mocked by the others - at least, early in the game. "Whoah, miracles never cease, Ed's actually PLAYING a hand". At the end of the night, Ed has all the chips. Try mocking that.
Nation, I don't know if the Stelmachs play poker. Maybe it's a "cribbage home", or they prefer bridge, or pinochle. For all I know, NONE of the Stelmachs play poker, let alone the Premier. But if he DOES, then Kevin Taft had better be careful how hard he pushes the stakes - because if Ed Stelmach really IS slow-playing his hand, then Kevin is going to need a barrel to wear for that long, lonely walk home.
Because the Tories don't play to make it to the final table... they play to win, they play for keeps, and the past 3 decades weren't a streak of lucky hands.