Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Waterloo, or Trafalgar?

Nation, there comes a time in each leader's rule when their mettle is tested, and measured. A moment, an opportunity, for them to step forward from the shadows of history and define themselves by a singular choice, a definitive, history-making decision that will ensure their place in the annals of time immemorial. They get to make a choice that determines whether they are remembered as a great leader, or as a failure.

For the Honourable Edward Michael Stelmach, Thirteenth Premier of the Province of Alberta, Eighteenth Leader (if you count Bennett twice) of the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta nee the Alberta Conservative Party nee the Northwest Territories Liberal-Conservative Party, that moment has arrived.

The report of the Auditor General of Alberta, Fred Dunn, has come back with absolutely scathing reports of mismanagement of the wealth and resources that belong to all Albertans. From oilsands royalties to ministerial expenses, this report paints a damning picture of a party that has lost touch with itself and its founding principles.

If Premier Stelmach does not act decisively on this report, his party will also quickly lose touch with Albertan voters.

THIS is the moment which will define Ed Stelmach, and his legacy of leadership. 30 years from now, students will either look in their history books and read about the man who cleaned up the PC Party and led his province on to further greatness, fully harnessing the energies and potential of the land and its people... or they will read about the man who squandered his chance at greatness, sent it to committees and hearings, and eventually oversaw the collapse of a 3 decades-long hold onto the seat of power in Alberta.

The PC Party is rotting. It is dying from stagnation... it hasn't changed in almost 15 years - it hasn't HAD to. What this report gives Ed, though, is a chance to walk into that board room, drop a copy on the table (carefully, Ed - it's almost 400 pages), and blow up the whole damned thing and start over. It's CLEARLY what this party, and this government (NO, PC ideologues, they are NOT the same thing) sorely needs.

When Klein won the leadership of the PC Party, he left little doubt that this was NOT your daddy's PC Party. The feel-good, don't-worry-be-happy days were over. Yes, we are in charge, yes, we were in charge when the NEP came in, and when this debt and deficit first hit the books, but that was THEN, and this is NOW. We're cutting, well, EVERYTHING. We're paying, as a province, for our past sins. Please, Lord, give us another oil boom, and we promise we won't piss away the money like we did the last time.

And, for years, Ralph stuck to it. Voters rewarded him, time after time, with staggering majorities. They didn't view the debt and deficit as PC Party creations, they viewed them as LOUGHEED and GETTY PC Party creations. The guys in charge NOW? They're not Lougheed and Getty's PC's, they're Ralph's Team. They're fixing it.

And then, over time, things started breaking down again.

Well, Fred Dunn has just produced a 400-page "Fix It" List, and now the ball is in Ed's court. Will he step up to the mic, beg forgiveness for the party's sins, and then, in the same press conference, roll out a list of sweeping changes that will improve accountability and refresh the benches of government and the hallways of power? He'd better, because if Ed doesn't replace the people in charge, then Henry and Martha will. This kind of report leads to the six deadliest words in Alberta politics: "They're no better than the Liberals".

That's the tipping point... once you get there, there is no turning back. You're done.

The Stelmach administration is still new enough that Ed can cop a plea to the people of Alberta, and say "I had no idea it was this bad, we're fixing it right now, starting today, and here's how". If he does that, the voters will reward him for his honest and forthright admission. If he is NOT seen to be moving on this file, and moving full-speed ahead as of 20 seconds after he turned the last page on the report, then he and his government, and his party, will be held accountable to and by the people.

Albertans will forgive many things, if proper penitence is paid, and if someone acts truly repentant. But they need to see swift and decisive action to deal with the malaise, greed, arrogance, and addiction to power that this report speaks to. They are cancers that are running rampant through the PC Party - and if Martha and Henry don't see Dr. Ed Stelmach aggressively excising those cancers, they're going to write off the patient.

Ultimately, leaders are defined by their "NOW" moments... nobody remembers Nelson's defeats, they remember his heroic Victory (pun intended) at Trafalgar... few think of Napoleon as ruler of Europe - instead, they think of the small man who saw his nation's hopes for dominance crushed at Waterloo.

Ultimately, these next few days - 2 weeks, at the most - will define Ed Stelmach as a leader. How will our grand-children view early October, 2007? As Ed Stelmach's Waterloo, or as his Trafalgar?

Alberta waits with baited breath to find out.

No comments: