Nation, I'm going to take a look over the next week or so at the 4 parties in Alberta with sitting MLA's as we go into the Legislature's next session.
Primarily, I'll be putting on my "Partisan" hat, to look at how the parties can bolster their fortunes - if their respective leaders were taking advice from me (I'm available, FYI).
We'll work in order according to the number of seats a party has... so, without any further ado...
Thank-you for the chance to contribute to righting the Good Ship PC. I know it's been a while since last we talked, and I don't want to get off on the wrong foot by repeating something I said the last time, but it simply has to be repeated:
The people around you are letting you down, Ed. And they're letting down the PC Party as well.
The ones who suggested you roll out the "wage rollbacks" for yourself and cabinet, thinking Albertans weren't capable of using Google and/or calculators? The ones who told the production company responsible for "The Way Forward" not to make it "too slick looking", and almost gave you a video disaster of Dion-esque proportions? The ones who told you to bring up the spectre of "vote splitting" last week? They're all doing way, way, WAY more harm than good. You've got to get rid of them...
The unelected gurus in your office aren't the bosses, Mr. Premier - YOU are. The Speaker made that point a while back - it's time to take it to heart.
And, of course, now that you have The Enlightened Savage in your corner, you're set for the long haul, anyhow. ;)
Anyways, Ed, I'm writing this memo to list for you a few of the ways in which you can stop the bleeding, and (with any luck) really shore up the party's fortunes, so that when I myself run for the leadership, we'll have a 70-or-more seat majority. So, let's call this "motivated self interest".
1. Stop with the nonsense. Let's call a spade a spade, alright? Vote splitting on the right is NOT going to turn the keys to the Premier's Office over to David Swann. Nothing short of an asteroid striking the Earth or 2 million of Swann's family members turning 18 and moving to Alberta is going to get the Liberals into power - and everyone in this province knows it. When you talk about that sort of thing, you look desperate (not a good look for you), or clueless - I know you're neither.
2. Say it with me: "We screwed up". People loved Ralph. Up until he lost his mojo, he had most of the province in the palm of his hand - because he knew how to apologize. Probably because he got so much practice at it. The bottom line, though, is that when the party started to take a course of action that the majority of Albertans wouldn't support, Ralph would stand up, say "we screwed up", and then move on to fix the situation. You're fixing most of these situations behind-the-scenes, but that's not enough for politics in Alberta - the voters want to see and hear you eat some crow first.
3. Shuffle the Cabinet. There are a few obvious changes that have to be made, Ed - whether you wait until after the AGM is up to you. If you shuffle BEFORE, it'll look like you're doing it out of panic. Afterwards, it'll be seen as a forced move - damned if you do, damned if you don't. Firstly, you've got to get Janis out of Children's Services. The well is poisoned for her there - it's going to keep getting worse unless you move someone else in there. Secondly, name Alison Redford as Deputy Premier. This has many benefits: It'll tick off Rob Anders. Also, she's qualified, and it shows Calgary, and women, that you value them both - which can't be a bad message to be sending, given the fact that a) it's TRUE, and b) a Calgarian woman was just named leader of one of the opposition parties. Thirdly, and this is going to surprise a lot of my regular readers: promote Ted Morton. Promote him all the way up the ladder, to Minister of Finance. This isn't a reflection on the job Minister Evans has done - far from it. But we're in a deficit position, seen to be lurching away from the conservative fiscal policy that had been this party's hallmark - and yours, as one of the "Deep Six". Socially, we're not too far from the Liberals. Fiscally, we HAVE to be seen as markedly different from them, or we'll be setting the plate for a "Liberal, Tory, same old story" campaign coming at us from the right in 2012. Which brings us to...
4. Put the "Conservative" back into "Progressive Conservative". Most Albertans - contrary to popular opinion - sit in the soft middle, politically. We're fairly progressive, socially, and we're fiscally conservative. We want the best government we can afford, and we want government to stay out of our lives as much as possible. Now, for the most part, the PC's have done a fair job of establishing themselves as reasonably progressive, socially. We do NOT need to become a more socially conservative party - we sit socially where most Albertans do, in the middle. Where we've strayed, though, is on the issue of fiscal conservatism. We need to get back into that electoral sweet spot, and fast, before someone else (WAP) jumps our claim. You can start this process with 2 easy steps: First, agree to implement the recommendation at the upcoming PC AGM to freeze spending increases to the growth of population plus inflation. Second - and stay with me here, Ed - implement advice point #2 above ("We screwed up") in front of the nearest television camera, and fully fund the Auditor General. We need to know every dime that's being wasted in government, so that when we come out and say we're going to cut spending, we know WHERE it can be cut without negatively affecting service levels... the "cutbacks" debate becomes a "we said/they said" where nobody can back up their claims. A full audit of a department, printed and bound, is a hell of a prop when talking about cuts - because you have areas of waste, written down on paper, that can be cut - with dollar figures attached.
5. Give the Power to the People. A lot of people disengage from politics altogether - or join other parties - because they feel the PC Party doesn't respect their opinion. It's one of the only "top-down" conservative organizations I can think of... "put in countless hours working on policy ideas, Mr. and Mrs. PC Volunteer... and if you can get them through the gauntlet of obstacles, we'll put it to a vote at an AGM, at which point the 70 people in caucus can arbitrarily decide to ignore it, and it doesn't become PC policy - because heaven forbid we endorse a policy as a party that the PC government doesn't implement for political reasons. It makes us look foolish". Yes, it does. But not for the reason you'd think. 2 things you can do to address this right away, and take some of the wind out of the opposition's "PC's are undemocratic" sails: Set fixed election dates (which costs us almost nothing as a party, yet gives us back some of our conservative credibility), and pass a law (and follow it!) requiring all political entities in the province - that's anyone, running for anything - to make public the names and amounts of each and every donor to their party/leadership campaign/mayoral campaign/whichever. Most companies donate to multiple parties anyway - so the assertion that you'll be mad at someone for donating to Danielle is ridiculous. I'm more likely to get fired from my public service job for calling you "Ed" in print than BP or Suncorp are to face gov't sanctions for supporting Danielle for the WAP leadersh - ERR, perhaps I've said too much. ;)
Ed, you're a good man, and a capable manager. I've never talked to ANYONE who met you and didn't like you. Your polling numbers right now aren't a judgement about Ed Stelmach the man, they're a judgement on the performance of your government. We're not stupid, we Albertans - we know the whole world's economy went into the crapper, it wasn't just ours. We're not blaming you for that. But a growing number of the voters are seeing you as the leader of a government thrashing around, trying to put out fires with gasoline. We've got a public perception problem - and some of the people around you, giving you bad advice, are to blame.
Which isn't to excuse you 100% either, sir. At the end of the day, you're choosing to follow this bad advice. But it isn't too late to take a stand, tell those advising you to pipe down, and do the right thing - the SMART thing - for the party, for your own leadership, and for the province.
Because if you do the right thing for the province, it makes people happy, even if they're a bit inconvenienced. They'll support you for making the tough call, as long as it's the RIGHT one. And if it's NOT the right one, admit it, and THEN fix it.
It's not rocket science. After all, if RALPH can do it...