Nation, I received the kind offer from a friend and political thinker whom I respect very much to come into the ES Nation today and throw down some thoughts while I keep trying to master my deep breathing. I'm indebted to this person for the effort they put into the post, and for thinking of me at this difficult time. They've asked to remain anonymous - and no, I don't know if that means they donated to Danielle's leadership campaign (or to Ed's, for that matter).
Their text begins... now.
Hello Enlightened Savage readers!
This is not your regular Savage speaking. Rather, I’m someone who calls the ES my friend and the general label of “conservative” my political home. As you all know, our buddy the Savage was politically blindsided on his way back from the land of the midnight sun. I offered up a guest post to keep his readers entertained while he collected his thoughts for what will surely be a substantial post down the road. I’ll admit that part of my offer was a bit selfish. I don’t really have an outlet of my own and I wanted to express some serious concerns and offer some advice to the powers that be in the PC party/government – one that I have been a supporter of for some time. Nonetheless, my offer was graciously accepted.
The Stelmach government has been in declining fortunes for well over a year now. Between poor communications, a return to deficit budgeting, and a myriad of other woes, things are not looking good in PC land these days. Fundraising is at a near-standstill and voters, as well as volunteers, are considering their options.
I can be described as one of those volunteers considering their options. I still support my MLA and think there are folks who are doing, or at least trying to do, some good work in government. But I also think that the way of doing things needs to change - some big gaffes in the past few months have made that pretty clear. And unfortunately for the PCs, I’m part of a growing number of Albertans whose attention has been captivated by Danielle Smith… not totally sold on the Wildrose Alliance, but not scared of them, either.
I have been questioning my political allegiance for a while now and there are a number of causes for this. As I put my pen to paper (or, rather, finger to keyboard), there were five fairly recent things that came to mind when I thought of sources of my political frustration. And so, here is my rant:
THE CABINET SHUFFLE
The upcoming shuffle has already been botched in some ways, which is pretty unfortunate. Although there is often speculation in advance of a cabinet shuffle in any jurisdiction, it is almost unheard of for a leader to confirm an impending shuffle… much less give it a timeline. Yet, that is exactly what Premier Stelmach did in December when he told us to expect a cabinet shuffle in mid-January and unleashed a 6-week frenzy of cabinet speculation that included the Gaming and Liquor Commission shutting down an online bet on the makeup of Alberta’s next cabinet. As if this wasn’t bad enough, we have recently been told that this shuffle is now on hold until the Premier is back from Dubai at the end of the month. Seriously? Did you not consider that maybe it was a bad idea to shuffle cabinet and then leave the continent? This is a prime example of why you don’t tell people when a shuffle is coming. Plans change and when they do, it only fuels the sentiment that it’s amateur hour down at the Legislature.
Thankfully, all hope is not lost. By the time the cabinet IS shuffled, almost two months will have passed. In these two months, Albertans will have been told repeatedly that the new cabinet team will play a big role in setting the new agenda for the Stelmach government between now and the next election. People’s expectations have been raised but good: you MUST deliver on them.
And by deliver, I mean grab the axe and start sharpening. No fewer than 4 Ministers need to be sent to the backbench, namely: Ray Danyluk, George Groeneveld, Janis Tarchuk, and Fred Lindsay. All four are poor, uninspiring performers who can easily be replaced with brighter talents in caucus. Iris Evans should also be shown the door, but it is often said that she’d do more damage outside of cabinet than in, so perhaps a simple demotion will have to do.
Ron Liepert has to be moved from Health. He’s stubborn and argumentative, two qualities that also embody the unions representing most of his department. They don’t get along and that’s bad, period. Punt him to Energy so he can placate the boys at the Petroleum Club in Calgary. There are a number of other changes that can be made, but it’s important for this shuffle to be big. Very few, if any, Ministers should retain their current portfolios (Rob Renner comes to mind as one who could and should stay put).
And don’t be afraid to put capable backbenchers in big jobs. Fred Horne and Diana McQueen are must-haves at the cabinet table and can easily handle major portfolios. Lethbridge MLA Greg Weadick would bring an important southern Alberta voice. Remember that Alison Redford can’t be Justice Minister forever and Hancock has already had the job, so maybe look at the other two lawyers in caucus: Jonathan Denis and Verlyn Olson. And, if you REALLY want to show you’re serious about changing the way business is done, stop punishing independent streaks and reward the smartest man in the Legislature by putting Doug Griffiths in cabinet.
Stop calling for Forsyth and Anderson to step down and run in by-elections as Wildrose candidates. It’s a stupid idea. Let’s say they actually went ahead with the suggestion and DID step down to run again a-la Sheila Copps: what would that accomplish? If you’re the PCs, not a damn thing.
Not only would a pair of by-elections serve to draw attention (every day for an entire 28-day writ period) to the fact that two government MLAs left government to sit in opposition… they would both win their seats back - quite handily, too. A month of anti-government press (almost guaranteed in Calgary these days) capped off with a couple of Wildrose blowout victories will only legitimize the notion that the good ship Tory has already hit the iceberg and is on her way down in spectacular fashion.
Enough with the notion of vote-splitting electing a Liberal government in Alberta, already. Even the most uneducated voter knows what a ridiculous statement this is. Alberta has had two “conservative” parties on the ballot in a number of elections and not once has it resulted in the election of a Liberal government.
In Calgary and rural Alberta, the battle will be for conservative voters and, in the vast majority of constituencies, one of the two conservative (PC or Wildrose) candidates will win. The threat of vote-splitting is somewhat legitimate in Edmonton, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The centre-left deserves a voice, too, and Edmonton is by and large where those voters reside. Besides, have you taken a look at the PC’s Edmonton caucus? Not exactly a stellar class of bright lights. Save for 2 or 3 of them, Edmontonians would be better served by new MLAs… even if they were Liberals or New Democrats.
WILDROSE CAUCUS FUNDING
A lot of people, myself included, don’t really know much about this members services committee at the Alberta Legislature (I had to do a fair bit of reading to bone up on this for this guest post). Turns out they’ve got a fair bit of power. Knowing what I know now, I have a plea to the PC MLAs who sit on the committee: Do not even remotely consider denying caucus funding to the Wildrose Alliance MLAs.
People are just waiting for the government caucus to wield their majority in an abusive manner. This happens fairly often, but no one ever really pays attention because the decisions usually go against the Liberals. Now, it’s a different ball game.
I don’t really know the numbers, but let’s say allocating caucus funding for the Wildrose Alliance would cost $1 million annually including the funding they already receive as MLAs. That’s $2 million until the next election. Yes, everyone is trying to practice budgetary restraint, but that’s not a lot of money in the grand scheme of things. There will be a few arguments against extending caucus funding to the Wildrose Alliance, but they don’t really hold up.
Argument #1 against providing caucus funding to the 3 Wildrose Alliance MLAs would be that they are not an official party based on the standing orders. This could also allow the committee to terminate the exception and, thus, the funding provided to the NDP citing a change in the makeup of the Assembly. If the committee does this, not only does it look like the PC caucus is wielding its majority to hamper opposition to the government, it will also make the committee and, by default, the PC caucus look very foolish if and when more defections take place and the Wildrose Alliance is a duly-constituted caucus of 4 (or more) MLAs and entitled to caucus funding without exception.
Argument #2 would be that there simply isn’t enough money in the Legislative Assembly Office budget to fund another caucus. There are so many holes in this, both real and perceived, that it shouldn’t be given any serious consideration. First of all, most Albertans don’t understand the difference between the Executive and Legislative branches of government… all they know is that their tax dollars go to pay for all of it. With announcements of spending gems such as $7 million to paint a train and run it back and forth from Vancouver to Whistler for 2 weeks, it’s a little hard to believe you’re not able to can’t come up with relative chump change to properly fund the opposition. The aforementioned bit about looking foolish if and when the Wildrose Alliance caucus hits 4 MLAs applies here, too… tough cheese if you weren’t planning on spending it, the standing orders say they’re entitled to that operational cash once they’re at 4.
Communications has not been a strength of the Stelmach administration – even they admit it. Under the normal circumstances of Alberta politics (i.e.: boring and uneventful) this wouldn’t be a big deal since no one would be paying attention anyway. That’s not the case anymore, and the Premier’s office, the PC caucus, and the party apparatus need to come to grips with this quickly using more than an automated e-mail system and the occasional scripted video on youtube.
It’s really unfortunate that Paul Stanway is hitting the road in a few weeks. With him leaving, the task of spin master theoretically falls to Tom Olsen. If reaction to this week’s defections is any indication, Tom shouldn’t be the spokesperson on this file. It’s clear that neither the Premier’s Director of Media Relations, nor the Premier himself will be the lead speaker on this issue. That’s fine, but a dozen different people saying a dozen different things is not fine. Pick a spokesman or two, maybe a loyal and respected cabinet minister like Doug Horner, and let them be the defender of all things Eddie. No more of this “great leader” and “amazing visionary” stuff, though… people don’t really buy it and it makes the man sound a bit like Kim Jong-Il. Pay some consultant to come up with a clear set of messages that will resonate with folks – it’s pretty clear that nothing developed in-house has done the job so far – and keep your spokesmen on script. This will serve to eliminate (or at least attempt to eliminate) conflicting messages and, if it’s really well done, might actually give you a bit of traction.
One more thing: if the plan was to send an e-mail from “Premier Ed” every time his leadership is called into question, drop that plan now. The Premier Ed e-mails creep people out as much as they engage supporters and, more importantly, sending out a message every time someone leaves caucus or a scathing editorial is printed makes the Premier and his team look weak and insecure.
And so ends my rant. A little blunt and kinda pissy? Yeah… but I think you’ll find that attitude if you scratch the surface of a lot of PC supporters these days. The next few weeks and months are going to be some of the most interesting we’ve seen in Alberta politics for a generation. As frustrated as I am, I think there’s light at the end of the tunnel. I, and a lot of PCs in the same position, still believe that things could turn around for the party – but we need to see some major changes. We’ve made our objections known and, I hope, have provided important feedback those who should have influence with the powers that be.
It might be taken, and it might not. This has been the ebb and flow of the PC party for more than a generation. The difference now? If we don’t like the direction we see – we have somewhere to go.