Sunday, January 30, 2011

What's Next?

Well, Nation - hope it was as boring a week for you all as it was for me.  Pretty much NOTHING went on this past week...  it was a nice vacation.

Of course, if you want to get technical, I suppose SOME items of small import crossed the radar this week...  I mean, in a span of 3 days, we saw the Alberta Party attract its first MLA (a former Liberal leadership candidate, at that), the Premier of the province of Alberta publicly announce that he would not be leading the Alberta PC Party into the next election, and the resignation of the Finance Minister, to seek that job.

So all in all, a pretty slow week in Alberta politics. ;-)

The question many are asking, with a nod to The West Wing, is "what's next?".

Well, I'll start by telling you what's NOT next: A eulogy for Ed Stelmach. Until the end of the spring sitting of the Legislature he remains the Premier of this province, and will govern with the massive mandate he received from voters WAYYYY back in spring of 2008.

I've heard it said that American Presidents do their best governing in the final "lame duck" year of their second term...  they've got no future battles to save their political capital for, no party line to toe in hopes of getting a more favourable Congress during the next election...  they can do what's RIGHT, and to hell with whether or not it's popular. That's the NEXT guy's problem.

Well, this is the position Ed Stelmach finds himself in.  Of course, Ed has already indicated that while he himself will be riding off into the sunset, he has no intention of hobbling the next PC Leader with massively unpopular moves on his way out the door. But he IS still "The Guy" - and his legacy is far from written. I expect that over the next 4 or 5 months, we may all get a glimpse of the Ed Stelmach that those of us lucky enough to have sat across from the man for a casual chat already know.

The question then comes up again: After Ed leaves, what's next?

Well, I've had the opportunity over the past few days to connect with several good sources within the PC Party (some within the PC Caucus itself), and here's what I've been able to glean...

Cabinet Shuffle: Ed has strongly urged, without ordering, cabinet minister with leadership ambitions to step aside. Once the dust settles from that exodus, those government departments are going to need new Ministers. Current "lower-level" Ministers can look forward to possible promotion to replace any high-profile cabinet members who step aside to seek the leadership, while MLA's outside of cabinet at present can hope for promotion to fill those ensuing vacancies near the bottom of the cabinet food chain. It's very likely that there will be little in the way of radical changes in direction under the new Ministers, as they all try not to mess up in the hopes of showing the new Leader - whomever that is - that they can handle high-level responsibility.

Interim Leader: It's possible that Premier Stelmach is going to wait until the end of the spring session to even tender his formal letter of resignation to the PC Party President. If that's the case, smart money is on Ed not wanting to wait around for 4-to-6 months while his promised "full, fair and transparent" leadership selection process runs its course - after all, Fall harvest waits for no one. If he steps out of the light before the leadership selection process has run its course, expect an interim leader to be chosen.  Deputy Premier Doug Horner is said to have leadership ambitions himself, so he'd be out as a possible interim leader/Premier. Multiple non-related sources have suggested Calgary-Foothills MLA Len Webber might be an ideal choice for the interim post.  Webber is a capable Minister of International and Intergovernmental Relations, is universally respected in the Legislature, is an all-around nice guy, and isn't said to be harbouring any leadership aspirations of his own.  It's also worth noting that his father was an MLA and cabinet minister in the Lougheed and Getty governments.  If Ed's not going to stick around to hand the baton to his successor directly, Webber would be a popular choice for interim leader and interim Premier, and the Legislative Assembly likely wouldn't sit until a new, permanent leader was chosen anyhow.

There IS a possibility that the timeframe will be moved up and a leadership vote could take place as early as June, but that call is entirely in the hands of Premier Ed Stelmach. The race doesn't start until he signs that letter - and there are things he still wants to get done, while he's in a position to do them. Once he signs the letter of intent to resign, he might feel he's abdicating his mandate to govern.

The Contenders: We've heard many names from both the traditional and electronic media over the past 5 days. Everyone from W. Brett Wilson (of "Dragon's Den" fame) to Ric McIver to the Two Jims (Prentice and Dinning) to Ken Hughes, former PC Member of Parliament for MacLeod and current Chair of Alberta Health Services. These "outsiders" (by which I mean, people not surrently sitting in the Legislatuve Assembly) may have a legitimate shot at being seen by PC's as the White Knights riding in to rescue them, but I want to talk today about the contenders who wouldn't need to win a byelection to serve as Premier.

In no particular order:

Ted Morton: Morton is 61 years-old, and is widely considered the front-runner for the job. In 2006, he finished 3rd in the race to replace outgoing PC Leader Ralph Klein. He served ably as Minister of Sustainable Resource Development and Minister of Finance under Premier Stelmach. Widely thought of as a social and fiscal conservative, it has been suggested that a Morton win in the leadership race might result in an exodus of progressives from the PC Party over to the Alberta Party, but would bring many disaffected PC's back to the fold who had fled during the Stelmach regime for the Wildrose Alliance. Wildrose leader Danielle Smith responded to this suggestion by stating that the PC Party had reached its expiry date, and a change in leader wouldn't solve anything. Oddly, Danielle and 75% of her caucus were happy to belong to the PC Party just 5 years ago, under Klein. So maybe the leader DOES make a difference. JUST as interesting, a 2nd Morton LOSS might be the best thing that could possibly happen to the Wildrose, as "Ted's people" might give up on the PC's altogether, and take their energies to the Wildrose. An internal Wildrose strategy of encouraging party members to buy PC memberships to vote for someone OTHER than Morton would be something to watch for. Morton might have to straddle the awkward spot of playing to his base without alientating the progressive wing of the PC's, which sees him thus far as "the wrong brand of conservative". He is said to have the quiet support of at least 10 PC MLA's (for all the good MLA support did Jim Dinning in 2006).

Alison Redford: Redford is 45 years-old, although her resume reads like she's in her 60's. She's currently the Minister of Justice and Attorney General for Alberta, as well as occupying Ralph Klein's old seat of Calgary-Elbow in the Legislature. She's as bright as they come, with a razor wit and quick on her feet - and in a debate it's been suggested she could take just about anybody down for the count. Widely seen as a rising star, the knock against Redford is that she's only been an MLA since 2008 (then again, some would-be Premiers, PC and otherwise, aren't MLA's at ALL). A former senior policy advisor to Joe Clark while he was in the Mulroney cabinet, Redford is said to be 50% certain to run for the Leadership. If the Progressive Conservatives choose Redford - a Calgarian woman - to lead them, they'll definitely have a rebuttal for 2 of the big retail selling points of the Wildrose (as you all know, though, I *hate* it when politics is broken down to such a crass level). It would at least beg the question "so, tell me about your POLICIES", which is a good start. The potential drawback to a Redford win is that it would certainly continue the split in the conservative movement in Alberta, as Redford is a well-known "Capital P" Progressive Conservative, once famously dismissed by Rob Anders in a nomination battle as a "Feminist Lawyer".

Doug Horner: Horner celebrated his 50th birthday this month, although to say he's in ANY other way like Wayne Gretzky might be pushing it a little.  First elected in 2001, Horner holds the distinction of being the first Albertan MLA to hold TWO cabinet positions that were also held by his father: Minister of Agriculture (in 2004), and Deputy Premier, which he holds currently. He has also been the Minister of Advanced Education and Technology since 2006. Representing the Greater Edmonton riding of Spruce Grove-Sturgeon-St. Albert, Horner's family tree reads like a ballot: His Grandfather was a federal Senator, and 4 of the Senator's sons went on to be Members of Parliament. They're the Sutters of politics (without the bad trades, I mean). Horner comes with experience, and isn't all that likely to rock the boat - he's a lot like Stelmach in terms of policy and approach. Another thing he may share with Ed is in his likely choice for Chief of Staff, as he's said to be very close to Stelmach's right-hand-man, the oft-maligned Ron Glen. While a steady-rather-than-radical approach to governance may still appeal to many PC's nervous about the economic recovery, Horner's limited profile outside of the capital region may make this a tough slog, as a successful campaign would need to first explain to many PC Party members who, exactly, Horner IS.

Dave Hancock: Hancock is 55 years old, and if it seems as though he's been around forever - it's because he very nearly HAS. He was elected MLA for Edmonton-Whitemud in 1997, and before that he served as the President of the PC Youth wing under Lougheed and the President of the PC Party under Getty. He has served in cabinet for his entire career - 13 years and counting, minus the few months where he resigned to run in the 2006 leadership, in which he finished 5th - eventually throwing his support to Stelmach. He's an incredibly popular figure among progressives inside and outside the PC Party, however those progressive bona fides sometime border on parody, with one MLA referring to him as "Alberta's most powerful New Democrat". Hancock's Edmonton-Whitemud PC consituency association is said to have hundreds of members on the Board of Directors alone, and the PC "one member, one vote" leadership process (which was brought in while Hancock was Party President) might benefit him in that case. A Hancock victory would do little to heal the rifts between the party's red-and-blue factions, however it would certainly make for interesting relations with the Alberta Party, of which Hancock HAD been (until this week) touted as a potential leadership contender. If Hancock runs and thus resigns his current Cabinet seat as Minister of Education, look for the respected Janice Sarich, a former school board trustee, to possibly step in.

Jonathan Denis: Denis (not "den-EE") is 35 years old, and is often referred to as "the future of the PC Party". A first-term MLA for Calgary-Egmont, Denis is young and energetic, with a strong record as a fiscal conservative. Appointed to cabinet in January 2010 as Minister of Housing and Urban Affairs, Denis is also the Deputy Government House Leader and was named one of Avenue Magazine's "Top 40 Under 40" (it's okay, I've still got 8 years to make the list). The Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs made remarkable strides in the 2010 budget year in terms of cost-cutting, while still reaching performance targets. This kind of able handling of his first ministry post suggests that even if Denis, one of the short-lived "Fiscal Five", doesn't throw his hat into the leadership ring, he may have a promotion coming with the inevitable cabinet shuffle (as a lawyer, he may end up as Minister of Justice if current Minister Alison Redford runs). Denis is widely seen as being closely aligned with Ted Morton, despite this blog's best efforts to paint him as a "notorious Red Tory" - the truth is, he's anything but. As a leadership candidate, this link might confuse the party's Blue Base, but if Morton wins, Denis is seen as an anchor on the front benches. If Morton loses, a high profile for Denis would be a good "olive branch" to the party's Blue Base.

Thomas Lukaszuk: Lukaszuk is, at 41, just entering his prime. The fomer teacher-turned-MLA for Edmonton-Castle Downs was born in Poland during a time when that was a bad place to be born, and raised in Edmonton. In 2001, at the tender age of 32, he was elected as an MLA (seems like a decent idea. Hmmmm...). He currently sits in cabinet as the Minister of Employment and Immigration. A well-known humanitarian and volunteer, Lukaszuk is also well-known in the Roman Catholic community as a past President of the Knights of Columbus. His youth and vitality, not to mention his fantastic hair and his Edmonton and immigrant roots, make Lukaszuk an attractive candidate. He's not known for being very polished as a speaker, however, which might be a problem going into a general election against, among others, a former television personality (no, not Barb Higgins). Further complicating matters for Lukaszuk is that, unlike Denis above, he really *is* a notorious Red Tory, which isn't a term of endearment for everyone the way it is for me. That said, PC Party members aren't necessarily going to vote for the candidate most likely to heal the rift in the party as much as they might choose to vote for the best representative of their SIDE of the rift - so, Lukaszuk could be an attractive Edmonton-area leadership candidate, particularly if Hancock chooses not to run.

Doug Griffiths: Griffiths is 38 years old, and won his riding (Battle River-Wainwright) with a borderline-obscene 79% of the popular vote in 2008. An MLA since 2002, Griffiths has been near-universally lauded for his use of social media in reaching out not only to his constituents, but to Albertans as a whole. He is the author and performer of a fantastic speech-turned-book, "13 Things You Can Do To Kill Your Community". A Twitter and Facebook darling, Griffiths has certainly been around long enough to have paid close attention to what went on in Calgary this past October. As a big fan of "politics in full sentences", Griffiths tried to start a conversation about the possible benefits of replacing provincial income tax with a provincial sales tax in 2010, but was shot down before he could get to the part where we don't pay income tax any more. All this said, though, Griffiths - a former teacher - has been on the outside of cabinet looking in for the past 8 years, a victim of regional and gender balance and his own penchant for free thinking. It's not clear whether this lack of cabinet experience would hurt Griffiths' chances, or help them. What IS clear, though, is that much like certain civic politicians in Alberta's 2 biggest cities, a Griffiths leadership campaign would draw support and talent from across the political spectrum. If successful, it would literally rebuild the tent, from the ground-up.

For more on "What's Next", I'd encourage you to check out:

DJ Kelly - Griffiths right man at right time?
Alberta Tory (yes, he's back - I guess I need to whup him again) - Questions Before Answers
Inside Alberta Politics - The Rumour Mill Churns - What's Next? (a title clearly stolen pre-emptively from me)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Ed Stelmach to Resign as Premier

Premier Ed Stelmach announced today that he will not lead the Alberta PC Party into the next provincial election. The timeline for his departure from office is to be determined.

"My successor will be under no obligation to go to the polls in March of 2012 - that was my timeline, and mine alone."
Stelmach went on to warn about U.S.-style campaigning, and predicted that "an extreme right-wing party will run as a moderate party based on personality", further mentioning that such a tact would be "at our peril."

Stelmach will bring in a budget this February, and then will step aside "in due course".

This throws the rumoured early election call by the PC's into the realm of the absurd.  Very likely, we're looking at a late 2012 election, if not even 2013.

The Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta will have to hold a leadership election, with several current PC MLA's rumoured to be kicking the tires, including perceived front-runner Ted Morton.

Stelmach mentioned specifically that he wants a "fair, fully transparent" leadership selection process.

The details of the race to replace Stelmach as leader will be announced once the PC Party decides on them.  In the race to replace Ralph Klein, cabinet ministers who intended to run for the party leadership were required to step aside from cabinet.  Ed Stelmach was the first cabinet minister to do so. There is no indication at this time whether this will be the expectation as Ed leaves office.

Whatever you think of the job that Ed Stelmach has done as Premier, or his politics, he deserves our thanks for the countless hours that he has put in over the years in trying, to the best of his ability, to make this province a better place for all of us.

The other parties that make up the Alberta Legislative Assembly are probably just as confused as anyone else right now, and the outcome of the PC leadership race will have a massive impact on those parties. A win by a centrist moderate reformer would give disenfranchised PC's who left for the Alberta Party a reason to consider coming "home". A win by a staunch, rock-ribbed right winger who could stand toe-to-toe with Danielle Smith would seriously damage the Wildrose Alliance's fortunes going forward.

As well, there are (as always) geographical considerations.  At present, the only party with a (non-interim)leader hailing from north of Airdrie is the NDP. There are a LOT of votes to be had up there - and yet, Calgary clearly showed its disappointment with its 2 finalists for the 2006 PC leadership - Morton and Jim Dinning - losing to a northern, rural MLA in Stelmach. After so many years of "calling the shots" in the PC Party and Alberta Government between Lougheed and Klein - both Calgary MLA's - the Burg on the Bow didn't much care to see its influence taken away. So those regional considerations will play just as much a factor as the retail politics will - who will look good on camera? Who "looks" like a Premier? Who can handle a media scrum or debate the best? Will the PC cause best be served by another middle-aged, white male?

Tomorrow is yet unwritten, but the reality is that these discussions, and the choice that the PC's ultimately make regarding their next leader, have just fundamentally changed the game - and all bets are off.

- E.S.

Taylor Made

Nation, as first broken by the Calgary Herald's Don Braid, Dave Taylor (MLA for Calgary-Currie) has decided to join the Alberta Party and sit as the party's first Member of the Legislative Assembly.

The Twitter reaction was predictable, if not disappointing.  Alberta Party supporters were, naturally, overjoyed.  Progressive Conservatives, for the most part, revelled in the fact that the Liberals were taking one on the chin for a change, instead of themselves. And the Wildrose Alliance gang was, curiously, attacking the move.

I say it was a curious reaction, because a strong Alberta Party is an absolute boon for the Wildrose Alliance. Unless they've deluded themselves into believing that they can win a popular majority outright, they have to know that the more votes that the Alberta Party can siphon from the Progressive Conservatives, the more seats the Alliance can hope to win.

Also curious was the apparent lack of memory exhibited by many of the PC and Wildrose supporters on Twitter, who attacked the Alberta Party for accepting the former Liberal leadership contender and current independent MLA.  The PC's accepted a defector from Liberal-land in 1998, when Gene Zwozdesky left the Liberal caucus, sat as an independent for one month over the summer (I'm not 100% certain the legislature was even in session, for him to "sit"), and then joined the PC caucus. The Wildrose, of course, did much the same with Guy Boutilier in 2010.  They ALSO accepted 2 defectors straight from the government benches (and strategy meetings) in January of 2010.

That said, though, I can understand the criticism - because, with only a few exceptions, most of the criticism seems to be of a similar variety to the stuff I toss around all the time - in particular, at the Wildrose: "I'm not saying they're WORSE than my party...  but their actions clearly show that, despite their earnest claims to the contrary, they are NO BETTER THAN WE ARE".

So goes the criticism of the Alberta Party today - and while I certainly see where their detractors would get this idea from, I'm not sure I entirely agree with the notion that accepting Taylor as an MLA is somehow hypocritical of the fledgling party.

While statements have come to light that were written in a blog post by (now, not then) Alberta Party President Chris LaBossiere that clearly show his distaste for the notion of switching caucuses without seeking the approval of the electorate, I had to opportunity to ask an eerily prescient question of Mr. LaBossiere during the Alberta Party convention, which I was observing on-line. During a "web forum" featuring several party organizers, I asked if the party would be accepting floor-crossers - a practice to which, with due respect to my friend Duncan, I am very much opposed. To his credit, LaBossiere replied that yes, without equivocation, the party had decided that MLA's who wished to join would be welcomed. This, despite the fact that it wasn't consistent with his own opinion on the subject - which I think speaks well for the man, that he can support a position other than his own because it is the expressed will of his membership.

So, I don't see the Alberta Party as having done anything wrong with regards to today's news. They've gotten their first MLA, they've captured the imagination of their supporters and the attention of the media, and their interim leader, Sue Huff, suggested today that there may be more MLA's yet to come. Huff isn't prone to hyperbole, but I HAVE heard that particular tune before - anyone know what happened to the "10 or more" PC MLA's who were poised to jump to the Wildrose Alliance about 10 months ago?

What does the Alberta Party do for an encore? Do they try to woo suspended PC Raj Sherman? Do they, as rumoured this evening, pursue Taylor's neighbouring MLA and ideological cousin, Kent Hehr?  Only time will tell.

I've got to say, I like Dave Taylor. We met a few times, and he and I see eye to eye on a lot of issues. I'm not going to call him "articulate", because the man is a trained radio journalist, and it's quite frankly insulting to call a former talk show host well-spoken. It's like calling a former supermodel a "handsome woman".  If you've been on the radio for more than 5 years, of COURSE you're articulate - unless, of course, your name is Eric Francis.
Dave, though, is taking some heat tonight - and not without good reason. Now, of course much of the criticism leveled at Dave is coming from the same people and same directions as the criticism of the Alberta Party - it's politically-motivated. Which is fine, I guess. It's part of "the game" (I wonder at what point those who wish to lead us will stop thinking of billions of dollars and power over the lives of their fellow citizens as "a game", but I digress). The point is, it's easy to dismiss the Taylor critics as partisan attack dogs, and move on.

Except, of course, for the fact that they're raising a perfectly reasonable point.

Taylor, upon leaving the Liberal caucus, stated that he wouldn't join another caucus without standing in a by-election as a member of that party.

His supporters point out that there was "wiggle room" in the words that he used. Which is true.

But unless Dave wants to stand in front of the media assembled at the Legislature on Tuesday and tell all of us that he chose his words that carefully so as to fool Albertans (I wouldn't recommend that strategy, but hey: it's not MY career), I think he's going to have to own the fact that it's just flat-out something that he shouldn't have said.

He's not required to step down by law, and thus he likely won't. Conspiracy theorists suggest that Ed Stelmach, whom they paint as either a bumbling fool or a Machiavellian villain depending on the day (and yet never seem to realize that he can't be BOTH) wants Taylor to step down so that he can leave the seat empty, keep the Alberta Party out of the legislature, and then call a snap spring election. Which brings me back to this critical point, that I apparently can't seem to repeat often enough:

The governing party isn't holding nominations. It won't have them done until the end of June. As of today, it hasn't held a single, solitary nomination meeting. There will NOT be an election if the party that decides on the timing of that election doesn't have nominated candidates.
But whether or not Dave is required by the law of the land to step aside, he has to own the fact that this move flies in the face of his earlier statement (in spirit, if not by the letter). Thus, the criticisms of him today were valid, despite their political-rather-than-moral motivation.

If it were ME, and *I* were an MLA, I wouldn't do it. You can't promise to never sit outside of the caucus you were elected to - sometimes, you don't get a choice in the matter. But you can promise to never join a DIFFERENT caucus without taking it back to the voters, so they can have their say. It's not the politically smart thing to do, because it doesn't give you "outs"... but it's the RIGHT thing to do. And anyone who casts a ballot at some point in the future with an "x" next to "Oberhoffner" can rest assured that I'll stand by those words.

After all - if the best our current crop can do is argue back and forth about how "those guys are no better than we are!" - shouldn't we try to get some more MLA's who believe that their word is a sacred bond with their bosses, the constituents?

Shouldn't we DEMAND better, if they're not going to give it to us of their own accord?

The Alberta Party did well today. Dave Taylor can still salvage his role in this, and move forward without any undue baggage from this week.

And Albertans are going to have to come to grips with the fact that their jobs just got a whole lot harder come election time: Now, more than ever, it's clear that the character of your local candidates means just as much - and maybe more - than the colour of button that they're wearing, or the leader they say they support.

Candidates matter. Good candidates make good MLA's, regardless of party affiliation - which, quite frankly, could change by the time you get to vote again.

Let's find some good ones, across the board.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Home is Where the Art is...

Nation, those of you who follow the #ableg hashtag on Twitter probably can't help but be aware of this already, but there is a meeting happening in Calgary this week, being put on by a group called "Save Our Fine Arts".

While I'm not associated with the group in any formal way (I know some of the people in it, but that's hardly surprising), I'm certainly interested - as a musician and private educator - in the pending changes to the way that the fine arts are taught in Alberta schools.

The meeting itself will be attended by many luminaries (including myself, naturally), and will feature a panel discussion and presentation from the Minister of Education, the Honourable Dave Hancock.

From the group website:

You are invited to attend a public meeting with Minister of Education Dave Hancock on Tuesday, January 25th, 2011 at 7 p.m. at Central Memorial High School Theatre, located at 5111 – 21st Street S.W. in Calgary.

This event is co-sponsored by the Calgary Board of Education and the Save Our Fine Arts (SOFA) Committee. It is also endorsed by the Calgary Catholic School District, Candian Rockies School Division (Bow Valley) and the Palliser School District (Lethbridge).

I'd encourage you, if you're thinking of attending, to show up early, as seating will be limited and the RSVP's that have come in so far have prompted the group to issue a similar message on its own web site.

More information about the event can be found on the SOFA website, at

See you there, Nation!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

No Contest

Nation, I'm back after a relaxing week spent in beautiful Whitehorse, capital of the Yukon Territory. If you've never been, go see it for yourself...  just maybe not in December, unless you have REALLY good gloves...

Yesterday, FOES (Friend Of the Enlightened Savage) Blake Robert - unabashed conservative and hardly a PC cheerleader, by ANY measure - posted some political predictions for 2011 on Twitter, which generated some subsequent discussion (as you'd expect).

The discussion that really caught my eye, though, was based on THIS prediction:

"As implausible as it may sound to some, (Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta) will have the most contested nominations of any party in the (Alberta Legislature)."
It's worth noting, before we get started, that the PC Party has held exactly zero nominations for the next election to date.  As in, NONE. There are no nominees. The Party is going to reorganize from 83 constituency associations to 87, and will THEN nominate candidates, later this year.  So the drum-bangers from other parties and the media who whisper of a possible spring or summer snap election call by the Tories are completely and totally out-to-lunch.

Hint: If the party in power in a majority government hasn't nominated candidates, there's no election coming.

Now that THAT bit of business is out of the way, back to Blake's prediction - or rather, to the discussion it generated.  Brock Harrison, Communications Co-ordinator for the Wildrose Caucus, responded to Blake's prediction in 2 tweets:
  • 1) There's nothing implausible about the governing party of 40 years having the most contested nominations.
  • 2) That you're trying to pass it off as some kind of achievement is very revealing about how far (the PC Party) has fallen.

Now, Brock (who was, as I recall, a proud PC Caucus staffer until the Wildrose made him a better offer) is the official voice of the Wildrose Caucus these days, so his comments bear some scrutiny - ESPECIALLY when one considers the narrative that his party and their friends have been repeating, ad nauseum, for over a year now.

"The PC Party is old, stale, and out of touch. Their polling numbers are embarrassing, and Albertans have given up on them. They don't do anything right. They're corrupt, past their prime, anti-democratic, anti-business, and have no idea what they're doing. They're bleeding donors and members of the legislature and their volunteers are flocking to the Wildrose Alliance and Danielle Smith is all but guaranteed to be the Premier of Alberta by Christmas 2012".

Sound about right?  I think I touched on most of the speaking points in there... 

Here's the thing, though...  if that narrative is true, if those speaking points are accurate, then WHY on EARTH would Brock, or anyone for that matter, feel it's a natural for the PC's to have the greatest number of contested nominations?


There are 67 sitting PC MLA's.  Sitting MLA's are rarely challenged for their party's nomination. Assuming 25% of the current MLA's are looking at retirement, that suggests 17 retirements in addition to the 20 seats not currently held by Tories...  that's 37 contested nominations, give or take a few acclamations or a few extra retirements.

If the Wildrose narrative - that they are the Party of Destiny, overflowing with members, donations & public support and have the next Lougheed as their Leader - is true, and a Wildrose nomination is a "Get into the Alberta Legislature Free" card - then why don't we see people crawling all over each other to contest Wildrose nominations?

The WAP has 4 sitting Members of the Legislative Assembly, all of whom have committed to stay on through the next election (so, no retirements, if they're to be believed).  Even assuming you arrange to have the Party Leader acclaimed in her riding of choice (purely that - an assumption), that leaves 82 seats with no incumbent WAP MLA, and without Danielle running for the seat.  And since WAP is so obviously going to form government in 2012, those 82 nominations are golden.  Every right-of-centre Albertan with a shred of political ambition wants one. They're tickets to a $100,000/year job - even more, if you get into cabinet.  They're tickets to the Halls of Power.  They're tickets to ride the Wildrose wave directly to glory...

And they're not being fought over.

They're being given away, with only one person bothering to file nomination papers.

No contest.

The Wildrose Alliance has 25 nominated candidates (according to daveberta's handy nomination-tracker), and reportedly fewer than half of those nominations have been decided by a vote of the local, grassroots members. 
They've been selling us this line that they're the Party of Destiny, no other opposition party has a chance, and that the PC's are bleeding out...  and yet, when given a chance to show their strength and popularity with vigorous and open nomination contests, we get...
Well, not quite nothing.  We do get allegations that the party office is playing fast and loose with its own rules, to get people (the right people?) nominated.  So that's something, I guess.
The conventional wisdom in Alberta political circles regarding the WAP nominations and the troubling number of acclamations is that potential candidates are coming together - with or without the urging of the party - and deciding among themselves which of them would be able to mount the best challenge to the local PCs.  Which happens in every other party, every day. So it's hardly ground-breaking or scandalous on its face.
Until you consider all of the ink and airtime this party gives to the notions of "bottom-up management" and "respect for the grassroots membership" and "open and democratic principles"...  does the image of a few powerful people getting together in the back room of a Legion Hall and deciding amongst themselves who will be acclaimed the party nominee that their grassroots members get to support sound like any of those?  Or does it sound like "old-time politics as usual"?
I'm not saying it doesn't happen in my party - of course it does.  But if you're going to make "That guy stinks, vote for me, I smell nice!" a part of your platform, you've got to make sure that you're showering daily.
The rush to acclaim candidates, or push local constituencies to hold nomination contests, ready-or-not, by the WAP is obviously a calculated move. They're not stupid - not by ANY measure. The hope, it would seem, is that by "vetting" problematic candidates in the back rooms and by holding nomination races before other such candidates have time to organize, they can keep the "undesirable element" off the ticket, and out of the public eye come election time. Out of sight, out of mind, after all. What types of members and candidates, exactly, they're uncomfortable having represent the party you'd have to ask them (unless this is all happening locally, being done by local potential candidates and their teams, and is one giant province-wide coincidence).
But the other benefit to this approach is that they're not showing the gaps in the party armour to their opponents. It's the same sort of logic that kept the party from releasing the vote totals in their leadership race, until one member leaked them herself - and the same logic that leads to party press releases that don't differentiate between nominations won and acclaimed, and CERTAINLY never list vote totals - "we're one big, happy family".  No fault-lines between the party majority and the values voters, or the Smith supporters and the Dyrholm supporters...  It's like a scene out of High School Musical.  We're all in this together...
And the PC's do the same thing in (internal party) peace-time...  I mean, Dave Hancock and Ted Morton quite literally held hands and sang "Kumbaya" at the PC Annual General Meeting in October (scroll forward to the 10:15 mark).  So the "there's no friction in our party" act is hardly new.
But what the Wildrose is gambling on with this approach, however, is that the benefit of not having obvious fault-lines for your opponents to exploit outweighs the risk of not having a robust and engaged membership base on the constituency level.
Nomination races bring in more membership sales than anything, short of a leadership race.  Local constituencies can sometimes sell over a thousand memberships during the course of a hotly-contested race, and each of those new members is added to the party database: Name, address, constituency, phone number, e-mail. Come General Election time, this database gives you a 1,000-voter headstart on your rivals.  And while many who buy memberships do it only to support a particular candidate, and will disengage should their candidate be unsuccessful, many others DO stick it out (win or lose), and become something much more valuable to the party than mere voters: They become volunteers. Board members. Soldiers on the ground, in the constituency, fighting the good fight on a day-to-day basis to spread the word about the party. They become the mythic "hyper-engaged voter" we heard so much about in conjunction with Social Media during the recent municipal campaigns. The people who raise money for your party, pound in lawn signs, knock on doors, and (eventually) carry your party flag and run for election themselves someday.
Contested nominations bring these people in to your party.  And the number of acclamations taking place in the Wildrose ranks means they're missing out on a lot of these people.  No race means no membership drives by nomination candidates. Which means a lot of potential assets to the party left untapped.
I don't know if the PC's are going to have more contested nominations than the Wildrose when everything is said and done.  But I know that if they do, then with all due respect to Brock's "point number 2" above, it IS a big deal - a party with 67 sitting MLA's, approximately 47 of whom will probably stand unopposed (from within) for re-election, should NOT have more people running for nominations than a party with 4 MLA's and 82 open nomination races.  Not if the PC's are dying, and the Wildrose is the Government-in-Waiting - as the spin doctors would have us believe. The bigger question is, why doesn't the "sure thing" Wildrose have 82 hotly-contested races, with multiple excellent candidates for every single open nomination?
Not to be overlooked in all this, of course, is the Alberta Party.  They're in the process of organizing province-wide, and have a leadership race in the works, with several people kicking the tires and one candidate who formally declared today, Chris Tesarski of Calgary.
If I was one of their organizers (I'm not, obviously), I'd give serious thought to running good candidates in targeted, winnable ridings instead of rushing to get organized constituency associations and nominated candidates in all 87 ridings by the next election, as they've stated they intend to do. You only get one chance to make a first impression, and running a college student in a riding where you have 7 party members is not the first impression you want to make to voters in that constituency.  It says "We don't take you seriously, and you should feel the same about us" (the Alberta Greens had that particular approach down to a science).  But, that's just my opinion.  What matters, though, is that the Alberta Party is trying to cultivate deep roots, appealing to a broad spectrum of Albertans from both the right and the left, and trying to engage them fully in the formation of their party.  What they'll end up with is anyone's guess - but for my money, I'd rather have support that was 20 ridings wide and 5 candidates deep than what the Wildrose is showing - support that's 87 ridings wide, and apparently not even deep enough to hold contested nominations in half of them.