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)


BetterAlberta said...

Doug Griffiths for Premier!
Join the 'Doug Griffiths for Alberta's Future' Facebook group. Let's show him we want him to run for PC leadership!!/pages/Doug-Griffiths-for-Albertas-Future/131338170266016

Anonymous said...

Doug is the last guy that we need as a "leader". He has no profile outside of his constituency and no experience leading anything.