I admit to experiencing some level of schadenfreude as I watch some not-quite-ready-for-primetime-members of the Wildrose Party (nee Wildrose Alliance) - some of whom are nominated, or are contesting nominations to be elected Members of the Legislative Assembly - talk about their leader as "the Next Premier of Alberta".
Here's a tip, gang - if you want to run the Legislative affairs of the Province of Alberta, take the time to learn how our system of government works. The only way Danielle Smith can be the next Premier of Alberta is if she wins the PC Leadership race this fall. Failing that, someone ELSE will be sworn in on October 2nd, or before.All that aside, though, I want to talk today about the choice that faces members of the Progressive Conservatives as they choose the person who will, in FACT, be the next Premier of Alberta - and how that choice affects not only die-hard PC's and their party's future prospects, but all of us as Albertans.
I don't expect members of the general public to understand this part of our arcane, centuries-old system of governance... but a candidate for provincial office who doesn't understand this is akin to a mechanic who insists that your car's electrical system can be fixed by pumping the tires and lubricating the door hinges... you just might want to reconsider your choice of mechanic.
In the days and weeks since the leadership race became official, I've begun to hear a rising sentiment among my PC friends that there are, in fact, multiple factors at play that might radically alter their choice by late September. Some of those factors include:
- Which candidate can best unify the party's progressive & conservative wings, north & south wings, rural and urban wings?
- Which candidate can renew the party and inspire a new generation of young PC's to replace the stalwarts from the Lougheed era?
- Which candidate can raise the funds required to wage an election campaign within a year of assuming the Premier's office?
- Which candidate can capture the imagination of the Alberta public, and win an election?
- Which candidate can out-duel Danielle Smith, Brian Mason, Glenn Taylor and the eventual winner of the Liberal race in a debate and in a campaign?
- Which candidate will best be able to thwart efforts by the other parties to paint the PC Party as hopelessly left of centre, or hopelessly out of touch in the minds of the Alberta voters?
- Which candidate will represent enough of a change from the status quo to satisfy voters who were less than impressed with the Stelmach years?
- Which candidate would make the best Premier, whether that be for 6 months or 15 years?
... and, one question that I've started to hear more and more: Which candidate would be able to hold the party together if it lost the next election, and help it rebuild? (My answer? I seriously doubt that the PC Party could survive an election loss. The coalition between populists and progressives was built in an absence of other options, and held together by success. Lose that glue, and the members would disperse among the other options on the political landscape.)
There's a feeling in some PC circles that the best thing that can happen to the party is for it to lose an election, and spend 4 years on the other side of the Legislature. Losing has a way of flushing out the people who are just hanging out with you because you're a winner. It shows you who your true friends are. And it forces you to closely examine what it is you're doing wrong that led to your defeat - and let's be honest: A lot of PC Party members are still so completely convinced that the party has never once made a mistake that it would make your head spin. I'm not saying those people are in the MAJORITY - but they're certainly still around.
The complication facing party members is that the names they come up with in response to the questions posed above are often consistent from one party member to the next, but vary wildly from one question to the next. For example, most people would answer that Rick Orman and Ted Morton are the best candidates to avoid being labeled as "Phony Conservatives" by opposition parties, but those same people admit that they're hardly the best choices to bridge the "progressive/conservative" fault in the party's membership base. Likewise, Gary Mar is clearly a fundraiser of rare ability, but it's hard for some party members to see a lot of party renewal in the cards under a successful Mar leadership bid, considering the large number of entrenched, multi-term incumbent MLA's backing him.
The long and short of it is, there's no "perfect candidate" - no obvious first choice, who can deal with all of the issues raised above.
So, the question PC members need to ask themselves as the summer BBQ circuit hits full-stride, and pancake breakfast season begins, is: Which of the above points matter MOST to me?
Do I really care if the new leader can beat Danielle Smith? Or is it more important to me that the party renews itself before dying a slow, atrophic death?
Is it more important to pick someone with business connections who can raise money? Or is it more important to pick someone who can appeal to common Albertans around a kitchen table rather than a boardroom table?
The choice is a tough one, for the party members, because they need to examine what they REALLY value, and that includes being honest with themselves about where the party has gone wrong, in their view.
No matter what happens, there are going to be a lot of people who are disappointed that their first choice didn't win. There are going to be fences that need mending. The party is going to need time to heal. So these assertions that the PC's are planning a fall election within weeks of choosing a leader are simply preposterous. The new leader is going to have dozens of nomination contests to approve and sign off on, and that doesn't even give the successful candidates time to door-knock ahead of a fall date. If the new leader holds an election in 2011, it will be because he or she has decided they want to maximize their chances of LOSING said election. A desire on the part of that leader which is, at best, unlikely.I'd encourage Albertans of all political stripes - or of none - to pay attention to the policy planks being rolled out over the summer by the various candidates. You can buy a PC membership for $5 through the party website, if you want to vote in the leadership race. Remember: The winner of this race WILL be Premier, for months if not longer. There's absolutely no doubt as to that fact. So, you have a rare chance to directly elect the person who will be setting government priorities and a budget. Making decisions that affect you and your family, and spending your tax dollars.
Decide what's important to you.
Don't let me, or any other blogger, or the media tell you what you care about, or who the "legitimate contenders" are.
Decide for yourself: What matters to me?
Then come back here or visit some of the other great Albertan political blogs, read about what these candidates are saying, and decide which candidate makes the most sense, and which one you trust the most on the issues that you care the most about.
That's democracy, folks. That's the way this whole thing works. That's how you choose the Next Premier of Alberta.
- Savage out.
The PC Leadership Contenders (alphabetical by surname):
Some great blogs that talk Alberta politics, covering the PC Leadership: