Wednesday, July 6, 2011

"The Next Premier of Alberta"

Nation, I've been watching with interest as the mainstream media began to notice that there was, in fact, a leadership race going on within the Alberta PC Party.

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.

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.
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.

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:


Rick Newcombe said...

If Mar or Orman win the leadership race, wouldn't they want to force at least a fall byelection somewhere so they're not makeing policy from outside the legislature?

Anonymous said...

Yeah, it would be a farce to have a Leader making decisions for Caucus while not being in Caucus. Wait a that no happening now with the Wildrose (Alliance) Party?

Enlightened Savage said...

Rick: I'd say absolutely, yes. A byelection, to get into the Legislature. The winner will have to set up a Premier's Office, appoint a cabinet, look at the financials and at the VERY least release a solid Fiscal Update if not an outright Budget to run a General Election campaign on.

After the leadership, I imagine there will be a few MLA's looking to move on if their candidate of choice doesn't win. So there WILL be an available seat, somewhere.

Anonymous said...

Two things...
Anything that comes from the Wildrose office refers to Danielle Smith as the "future Premier of Alberta."
And, why would the Wildrose allow Gary to have an easy time of a byelection. Seems to me that a "Christy Clark"ing would not be a bad idea. Nothing like showing the New Premier has feet of clay.

Enlightened Savage said...

Anon @9:19 - Thanks very much for your comments.

Regarding Point 1: My issue isn't with the Wildrose Office, but rather with people who intend to be writing Alberta's laws in the next couple of years who are seemingly ignorant as to how our system of government actually works. I'm quite certain the WRP Office knows what it's doing. But it's the candidates - who hope to be MLA's - who are making the mistake consistently. A potential MLA should know better.

To your second point: I would hope, and expect, that the Wildrose will throw everything they're got at the new leader in a byelection (if required). The Tories aren't going to back off and let Danielle coast to a victory in her riding, so why should the Wildrose give the new Tory leader a free ride? The voters in that constituency should decide who gets to represent them, not party strategists making handshake "no compete" deals behind closed doors.

Bill Jarvis said...

I'm supportive of any of the contenders who will truly kill the scandalous Bill#50. The fact that such a bad bill could even pass indicates what the PC party has become.

My very superficial feel for the 6 contenders:

Orman/Morton - would fit in well with the centre-right Wildrose.

Horner/Mar - the old boys club. Will perpetuate the status quo and current group of powerful ministers who have screwed up badly under Stelmach & post 2004 Klein. One of them will likely win.

Redford - a Red Tory. Would be a good leader for a focused centre-left PC party.

Griffiths - an interesting candidate. He won't win unless he can tap into some serious $. Probably needs to get an important big budget cabinet position first. Is he too nice of a guy for the big job?

Enlightened Savage said...

Bill: Interesting thoughts - thanks for sharing them.

I'm not sure I agree entirely with your analysis of the candidates, but that's what makes this country so great: We can disagree without one of us having to go to jail (though it would be you, for the record - I kid, I kid). ;)

We've all got our bugaboos with the current government - even the tens of thousands of Albertans who are active PC members. I, for example, found Bill 44 particularly odious.

I think no matter WHO is in government, you find examples of situations where our elected officials are trying to address a perceived need, bring in a bill or measure to address it, and during the process they'll shift their focus to cover their butts from political fallout and miss the intended target. We saw it time and again federally under the Harper minority governments, and we see it on bills like 44 and 50 with the PC's in Alberta.

I don't accept the premise, though, that the solution is always as simple as "toss the bums out". Badly-written legislation is just that: Badly-written. Even if it's well-intended, and meant to address a serious issue in a positive way.

We've got to make sure we hold our governments to account on pieces of legislation, and make sure they're addressing our concerns as citizens (whether or not we voted for them). After all: If our leaders aren't serving US, then it begs the question: Whom ARE they serving?

Bill Jarvis said...

As Wildrose candidates, we are "forbidden" to even think about the PC Leader race. LOL. Makes sense though - not in our control, need to focus on our own local campaigns...

Hence my analysis is only gut feel. My strong beliefs about Bill#50, however, keep me lurking on what the PC leader contenders have to say about that issue though.

Enlightened Savage said...

Bill: Fair enough. I won't ask you to "compromise your orders" by relaying what you've heard from the candidates regarding Bill 50 - part of my (non-paying, often thankless) "job" is to find that info and post it on the blog. So please do keep coming back - I hope to have something for you soon. :)

Enlightened Savage said...

By the way... can we all agree that if Wildrose/PC conversations sounded more like what you just read between Bill and myself, we'd be able to get more done, for more Albertans?

Grown-up conversation. Gotta love it. Thanks, Bill. :)

Anonymous said...

There is one big difference with the conversation between Bill Jarvis and you compared to what the PC's call dialogue. And that is a starting point. Any dialogue from the PC's on official channels involves taking credit, complete credit, for anything positive and dismissing and mis-informing on anything negative.
Quite simply they have lost the moral authority to govern or be taken seriously on what ails Alberta. They continue to present an Alberta that is increasingly difficult to find. Except for themselves and theirs.
I don't think Albertans realize how "Americanized" this election is going to be.

Enlightened Savage said...

Anon @12:20 - Thanks for your thoughts.

Is the "Bill/E.S." dialogue impossible between the PCs and Wildrose right now? Sure seems like it. But let me pose this question to you: What if the Wildrose had 10,000 Bill Jarvis', and the PC's had 10,000 Enlightened Savages?

The new leader - whoever that ends up being - will have a chance to either reinforce the image you've suggested, or to re-make the way the party operates, into something else entirely. Much as a Dyrholm WRP would look and act differently than a Smith WRP, a Mar PCAA would look and act differently than a Redford PCAA, or a Griffths PCAA.

Not to be lost in all of this, of course, is that the PC membership rolls themselves will be bursting at the seams with new members once this leadership race is done. Many of those new names will remain just that - faceless names who will never get involved again. But the ones that DO stay involved will have a chance to steer the party in whatever direction they see fit - as the Getty supporters steered to a different place than the Lougheed PCs had been, and the Klein supporters after them. This evolution is what has helped the PC's maintain their overall popularity - they've changed with the times, driven by new leaders and the influx of new members and ideas that came with those leadership races.

We have no idea what the PC Party is going to look like on October 2nd. That Party - however it looks - is going to have to go to the polls sooner or later. And when they do, it's the people of Alberta - not their political opponents - who will ultimately decide whether they have the "moral authority to govern" - by marking an "x".

Rick Newcombe said...

Anonymous @ 2011-07-06 4:35:00 PM

Please see Josh's comment on "grown-up dialogue"...

How would you propose that an opposition party leader somehow force the governing party to hold a byelection? Are you suggesting that other parties should not elect a leader who may not yet have a seat in the legislature? Wouldn't that limit the pool of elegible candidates to very small select group? Please share your positive ideas on how this might be accomplished.

Anonymous said...

E.S. @ 2011-07-07 12:37 PM

Points well taken, but Getty and Klein were outsiders which reinforced the image of change. Who would provide that in this slate? Morton and Horner are automatically out on this standard. Rightly so, IMO. Redford and Griffiths shortly follow. Mar has no real disassociation at all and may be more complicit than any of the others. The most distance from the current situation can be ceded to Orman. And he seems to be using this to his advantage so far.

Just as interesting will be the "retirements" to follow the leadership decision. If anyone is interested I can give 10 or more suggestions to be put to pasture. The real blood-letting may be after the fact.

PCinYYC said...

Thanks for the shout out Joey! PCinYYC will do our best to keep the interwebs updated on our take on pcldr! We so appreciate your views - keep up the good work.
PP and CR

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