Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Race to the Premier's Office - 58 Days to the First Ballot

Nation, the race to replace Ed Stelmach as leader of the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta is now, by any measure, under way. While nominations opened in mid-June, it was just 6 days ago that the nomination period ended. All 6 previously declared candidates had their paperwork and deposits accepted by the party, and they will appear on the first ballot.

I thought I'd take a quick spin through the candidates, and see what it is that they and their campaigns have been doing to this point to try and capture the imagination of the members of the PCAA - and, by extension, the people of Alberta.

In alphabetical order, by first name...

Alison Redford made a heck of a good impression on my 9 year-old niece. She's now torn between being a ballerina, a doctor, or the Premier of Alberta when she grows up. As I tweeted at the time "it would seem 'hope' is contagious".

Redford has spent a lot of time early in her campaign in Fort McMurray, and talking Energy. One of her most recent announcements was her position that Alberta should take the lead in developing a Canadian Energy Strategy. From her press release:
"We need to take the lead on this issue," says Redford. "It is not leadership to that say we need to be afraid of Ottawa imposing environmental standards on our province. We have the opportunity to work with both Stephen Harper's government and industry to establish world standards in environmental protection. Albertans know more about this issue than virtually anyone in the world. Let's use that knowledge to set standards that we know are practical and effective."

The focus on the Energy sector is an interesting one for Redford, given that one of her opponents has worked in the oilpatch for 2 decades, and another has the backing of Alberta's current Minister of Energy. She's definitely giving the impression that she's in this fight to win it, however, by taking the fight to them instead of waiting for their own releases and then responding. It's a strategy reminiscent of the Nenshi "Big Ideas" in the Calgary municipal campaign, which shouldn't be surprising considering Alison's campaign is being run by former Team Nenshi big wheel Stephen Carter. Alison again channelled her inner Naheed when she challenged Gary Mar to a one-on-one Health Care debate, "any time, any place". It's hard to turn down challenges like that without looking like you're running away - ask the perceived front-runners in Calgary's mayoral race how that turned out for them after the votes were counted.

Incidentally...  Alison: I challenge you to take me out to lunch. Any food truck of your choosing. I await your response. ;)

Doug Griffiths has been quietly buzzing from living room to living room, making use of the best resource he has at his disposal: Doug Griffiths. Much-rumoured to be short on cash, Griffiths finds himself without the resources to be shuttled around the province in a giant motorcoach with his face plastered on the side of it, so he's going back to his roots: Talking with people, about what they think matters. Doug's focus has been generational: He's asking people how to build an Alberta for their grandkids to enjoy.

The early knock against Griffiths was that he was "too young and inexperienced" to run the province. The rebuttal to those criticisms was typically good-natured, though no less on-target: Doug is the same age as Danielle Smith, and has been an MLA working for the people of Alberta for 9 years - that's 9 years longer than Smith, the "Premier-in-Waiting" of Wildrose lore. Subsequent criticisms have tried to paint him as an "insider, unable to change". Anyone who has paid attention to the inner workings of the PC Caucus would tell you, Griffiths was about as likely to get a full cabinet appointment as blogger Dave Cournoyer. As a former school teacher, Griffiths keeps education policy close to his heart. Speaking to the Calgary Herald about recent job cuts in education, Doug was quoted:

"The best way to transform our economy and ensure our success for generations to come is to make sure we have the best education system from kindergarten to post-secondary and all the research and development components that go with it," Griffiths said.

Griffiths is going to have to visit a lot of living rooms and convert a lot of undecided Albertans into proselytizing Griffiths Supporters in order to make up the ever-widening gap between what he needs to do to win, and what he can afford to do. He's been the most personal of the candidates to this point - folks who ran into him at Stampede breakfasts remarked over and over to me about how genuine he seems - and he gets full marks for doing all of his own Tweeting and blogging rather than farming it out to staffers (his campaign staff, from Campaign Manager on down, is entirely comprised of volunteers). The question is, can Griffiths - easily one of the most tech-savvy and approachable MLA's, from any party - translate "Tweeps" into "votes"?

Doug Horner has been collecting so many endorsements from MLA's and Cabinet Ministers he's probably keeping his "doubles" in a shoe box to trade to other kids or put in the spokes of his bike. At last count, Horner had the endorsement of no less than 12 of his caucus colleagues, including Speaker Ken Kowalski and sweetest-woman-on-earth Genia Leskiw.

Part of the problem for Horner at this point, though, is that 9 of those endorsements are coming from what most would term "northern Alberta" - which is to say, from constituencies north of Edmonton. The PC Party has traditionally favoured an unofficial system where the leadership would alternate between the north and south - and if this pattern holds, the PC power-brokers in Calgary are going to be working hard to keep Horner out.

The knock against Horner has been his strong ties to the outgoing Premier - indeed, it's been suggested that Horner comes as a package deal with Stelmach's Chief of Staff Ron Glen and most of his northern and rural party connections, as well as with his policies themselves. Doug hasn't gone to a whole lot of effort to criticize the past decisions or direction of government, either - rightly perceiving that it would be a tough sell to convince voters that the former Deputy Premier was opposed to the decisions that were being made around the cabinet table.

Rather than focus on his own past, though, Horner has come out with an impressive list of policies. Most recently, he postulated about the value of Alberta coming up with its own immigration policy, much as Quebec currently does, in order to address workforce shortages. As one Horner supporter put it to me:

"You need more doctors, but they don't grow on trees. They train perfectly good doctors in India, Poland and the Philippines, though - so why wouldn't we try to get them to come to Coaldale or Athabasca instead of Vancouver or Montreal?"

Gary Mar has been spreading so much orange across Alberta in his motor coach that he probably owes Sunkist royalty fees. Mar's rolling in caucus endorsements - 17 so far - and in donations. While the exact numbers aren't yet available, he certainly seems to be SPENDING the most, at any rate. The mainstream media line has been that Gary is running a "General Election-style campaign", and it's hard to argue that point.

Of course, being the perceived front-runner in a campaign has its drawbacks - just ask Jim Dinning. It paints a big, fat "bull's eye" on your back. While Mar spent the last 3 years working to advance Alberta's interests in Washington, that hasn't stopped one of his opponents from trying to paint him as a Stelmach lackey - despite the fact that the height of Mar's previous political influence was under the Premiership not of Ed Stelmach, but rather of Ralph Klein. Another opponent has challenged Gary - a former Minister of Health, let's recall - to a Health Care debate "any time, any place".

This attention, though, certainly seems to not be affecting Gary's ability to have a good time. One of the high points of the leadership race thus far, in my opinion, is the "Cooking With Gary: Flank Steak" video his team did up. I haven't tried it myself - can't get past the fish sauce. But the video shows us a side of Gary Mar that we wouldn't otherwise have gotten to peek at - and if anyone tries to tell you that these politicians are exactly the same when they're relaxed as they are when they're in Question Period, just smack them upside the head, L. Jethro Gibbs-style.

I have heard quiet criticisms from some PC's - both inside and outside of other campaigns - that Mar's backstage team is running some pretty grungy, old-school political manoeuvres. In a vacuum, I'm inclined to dismiss such allegations as tripe. There are a lot of people I know who are actively working on Gary's campaign who are of the highest calibre and class. I have all the respect in the world for these people, and don't believe they'd be party to such garbage. But I'm not talking about merely one or two rumours from competing camps... IF this kind of stuff is going on, I've got to believe that Gary, and most of his team for that matter, are completely unaware. As he himself wrote on his campaign blog:

We must remember why we are candidates in this Progressive Conservative leadership race. It’s because we care about the Party and we care about Alberta. I care deeply. So let’s talk openly, let’s be transparent and let’s be inclusive. Each and every candidate brings a unique perspective and the best Alberta will be built by hearing from all points of view.
Mar is the man to catch at this point... but 58 days is a long time. 58 days ago Anthony Weiner was a shoo-in to win re-election to the U.S. House of Representatives, if he didn't decide to run for - and very possibly win - the Mayor's job in New York City. Now, he's a punchline. Gary's a smart man - he won't take his foot off the gas. The question is: Does anyone else have the horsepower to catch him?

Rick Orman is not in this race to make friends. If there was any doubt as to this fact, his recently released campaign cartoons painting Ed Stelmach as a hapless dupe and Orman's 5 opponents as a gang of backstabbers should make his position crystal clear.

Orman has spent a lot of time, effort and money suggesting that the current PC Party has strayed from its founding principles. In particular, he lists "Fiscal and Economic Responsibility" as the first of those principles (just as they appear on the PC Alberta website). His critics are quick to point out that, while he served in cabinet under Premier Don Getty, Alberta's debt doubled, and per capita spending was the highest in Canada by over a thousand dollars per year, even after a nearly 30% drop in provincial revenues (source). Orman, to this point, hasn't explained why it was okay when he was in cabinet, but it was grossly inappropriate when he was in the oilpatch and other people were in cabinet.

On the "Issues" section of his website, Rick makes his feelings pretty clear. On most of the issues he addresses, the PC Party is just flat-out screwing up (in his view). The only issue that doesn't include a criticism of the current government is Education. Really and truly, and I'm not saying this for hyperbole's sake, it reads like the website of someone who's trying to get the PC's kicked out of office. I can fully understand the desire to "re-make the party" - continuous evolution is what has allowed the PC's to hold power for so long in Alberta. Without that generational change, they'd already be gone. But running for the leadership by saying "you've all screwed this up, and I'm here to fix it" is a tough sell. Especially for someone who supported (eventual Liberal leader) Nancy Betkowski over Ralph Klein in the 1993 leadership race. Are we to believe the last good leader the PC's had was Getty?

It doesn't make sense to me, but maybe it's not supposed to. If Rick spends his money wisely, and runs a good Get Out The Vote operation on September 17th, then he could have an impact here. And if those people he brings to the party - be they from the Wildrose or from somewhere else entirely - stay involved in the party going forward, then he'll get the change he so fervently preaches in favour of. The question is: Will the Klein and Stelmach-era PC's still feel welcome? Or will Rick change the locks?

Ted Morton stayed relatively quiet in his leadership campaign until the race was officially underway, out of respect for Premier Stelmach, and this is very much to his credit. Also to the Professor's credit is that he seems to have learned some very hard-earned lessons from his last run for the party leadership in 2006. Ted is staying focused on policy. And, unlike 2006, he's making it really hard to look at him as the boogeyman of the PC leadership race, because so many of his policies just flat-out make sense. I mean, I just read his entire page on Democratic Renewal, and there wasn't a single thing - not a SINGLE THING - on that page that I disagreed with.

Granted, it's easier to grasp some of Ted's policies if you were already leaning far enough to the right that your Friendly Neighbourhood Red Tory (that's me) would suggest you see a chiropractor - but, the reality of this race is that the people who leaned left likely weren't going to vote for Ted anyhow. He knows his market.

And SPEAKING of that market - Ted Morton has either hired an absolutely brilliant polling firm that is getting down to the brass tacks on what his likely voters care about, or he's totally off his rocker (I'd think the first option is more likely). Ted's 2 big newsmaking items over the past few weeks have been to defend Alberta's rodeo heritage (I hadn't realized some of the leadership candidates were, in fact, ANTI-rodeo, but I guess it must be so) and to show off his Vanity Plate proposal, to boost awareness of conservation efforts. Again: Ted knows his market. You've got to play to your strengths, and Ted's strength is rural populism and his years-long tenure as Minister of Sustainable Resource Development - which means he was on Page 3 of everyone's hunting regulations, for years.

Morton is also one of only 2 candidates to have garnered significant MLA endorsements from both Calgary AND Edmonton, as well as rural Alberta. Now, an MLA endorsement doesn't mean much if you live on the other side of the province... but if you live in Calgary-Egmont or Edmonton-Calder and you're a very involved PC member in your area, then the fact that your MLA is endorsing Ted Morton gives you a reason to take a look at him. And in the more populous areas, with more members on the rolls, that can make all the difference.

There's a lot we don't know about Ted's chances just yet. But the one thing we DO know? An older model blue van will quite possibly be involved. You heard it here first. ;)

The first PC Leadership Forum takes place in Vermilion tonight at 7:00 pm. This forum - and all of the forums - will be live streamed across the province and the world via the PC Alberta website. Tune in and watch these 6 closely - one of them WILL be the Premier of Alberta on October 2nd.


Calgary Rants said...

Great Post Joey!

Jim Campbell said...

I echo Shane, Joey, but I have a question. I know I should know this, but I'm just a hack, not a constitutional scholar. If Mar or Orman win, will that individual actually be Premier, or just leader of the PCAA until such time as he is elected as an MLA?

Bill Jarvis said...

Great question Jim!

More importantly, will the PC MLAs cut off the "leader's allowance" if Gary or Rick win? This valuable funding has so far been denied to the Wildrose.

Enlightened Savage said...

I love questions that make me put on my "researcher's toque". :)

The answer lies WAAAAAY back in 1985. Joey was 7. The Edmonton Oilers were unstoppable. And Don Getty was sworn in as Premier on November 1st, despite not winning a seat in the Legislative Assembly until a December 11th by-election.

My GUESS (and it's just that: a guess) is that this is because unlike an opposition party, which controls very little in the way of spending, the Party Leader of the party that forms government controls gobs and gobs (metric gobs, of course) of spending, and as such has to be sworn in as an officer of the Legislature, if not necessarily a Member (which only persons ELECTED can be sworn in as).

As to Bill's question regarding a Leader's Allowance - I don't know if they had them back then. But I *do* know that the Legislature records indicate they didn't sit again until April of 1986 - WELL after Getty had been elected as a Member in Stettler.

If the Legislature had been sitting in the interim, would the PC's have had a "Leader of the Government in the House", answering questions on behalf of the Premier? I imagine so... and that likely would have qualified them for the Leader's Allowance (if there was such a thing). But that was 26 years ago, and I'm just guessing.

Jim Campbell said...

Thanks for pointing out that I am 16 years older than you, Joey.

Enlightened Savage said...

Jim: Rest assured, these days I'm the one who looks 16 years older than the other. ;)

Anonymous said...

I think there are some quality individuals running for the leadership of the PCs, which is great to see. In my humble opinion, I think the leader of the party needs to come from the Calgary area. Calgary voters felt alienated after Stelmach, which has led to the surge in popularity of the WRP. If the new leader also comes from the Edmonton area, I believe that will hand several ridings in Calgary and rural southern Alberta to the WRP. So, as much as I like Doug Griffiths, that narrows the field to Alison, Rick, Gary and Ted.
I agree with your assessment of Rick and the campaign he has been running – too negative for my liking. I don’t believe in the scorched earth approach. I also think that he has been away for too long. The fact that he is associated with Getty is not a strong point either.
I have never been a fan of Gary Mar. In his ministerial roles I seem to recall that he was condescending and adversarial with both the teachers and the nurses (which could actually help him – it certainly never did any harm to Klein). His association with Klein should serve him well. However, will people see past the fact that the Klein government paid down the debt at the cost of many infrastructure projects in the province?
I think (hope) the race comes down to Ted and Alison. I believe these are both people who would do well to lead the PCs in to the next election. Both of them are principled, intelligent and articulate. They are strong candidates who would do well as the next Premier. I also believe they are the only two contenders who can attract many of the people who initially left the PCs for the WRP and regain the confidence of the electorate. I can't help but think that Danielle Smith would be very unhappy at the prospect of facing either Ted or Alison in a debate or at the polls – that is something that certainly puts a smile on my face.

Anonymous said...

But what if there is no older model blue van for sale for Morton's campaign?

Anonymous said...

I hope Albertans can trust a leader will represent the PROVINCE not just Calgary or Edmonton, oh and don't forget the rest of the people in Alberta..... RURAL!

I hope money does not indicate who should lead our province. Are we a gullible population who is swayed by the most visible campaign funded by corporate dollars. We each have rights as Albertans. Honesty, integrity, intelligent and those who believe in a better Alberta should lead us not someone who has support of the current MLA's who are more interested in securing their own future cabinet positions than the future of Albertans. Anyone agree?

Anonymous said...

I agree with anonymous @ 1:12. It gets a little tiresome to see MLAs jockeying for position in hopes of backing the "right" candidate, so they can get a plum appointment. Great points.