That said, Gary Mar had better find the accelerator on his huge campaign bus, because momentum can be a fickle mistress for such a massive campaign.
Mar has been the front-runner for this race since the day after the LAST PC Leadership race. An able cabinet minister, Mar served as an MLA for his north Calgary riding from 1993 to 2007 and as a cabinet minister under Ralph Klein in the portfolios of Environment, Community Development, Education, Health and International/Intergovernmental Relations. Before being first elected at age 31, Mar was a lawyer in his hometown of Calgary, earning the much-coveted "Q.C." designation for his accomplishments in the legal field.
After leaving the political arena in 2007, Mar accepted a posting to Washington as Minister-Counsellor of the Province of Alberta to the United States. In this capacity, Mar was Alberta's point man for any issue that required the attention of U.S. lawmakers in the Capitol. This included issues such as agriculture and energy. Mar was criticized for accepting his MLA transition package while continuing to work for the government in a paid role.
Indeed, despite his accomplishments and (compared to his old boss) squeaky-clean image, controversy has dogged Mar from time to time. In addition to the severance package, which he initially had deferred and then later accepted while working in Washington, Gary also ran into trouble during this leadership race when one of his booths was photographed offering "Free Memberships" to students. After a few tense hours, the story that came from the Mar camp was that a donor had offered to pay for student memberships, rather than the suggestion that, in contravention of the rules, Mar's campaign was purchasing memberships for people. These whiffs of scandal have also served to remind voters of the Kelly Charlebois issue, when Mar's Ministry (Health & Wellness) awarded a non-tendered contract to Charlebois, Gary's former executive assistant, for "advice" that produced no written record or reports. The cost to taxpayers? A paltry $400,000. What's almost half a million between friends?
Despite criticisms old or new, valid or invalid, Mar has raised an absolute boatload of cash with which to run his campaign. Indeed, while some of his opponents drive their private vehicles to forums, Mar has run a General Election-style campaign, even having his massive and VERY visible orange campaign bus drive to the forum in Fort McMurray while Gary himself flew in days earlier. Mar is said to be spending over a quarter of a million dollars in ads over the next week, and there's probably a lot more than that in reserve for the second ballot, if required. It's not just money that Gary's swimming in, however - it's also endorsements from sitting PC MLA's. At last count, Gary had the public backing of 26 MLA's, including half of the current cabinet. Conventional wisdom is that Gary should, by all accounts, win this race - and it's a good career move to be backing the guy who wins. This can also be seen in the very polished "fresh-out-of-university-polisci" look & feel of Gary's younger supporters, and their handlers. New executive assistants and caucus researchers and campaign managers will be the order of the day when the new leader takes over. It's unfortunate, because there are a lot of MLA's and young people who genuinely buy Gary's message and support him for all the RIGHT reasons - but they're lumped in with the career climbers.
Mar's messaging has been about "Greatness on purpose, rather than by accident", and he has opined that he feels Albertans today are more inclined to follow visionary leadership like Lougheed's in the 70s, rather than Klein's populism of the 90s.
Mar's policies are a bit of a mish-mash on his website. There's a LOT of text, to be sure, but much of it is background. It's also hard to navigate between the "paragraph-style" content, the "bullet point policy steps", the press releases, and the one policy document that was actually in pdf format. The lack of consistency in format, though, doesn't dilute the fact that there's a lot of good stuff in there. Among the highlights:
- That the federal government designate the building of energy infrastructure to the U.S. Gulf Coast and the West Coast of Canada as a national economic priority and ensure they receive the needed national support to get done.
- Implement the recommendations of the Alberta Environmental Panel Monitoring Report on environmental monitoring of the oil sands.
- Work with industry to evaluate the merits sharing the cost of development of roads and other common infrastructure in areas of intense energy development.
- Ensuring stability in the current royalty regime for conventional oil, natural gas and the oil sands.
- Remove the discretionary power of Cabinet under Bill 50 to establish Critical Transmission Infrastructure (CTI) requirements and place it with the Legislature where all Parties can debate and approve the action. The need for CTI can also be determined, as it was in the past, by the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC), in full consultation with industry stakeholders and Alberta consumers.
- Reach out to families and friends of seniors by developing an enhanced caregiver supports program to include respite and elder “day care” components. There are opportunities to build on existing tax credits to ensure that families and friends can stay home to care for their loved ones when it is necessary.
- Build a common entry point for access to all seniors housing and health services. The Accommodation Standards public reporting website could be built on to include information such as wait times to get into a supportive living or continuing care facility. This website could serve as a portal for information on accommodation costs and services provided.
- Work with Albertans on preparing for their senior years by encouraging financial planning and wellness initiatives.
- Establish an independent Alberta Environmental Monitoring Authority with an expert staff. This independent authority will monitor and report on the environmental impacts of developing Alberta’s energy resources, from oil sands to fracing and CO2-enhanced oil recovery.
- Prohibit bulk water exports.
- Put the implementation of Bill 36 on hold until a full dialogue has been undertaken on the two existing regional plans (the Lower Athabasca Regional Plan and the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan) and Albertans have time to see how they will be implemented. These first two plans will serve as pilots. Action on further regional plans will not proceed until we get these first two plans right
- Commit to a comprehensive public review of Alberta’s tax system, with the objectives of enhancing overall productivity, competitiveness, and innovation, creating opportunities for further job creation, and strengthening the capacity of Alberta families to participate in the global economy. This work will commence once the provincial budget is balanced in 2013/14, and a sustainable balance between revenues and expenses has been restored. Tax reductions must be affordable.
- Work with the federal government to target and fast track skilled workers needed by the Alberta economy, and to remove the cap on immigrants under the Immigrant Nominee Program (INP).
- Work with the federal government to accelerate the process for foreign credential recognition.
- Commit to reducing the number of ministries and ministers. For example, it will put the Treasury Board and Finance and Enterprise ministries back together so that government’s spending, revenue and budget planning work hand in hand once again.
- Establishing a high school completion rate target of 100 percent, to stretch provincial efforts to ensure students complete high school.
- Pushing ahead on enhancing the role of schools as “community hubs”, so that parents and families can access various services. Schools, community agencies and service providers work together to deliver services in a coordinated, “wrap-around” approach.
- Commit to stable and predictable operating funding for schools boards. Stable and predictable funding would allow school jurisdictions to plan ahead and to know how much funding they can count on to implement long term plans and initiatives.
- Municipalities will be given full access to the education property tax base, effective the 2013 assessment year. K-12 education funding will not impacted.
- Place greater emphasis on professional development and training opportunities for public servants and make use of various leading edge online, social media and mobile device methods.
- Place greater emphasis on alternative working relationships and flexible working hours, through such approaches as remote access, to allow public servants to more effectively balance work and family obligations.
The Long & Short Of It:
If you want to know who's going to win a PC Leadership race, you follow the money and the MLA endorsements. Thus goes the conventional wisdom. If this was always the case, though, we'd be on year 6 of Premier Dinning's reign.
Gary has gone to great lengths, and spent a lot of money to get his name and face everywhere he can. His team has put together a masterful campaign. Every city and town he goes through has a guest column penned by the local MLA, talking about why they're supporting Gary. His bus has become a fixture at public events across the province. And yet, for all his talk of "Change", and despite the fact that he wasn't directly tied to the Stelmach regime, Gary is perceived as the "status quo" candidate. In fact, a lot of the PCs I hang around with have expressed the opinion that Gary is the candidate under whom the PC Government would change the LEAST - at least, until election time, when Mar's speaking style - hilariously lampooned by a local pundit in Calgary as "Droopy Dog teaching third grade" - would be put up against Raj Sherman's passion and Danielle Smith's polished libertarian soundbytes.
Mar's team has to use all of the manpower and cash at their disposal to get out the vote on Saturday. The front-runner often sees supporters staying home, on account of victory being all but assured. Gary can't afford to take victory for granted - he knows this, and needs to make sure his supporters know it, as well. But if you're betting money on the most likely winner of this race, you'd be wise to bet Mar.
26 sitting MLA's already have.
Gary Mar campaign website
Calgary Herald profile and video for Gary Mar