Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Race to the Premier's Office - 16 Days to the First Ballot (Who's Going To Bring Me Donut Mill?)

Nation, long time no speak...  I mean, granted, we've gone longer...  but in the midst of a hotly-contested leadership race, 2 weeks is just 2 weeks too long...  ;)

It's been an interesting 15 days, to be certain...  2 party-sponsored leadership forums, policy announcements by the barrel full, and the familiar game of "This candidate said THIS!!!" - "No, that's not what I said". Ahh...  it's never boring, that's to be sure.

Here are some of the highlights (and, in some cases, lowlights) of the past 2 weeks, for those of you who might have missed anything... (candidates in alphabetical order, by first name)

Alison Redford
Redford has come out in favour of the provincial government investing in the Alberta Creative Hub, a film studio and production facility proposed near Canada Olympic Park in Calgary. Alison has also taken aim at cellular roaming charges - a stance that hit a little close to home, it would seem, as the spokesman for Telus had to call up his buddies at his former employer and write a column that ran the very next day, rebutting Redford's claims. Redford has also gotten into the sometimes sticky issue of MLA pay, committing to make the remuneration much more clear for MLAs, cabinet ministers and leaders, as well as eliminating "committee bonuses" and proposing that MLA pay and perks be handed over to an independent panel to be set.

Doug Griffiths
Griffiths continues to impress at the party leadership forums. While this blogger isn't picking "winners and losers" at these events, that doesn't mean the party faithful and general public aren't doing the same - and of the 6 attendees to the Lethbridge forum that I randomly polled after the event, 4 named Griffiths as the most impressive -  including 2 wearing Mar buttons. If he keeps up his performance, the televised debates in Edmonton and Calgary should be a boon. He ran into issues at a privately-organized forum in Calgary for 2-and-a-half candidates (Gary Mar was double-booked, and oddly sent Iris Evans in his place), though, when he came to the defence of child welfare workers and told a personal story about what his father would likely do if he felt Doug's kids were in danger. Griffiths was, according to one person in the room, "Spitting mad" when the quotes were used by a local reporter to draw a reaction from the grandparents of a recent tragic case.  Griffiths apologized to the grandparents for any hurt he might have caused them, but it's a stark lesson learned in media relations. Griffiths is moving on, having released the crown jewel of his policy platform, the Community Development plank, yesterday on his website.

Doug Horner
Horner made news yesterday with his proposal that healthcare wait time benchmarks be set for procedures, and if the wait time exceeds that benchmark that the Alberta Government pay to have patients flown out to other jurisdictions for their procedure. Doug has also committed to doubling the funding for the Alberta Foundation for the Arts over the next 3 years. He was the lucky recipient of some jabs from Gary Mar in a meeting with the Edmonton Journal editorial board this week over changes to the province's research funding framework that took place while it was Horner's responsibility. This is good news for Horner, as Mar is too smart to attack a rival candidate who doesn't pose an internally-perceived threat to his front-runner status.

Gary Mar
Mar took an unexpected leap 2 weeks ago when he came out in favour of the province looking at private health delivery. It wasn't unexpected that Mar felt that way - he was Ralph Klein's health minister, after all - but it *was* unexpected that Gary felt a need to even open that can of worms. With 4 former Ministers of Health on Team Gary - Mar himself, Liepert, Hancock and Evans - the health file is one he's well-stocked to defend. Mar's well-organized campaign is running on all cylinders, with buzzing hospitality suites, his General Election-style campaign stops, on-line presence and co-ordinated policy releases and Letters to the Editor in local papers and MSM webpages. Also showing on those pages of late, though, are columns and blogs like a recent one by Mark Lisac on the Calgary Herald site, that point out the Mar campaign may be playing it TOO safe with the lead. As an Oilers fan, I'm not sure I know what it's like to play with a lead, but I understand the metaphor.

Rick Orman
Orman took a bit of a hit 2 weeks ago when his former boss, Don Getty, endorsed Doug Horner (the son of another former Getty cabinet member). Since then, though, Orman has been firmly on the offense, claiming that the Athabasca Land Use plan will cost the province $150 Billion (with a B) in lost royalties, calling the plan "Third World". Rick proposes reforming the immigration policies of the province, taking aim at the factors he feel impede immigration to Alberta, and that contribute to our labour shortage - like training and retention policies. Orman out-bid Ted Morton on education tax credits, offering post-secondary graduates tax credits of up to $25,000 if they stay in Alberta for 5 years after graduation. Just a few days ago, he also promised that one of the government ministries that would be eliminated under his leadership would be Aboriginal Affairs, calling the government's attitude towards First Nations and Metis "paternalistic". Gun blazing, that's our Rick.

Ted Morton
Morton brought out the "big guns" this week, with the release of his Fiscal policies. Of note: A full roll-back of the salary increases for the Premier and cabinet, mandatory referendums on any income tax hike proposed by government, and a commitment to have Alberta "back in the black" in 2 years. Ted also spoke about the need to put "conservation back into conservatism", and unveiled a plan to fund capital spending in provincial parks through lottery revenue.  In Lethbridge, Morton identified the building of west-bound pipelines to ship Alberta's energy products globally as "my number one priority", so that Alberta can get the global price for its energy resources, rather than the North American price.

I wanted to talk a little bit about the forum in Lethbridge, given that I was in attendance. On the whole, I thought the event was well organized. The questions were solid, the time limits were rigidly enforced (much to the detriment of Horner all night, who had a lot to say), and the event was attended by well in excess of 400 people (with 4,000 more watching online).

The only criticism I have of the event was the set-up of the candidate booths afterwards. Now, I know it's nobody's fault about the floor plan of the hotel and conference rooms - that's just how it is. There are only so many places in Lethbridge you can book an event like this. I get it. But the lighting in the atrium lobby was absolutely terrible - you couldn't see more than 5 feet in front of your face. I'm sure it impacted membership sales and post-event mingling.

All that said, though, the hospitality suites were certainly hopping. In particular, the Mar and Horner events were VERY well attended shortly after the event, though I'm told that by the end of the night (long after this blogger and his MSM travelling buddy had retired) the Griffiths suite was jammed to the rafters - and given the relatively small size of the room, that can't have been very comfortable. It was a suite, though, and so by its very definition a frill to the "don't have money to spend on a lot of frills" Griffiths campaign. It's a lesson sometimes the provincial government would do well to heed.

I was hoping to attend tonight's forum in Red Deer, however my long-awaited photographer's appointment (for a project you'll be hearing a lot about soon) has been changed last-minute, and I'll be tied up and away from the computer. Be sure to follow #pcldr on Twitter for coverage of the event, or watch it live on the PC Party website.

Who's going to bring me Donut Mill - anyone? Anyone?

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