Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Race to the Premier's Office - 9 Days to the Second Ballot

Nation, by now you've no doubt heard the results of the first ballot to replace outgoing PC Leader and Premier Ed Stelmach. For those living under a rock, though, here they are again:

Gary Mar 24,195 (40.8%)
Alison Redford 11,127 (18.7%)
Doug Horner 8,635 (14.5%)
Ted Morton 6,962 (11.7%)
Rick Orman 6,005 (10.1%)
Doug Griffiths 2,435 (4.1%)

Total eligible votes cast: 59,359

We're going to be going back to those numbers quite a bit, so pack a lunch.

First impressions: HUGE blow to Ted Morton, who was generally accepted as a shoo-in for a second ballot. He missed the cut by just under 1,700 votes. More on Ted later.

The obvious outcome of this result is that, as the title of this blog post would suggest, we are headed for a second ballot. On October 1st (advance polls on Tuesday, September 27th) the top 3 finishers - Mar, Redford, and Horner - will go toe-to-toe trying to secure the 50%+1 result required to win the PC Party Leadership and, by extension, the Premier's Office. Party members will be asked to indicate a first and, if they wish, a second choice. If none of the 3 reaches the 50%+1 threshold when the ballots are counted on Saturday night, then the 3rd-place finisher will drop off the ballot, and the ballots indicating them as a "first choice" will be recounted and moved to the column of the indicated 2nd choice.

It's far from a perfect system, but it DOES have the advantage of ensuring that the PC's will always - ALWAYS - have a Leader who was supported, as a first or 2nd choice, by over 50% of the party's voting members.

I had the chance to debate this system with my fellow charter member Shane Byciuk of CalgaryRants on Monday, courtesy of CBC Radio One's "The Homestretch". Click here to hear Shane get pWned.

Turn-out has been a big story, as it should be. The turn-out versus the first round of the 2006 leadership race was down by 38,331 - that's a LOT of people who voted in 2006 and stayed home in 2011. The PC's owe it to themselves to try and figure out why. Honestly. The "farmers were working in the fields" spin isn't going to fly.

It's not ALL doom and gloom when talking turn-out, however. Membership sales, while not at historic levels, aren't historically LOW, either. The 60,000+ dues paid memberships puts them at well past double their closest competition in Alberta.

Of course, many of those members will dry up and blow away once the leadership race is over, never to be seen or heard from again. Such is the nature of leadership races, and of nomination races for that matter: people show up who have never been political and will never be political again, they vote the way they've been told to by friends or family, and that vote - cast in pure ignorance - has as much weight as anyone else. That's democracy.

So what of the vanquished?

Morton and Orman threw their support behind front-runner Mar earlier this week, with Griffiths following suit on the following day.

But why?

Morton was crushed by the first ballot results. He ran arguably a better campaign than in his run for the leadership in 2006, yet at the end of the night he received 19,000 FEWER votes than in 2006. Losses to the Wildrose? Some of them, certainly. Losses to Rick Orman? Some, perhaps. Lingering hard feelings towards Morton over his perceived palace coup against genuine nice guy Ed Stelmach? Some, sure. But Morton - who tried like hell during this race to show his fiscal conservative bona fides and stayed away from controversial social issues - expected to make the 2nd ballot, timed his campaign accordingly, and never crossed the finish line. The best he can hope for at this point is to again serve as Minister of Finance under Mar or, perhaps, to stand for his old job as a Senator-elect in the promised upcoming senatorial elections and maybe someday get the call from Stephen Harper to take a seat in Canada's Upper House. Either would be made more likely by currying favour with the sitting Premier.

Orman did surprisingly well - narrowly missing out on a 4th place finish. After the votes were counted, he indicated he was returning to "private life", however the Mar endorsement might indicate a change of heart for the Getty-era cabinet minister. Orman - who spent much of his campaign throwing punches towards Mar - mysteriously endorsed him after the first round of voting. It MAY have something to do with his strong showing in the Calgary-McCall poll, which Orman won with an astounding 79.9% of the votes cast. At 1,668 votes, none of the 6 candidates received more votes in any poll than Orman did in McCall. And that INCLUDES the Advance Polls. The votes he received for PC Leader in McCall were about half of the votes it would take for him to win the seat in a general election, currently held by Liberal Darshan Kang (and with no nominated Progressive Conservative in the constituency. Hmmm...)

Griffiths' endorsement of Mar came as a complete shock to many, myself included. The Griffiths campaign - which was made up completely of volunteers, from the campaign manager on down - was all about the need for change, and for discussions that the Old Boys weren't interested in having. Doug made his points, time and again, and while they were applauded and well-received, at the end of the day the party's voting membership gave him just over 4% support. Hardly a ringing endorsement. So why would the "agent of change" support Gary Mar, the candidate with the backing of 30 other sitting MLAs and half the cabinet? In short - because there's only so much you can do from the outside looking in, and Griffiths clearly feels Mar is going to win. If Griffiths ever wants to be at the table where the decisions are made, and push for the kind of change he's talking about, he's got to BE the Premier, or he's got to have the Premier's ear.

I hate that this is how it is. I think it shouldn't be this way. But that's how it is, and it'd be disingenuous for me to pretend I didn't understand. I do. I'm just not happy about it.

Of course, MLA endorsements - even those of your fellow leadership candidates - don't mean everything. In the case of all 3 defeated candidates, their campaign managers are NOT supporting Mar. Likewise with many of the campaign volunteers. And, lest we forget, Ted Morton had 10 MLA endorsements, and finished 4th. Alison Redford had one - Art Johnston of Calgary-Hays, which she didn't win anyhow - and finished 2nd. So it's not enough to have the MLA or candidate, you need to have a team under them, selling memberships and mobilizing voters.

Since the vote, Mar has acted every bit the "pending winner", talking in glowing terms about the candidates who have come over to his side, staying on message, and playing coy about a possible snap election call. Upon being sworn in as Leader and Premier, Mar will either need to authorize over 40 nomination races to take place with 2 weeks' notice, appoint candidates, or both, in order to call a fall election with his slate filled. Whispers have put a possible date for a general election as November 21st, under this scenario. If he instead chooses to hold a by-election in order to take a seat in the Legislature, suggestions are that Iris Evans has offered her Sherwood Park seat for Gary to run in.

Redford has come out guns blazing, trying to capitalize on the influx of talent and support from the Orman, Griffiths and Morton camps. She's been appealing to teachers. She's talking about health care. She's taken clear aim at Gary, drawing comparisons to 2006 when first ballot runner-up Morton went on the offense against front-runner Dinning, allowing third-place finisher Ed Stelmach to focus on selling memberships and ensuring that he was the second choice of both Dinning AND Morton supporters - a dual strategy that, ultimately, guaranteed Stelmach's victory, and wouldn't have been possible without the acrimony between the Morton and Dinning campaigns. The narrative has been "change versus the status quo".

Horner has scoffed at reports he might step aside, clearing the way for a Redford/Mar showdown at high noon. And who can blame him? He's in the "Stelmach position", drawing no fire, throwing no stink bombs, and free to campaign quietly and effectively without having to take time out of his day to deal with the opposition. Horner's campaign, which was virtually non-existent in Calgary and not much better in Edmonton, has added only one new PC caucus member, the incomparable Carl Benito of Edmonton-Millwoods. Carl has promised to deliver the goods for Horner on voting day, and if there's one thing we know about Carl: When he gives his word, it's good.

I'll re-post the voting information when we get closer to the advance polls and October 1st, as well as the candidate profiles.

As for MY reaction to the first ballot results...  I'm conflicted.

First of all: I don't know what the hell has happened to my friends, but I want it to stop, and I want them back. The name-calling, allegations, slick partisan jabs directed at each other... it wasn't this bad during the municipal election last October, and THAT was *bad*. I've gotten to the point where I've stopped logging onto Twitter, or at least started ignoring the #pcldr hashtag. It's an echo chamber now - you couldn't find un-spun truth in there with a polygraph hooked up to a Cochrane warp engine. When Twitter becomes a one-way broadcast medium for campaigns and re-tweeting campaign volunteers rather than a 2-way conversation medium, it loses its effectiveness.

Secondly, I've started second-guessing myself. It was clear to me earlier in this race that with the support of 26 MLAs, Gary Mar was the candidate of the status quo. He HAD to be - you can't get 26 politicians to agree on anything, EVER, unless it's directly related to them keeping their jobs.

But then, I started wondering - what if these endorsements aren't about cabinet spots and social climbing? What if they're about something else?

What if these MLA's - all of whom got their jobs the hard way, by running for office against real people and winning - know something that I don't? What if they know that Gary Mar really IS the guy to unite the PC's, has a genuine drive to evolve the party into its next iteration, and is the best choice to beat Danielle, Raj, Brian and Glenn? Don't they know better than me? I'm interested. I'm involved. I'm even - from time to time - a little smart about this stuff. But their mortgages get paid by what they know. Their entire lives are funded by their ability to see the direction the wind is blowing. If they're all seeing this...  can they ALL be chasing cabinet jobs?

I've got friends supporting Gary. I've got friends supporting Alison. I've got friends supporting Doug. At the end of the day, I hope they can all be friends with each other again. But there's a real, seismic shift happening in the PC Party right now. And no matter WHO wins the leadership, there are going to be some pretty serious fault-lines that need dealing with, pronto. Will social or fiscal conservatives decide to leave and join the Wildrose? Leave and just stay home from now on? How about progressives - which is NOT a euphemism for "liberal", as neocons would have you believe (there are a lot of progressives in today's Wildrose)? Will they leave the party after what they might perceive as a victory of the "status quo"?

If change from WITHIN isn't possible, the only way to effect change is from WITHOUT...

I don't know what to think. If you held a gun to my head and forced me to bet on a likely winner, I think it's clear who I'd bet on. The math is pretty compelling. But memberships are for sale again. And in 2006, the smart money was on Dinning. And I don't bet against Stephen Carter candidates.

What I *do* know, though, is this: Every part of me is sick of this. I'm not just physically exhausted, I'm tired of this. And I'm a political wonk. This is like me deciding I'm sick of the Stanley Cup playoffs, a few days before the Finals start.

Is it the process? The antics of the campaigns? The behind-the-scenes machinations?

I don't know.

But I'm NOT a happy PC today. And I don't know what's going to change that.

Or if anything can.

- E.S.


Robert said...

I'd like to understand why the first ballot isn't a preferential ballot. That would ensure a winner the first time around, without this agravating two-week intermission. It would ensure that the majority of PCs are happy, even if everyone's second choice was no one's first choice. It seems that would be far less divisive than this general-election style mud-fest.

Anonymous said...

What's clear is that the Wildrose party is the big loser here. Danielle Smith looks like a crybaby and their party is in serious trouble. Maybe a leader like Rob Anderson would do better for them, but until Smith is gone, my vote stays PC.

Joanne said...

This is perhaps one of the best objectively written pieces, in respect to this election, as I've seen yet. Well done. That you at least acknowledge the possibility that some of these (MLA) individuals are simply doing what they see as best for uniting a party and working together to run the province is commendable. After all, it's not like Mar is strong-arming anyone and the people behind his campaign are some of the most intelligent, and even likeable people I know. That Redford has/had few MLA supporters is questionable to her demeanor...Alternatively, Horner has maintained his caucus support- these individuals have not jumped ship "for the good of the party"- perhaps these are the people we should look to when it comes to compromising values?
Finally,The back and forth between (particularly) 2 campaigns right now is sad and the jabs taken at former candidates for their decisions is just downright depressing- Fingers crossed this ends well for everyone, more specifically Albertans who just want results.

Anonymous said...

uh - apparently I didn't say what you liked in my comment? only items leading to a PC hug fest allowed? I thought it was fair and not mean spirited, is censoring dissenting opinions a PC thing, or have you just not reviewed your comments?

Enlightened Savage said...

Anon @12:07 - I've checked my spam comment filters and there's nothing in there... The only comments I reject are comments that are obviously commercial spam or possibly commit libel - and I haven't removed any of those in months and months.

Perhaps if you try to post it again?

- E.S.