Sunday, October 2, 2011

Meet the New Boss

... most emphatically NOT the same as the Old Boss.

Alison Redford is the newly-elected Leader of the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta. As a sitting MLA, when Redford takes the reigns of the Party upon Ed Stelmach's formal resignation in the next few days, she will become the 14th Premier of the Province of Alberta. The first of those 14 to be female, red-headed, or a meat-itarian. Guess which of those 3 "firsts" is receiving the most attention today?

Alison has a lot of work ahead of her as the transition period begins. And, let's not forget, she's still got some mourning and healing to do over her recent very personal loss. So we may have from a few days to a couple of weeks to wait before we start to see whole-scale change on a level that would satisfy the poor, (metaphorically)ink-stained wretches of the 5th Estate (and their silly blogger cousins, who do this all for free).

I wanted to talk a bit about the process used to select the new leader last night, look at what happens now going forward, and then run over some numbers with you today. Tomorrow I'm taking a "personal day", and I'd suggest you do the same (just not for the same reasons I am).

The Process:

The PC Leadership selection process is how it is so that no one can ever be elected Leader of the Party without the support of at least half of the voting membership. I've heard it suggested numerous times this week that a better idea would be to hold a third vote, rather than allowing anyone to get stuck with the "second choice" stigma - and I certainly appreciate the logic. However, the problem with having just 2 people square off for a week or 2 in the campaign to win a Third Ballot is that you end up with an EXTREMELY divided party membership afterwards. Even moreso than 2006. Remember the last time this "head-to-head" scenario happened was 1992 - and the 2 final candidates (and their respective supporters) hated each other so much by the end that the loser left the party and became Leader of the Opposition.

Why the HELL did it take so long to get the results?!?

There are a lot of places in which the system can log-jam. Anyone who's been on Glenmore Trail during rush-hour knows, it just takes one collision to plug up the entire roadway for everyone, no matter how well the rest of them drive.

At the Local Constituency Poll, the ballots are counted by hand. A volunteer must, in the presence of witnesses and scrutineers from the campaigns, pull out each ballot one at a time, read the vote aloud, and present it so that all can see the vote is marked appropriately for the candidate they indicated. At any point, a scrutineer can challenge the validity of a ballot. The judgement rests with the Deputy Returning Officer, a local volunteer who has the final say. After every vote is counted and the totals announced, scrutineers can ask for a recount. If the total number of votes counted doesn't equal the number of ballots given out at that polling station, a recount can take place. If the total number of votes cast doesn't match the number of voting cards presented, a recount can take place. And even if everything goes off without a hitch, you're still counting hundreds of ballots, one at a time. Having many volunteers does NOT make it any faster - it's one ballot at a time, in front of everyone, until you run out, and then hopefully your numbers add up. The polling station I was working at rejected a very small number of ballots, there was no recount required, the turn-out was less than 1,000 voters, and it STILL took almost an hour and 45 minutes to get to the point where we could call in our results to the party office. And that was with an experienced DRO, an experienced Assistant DRO, and an Accountant in the room.

AFTER the vote totals get called into Party HQ, they need to be confirmed. The Party goes over the numbers of ballots handed out, cast, spoiled, recorded...  they want to make sure that no constituency has made a simple math error that results in the nightmare scenario of a candidate giving a concession speech only to find out 4 days later that the DRO in Leduc forgot to carry the "4", and the candidate who conceded actually won.  If they can't make the numbers work - or if the DRO needs help - the Party needs to get ahold of someone in the field and have them physically go to the polling station to assist. Not a big deal in the city, but in some of the larger, rural ridings you're talking about a 45-minute drive just to GET there. At which point, you might need to do a re-count to figure out the discrepancy.

Is it time-consuming? OH, yes.

But it's democracy, on the "pay to get into our private club and you can vote for stuff" level. The party knows what's at stake. Every one of those ballots is treated like a sacred object, just as they would be in a general election. It's worth taking the time to make sure you got it RIGHT.

The Party did that last night, and as a result, we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the party membership did, indeed, choose Alison Redford to lead them.

The Future:

Alison needs to put together a cabinet as quickly as is feasible. She committed to shrinking the size of cabinet, so the GOA public service will be restructured as a result (don't worry, we're used to it). The REASON she needs to put together a cabinet is partly political, and partly practical: Firstly, she ran as an agent of change. Running the machinery of government using Ed's model isn't really going to fly for very long if she wants to maintain her "change cred". So if she wants to do anything, she'll need her own cabinet in place. And she NEEDS to get some stuff done, pronto. She committed to restoring the education cuts within 10 days. The clock is ticking. She also set timeframes for reviews of government operations and spending, which is going to require political direction within the departments, from people whom Alison trusts. The most experienced MLA to support Alison (on the second ballot) was Dave Rodney of Calgary-Lougheed. I expect he'll end up with a cabinet job, along with Doug Horner and perhaps Ted Morton and Doug Griffiths. Gene Zwozdesky might be safe, as he stayed neutral in the leadership and hasn't done a bad job. As for the rest of cabinet: Alison's been sitting around that table for 3 years. She knows how they operate. The ones she has respect for - regardless of who they backed in the leadership - will be on the short-list. The ones who don't make the cut will be on the outside. What she WON'T do, though, is blindly reward her own supporters and backers. Even if you backed Redford, if you're not qualified to serve in cabinet, she won't be putting you in a position to make her look foolish. She has committed to constructing a cabinet based on merit rather than favouritism, although factors like regional, age and gender balance always creep into cabinet-building, at any level of government. Voters want a front bench that they can relate to. If all your best MLA's are 60 year-old men from Edmonton and you put them all in cabinet, they - and you - won't be there for long. All bets are off for Deputy Premier. It can't be Horner, for political reasons - he's too closely tied to the old regime. But it will probably be someone from north of Red Deer.

The Numbers:

First and foremost, the total numbers of votes cast should be VERY worrying for the Tories. 78,176 dues-paid members voted yesterday. Which is THREE TIMES the membership of the Wildrose Party. So no worries, right? Wrong. Here's the catch: On January 1st, 2012, the odometer re-sets at "zero". A lot of those 78,176 people will not be renewing their memberships. Their guy (whoever that was) lost. And while the PCs can brag that they've got a huge lead over their closest rival in terms of members, they historically have a membership of at least TEN TIMES the size of their closest rival. So, three-fold is nothing by comparison. They need to ask themselves "why?". Gary Mar was going to put Doug Griffiths on the case. It remains to be seen what Alison is going to do about it, but she certainly recognizes it as a problem that needs addressing - if possible, BEFORE the next election.

SPEAKING of voter turn-out, the turn-out for the second ballot was down 46% versus 2006. In '06, the gap between the first and second ballots was 1 week, and the total number of voters increased by over 46,000. In 2011, the gap between the first and second ballots was 2 weeks, and the total number of voters increased by just over 18,000.

35% of Doug Horner's voters didn't indicate a "second choice" on their ballot. Almost 51% of Horner's voters, though, chose Redford as their #2. And that was the ballgame. Those votes pushed her past Mar and into the Premier's Office.

In the first round of voting, Gary Mar had 40.76% of the popular vote. He gained endorsements from Ted Morton (11.73%), Rick Orman (10.12%) and Doug Griffiths (4.10%), yet on the second ballot his share of the popular vote (as a first-choice candidate) increased by only 1.75%. By comparison, Horner's share increased by almost 6%, and Redford's by 18.35%. In real numbers of votes cast, Mar gained 9,038 votes in the 2 weeks between the first and second ballot. Horner gained 7,315. Redford gained 17,866 votes - more than the other 2 finalists, combined.

And remember Ed Stelmach, "the man who nobody REALLY wanted"? The "Accidental Premier" the media keeps telling us about?

In 2006, his second-ballot "first preference" vote total was 51,764. After adding in the "second preference" votes from Morton's supporters, Ed had 77,577 votes.

That's almost as many as Gary, Doug, and Alison combined last night.

Time to find a new narrative.

Radio Silence

As I mentioned earlier, I will not be around on Monday - not on the blog, not on Twitter, nowhere. I suggest you take some time to recharge your batteries, as well. When Alison starts making changes, it's going to be fast, and thorough. The spin will be intense from all parties. The implications will be far-reaching. You're going to want to be well-rested.

See you on Tuesday, Nation.


The Invisible Hand said...

What she WON'T do, though, is blindly reward her own supporters and backers.

How do you know that?

Enlightened Savage said...

I asked her the question. She said she wouldn't do it. I don't assume people are lying to me when they don't have a history of it. :)

Anonymous said...

Very informative post. Now I know why Gary Mar didn't call for a recount. Have a great long weekend Joey. Sounds like you've earned it.

Anonymous said...

No bias on your account - you are a red tory, who openly supported and campaigned for Alison in the leadership race.

I hear that you are trying to get yourself a MLA seat yourself - talk about self-serving.

Enlightened Savage said...

Anonymous: Thanks for your comment. Unfortunately, I neither supported NOR openly campaigned for Alison, or for anyone.

Nice try, though. ;)

Kyle said...

@Savage: Excellent post, as always. Very informative & easy to understand.

@Anonymous: Go back to your crack pipe. The Savage is one of the most unbiased political bloggers out there. I challenge you to find any instance of him openly campaigning for and/or supporting Redford (or anyone else) anywhere. Whether or not he is chasing a MLA position has no bearing on his posts or has nothing to do with this at all.

I love the trolls who don't even have the cajones to post under a name or profile. (I know I'm feeding the troll, but this one's a clown that irked me.)