If a day is an eternity in politics then the past week at the Alberta legislature requires a quantum physics degree to wrap your head around.
First Dave Taylor gives the Alberta Party their first MLA, then the premier announces he’ll step down, then the finance minister quits 24 hours later, and finally this week the leader of the opposition does the same.
I may not have that quantum physics degree — and I doubt most of you do either — but that shouldn’t stop us from trying to make sense of all of this and figure out what might happen this summer.
First, we now find ourselves with three of the five parties with sitting MLAs missing a leader. This is unprecedented uncertainty that opens up a lot of possibilities for a lot of people.
Alberta Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman has indicated she is being wooed to run for the leadership of both the Liberals and the Alberta Party. Rural MLA Doug Griffiths is receiving a push to run for the Progressive Conservatives as well as the Alberta Party too.
I’m confident they are not the only ones being pulled in two directions at the same time. With this kind of potential major player shakeup, my guess is the craziest things possible at the legislature haven’t even happened yet.
So what is the craziest thing that could happen?
Ted Morton to this point is the only person to declare he is running for the leadership of the PCs. In 2006 when he ran he had the support of hundreds of people who are now members of the Wildrose Alliance — a group who know opportunity when it knocks.
It is not outside the realm of possibility that Wildrose members could join the PC party again to “hedge their bets” by making sure Morton becomes leader. This is something that makes a lot of sense for them to do.
This would be the best possible news to Liberal, NDP and Alberta Party supporters. With Morton as leader, half the PC party membership would be without an ideological home — after all, they didn’t vote for him the first time and they didn’t join the Wildrose when were asked to.
Without a home supporters would no doubt look to these parties (especially the more centrist Alberta Party) as their new banner.
Just like the Wildrose members joining the PC party, we could see other opposition party members join as well to also vote for Morton in the leadership race and thus destroy the 40-year-old party from within.
Without a strong Progressive Conservative party running in the next election you would be guaranteed to see some new blood and major change happening. Which as ever party knows, is exactly what the majority of voters are crying out for.
If this scenario ends up coming true, you read it here first. If it doesn’t, well I did say it was “crazy.” But as the past week has shown, Alberta politics does crazy very well.
Calgary original: http://www.metronews.ca/calgary/local/article/762974–wrap-your-head-around-this-equation
Edmonton original: http://www.metronews.ca/edmonton/local/article/762974–wrap-your-head-around-this-equation
It looks like Stelmach made the decision for us.
There’s no need for an election to make it happen. There will be a new premier by next year. And in the wake of Premier Stelmach’s resignation the long list of potential replacements is starting to pile up.
Ted Morton has to be the front-runner at this point — if not for the caucus budget brouhaha we’ve been reading about, then at least for the number of Wildrose Alliance members who could very well purchase a PC Party membership to install him as the next premier. (Consider this a hedging-your-bets play by more conservative-minded politicos.)
But behind the obvious choice of Morton, the pack starts getting very confusing. The other contenders may include Dave Hancock and Doug Horner, as well as “outsiders” Jim Dinning and Jim Prentice.
But it is 2011 now. The upcoming election campaign will be unlike any the Progressive Conservatives have faced in their 40-year run. It will take a different kind of leader to pull off another win over the upstart Wildrose Alliance and Alberta Party.
It’s going to be someone like Lindsay Blackett, Jonathan Denis, Thomas Lukaszuk, Alison Redford and their like who will have to lead the party forward. But sadly, the majority in this group have ended up in their seat by playing the “old” game well and don’t really represent a “new,” less partisan way forward.
The only man I can see in a position to be the right person at the right time is a little-known MLA from Hardisty: Doug Griffiths.
To begin with, he is Alberta. He fits in everywhere and everyone has an immense amount of respect for the man — north, south; rural, urban; conservative, liberal; the energy sector, farmers. He gets Alberta as a whole, and is the only person, regardless of party, who bridges all these traditional opposites.
Griffiths has tough decisions to make, too. The PCs have barely embraced him, let alone recognized him as the golden boy who could lead them into the next century by transcending the type of election every other party is going to run. Sources tell me that at this point, he’s just as likely to not run in 2012 and be closer to his young family, who will no doubt show him more appreciation.
The Alberta Party, which is entering into a leadership race of its own, sees Griffiths’s value.
Before Stelmach’s announcement, Griffiths was no doubt being pursued to run in the Alberta Party contest for the reasons I list and more.
I don’t want to put too fine a point on it, but the future of Alberta’s government could hinge on Griffiths’s decision. If he were to run, I think he would have a very good chance as a dark-horse candidate to put aside all the PC baggage others will inadvertently carry and win.
Because during leadership conventions the best candidate to lead the party into an election isn’t always the one who comes out on top (Stelmach?), I should stop short of saying Griffiths will be our next premier. But he would offer the Progressive Conservatives, and Albertans in general, a great choice.
Calgary Original: “Griffiths right man at right time?” http://www.metronews.ca/calgary/local/article/756489–dark-horse-griffiths-the-man-to-lead-tories
Edmonton Original: “Dark-horse Griffiths the man to lead Tories” http://www.metronews.ca/edmonton/local/article/756489–dark-horse-griffiths-the-man-to-lead-tories
While the timing of today’s announcement by Premier Ed Stelmach may be a surprise, his resignation itself should not be. For months there have been grumblings about how the Progressive Conservative party will handle the next election.
The Wildrose Party has positioned itself as an heir apparent making room for all Alberta conservatives. Meanwhile disenfranchised progressives – mainly, but not exclusively PC members – have been toying with what the Alberta Party could be for them. In short, the party that’s been in power for 40 years was being torn in two with only the most ardent supporters who have fought tooth and nail to get where they were inside the party remaining loyal.
Observers and every PC insider knew something had to give. Polls, predictions and even gut feelings all were showing that with Stelmach leading the party into an election they were going to take a beating on all fronts. My prediction was a minority PC government being the outcome. To many, this was a best case scenario.
PC members aren’t stupid however. They could see the future coming too. With so much outsider anger (and even insider for that matter) directed at Stelmach’s seeming inability to gain enough traction with Albertans his fate was sealed. It was just a question whether he stepped aside before or after the next election. Obviously he’d prefer to wait to do it on his own terms, but as things got more and more dim for his party’s future, more and more of his own caucus mates began pondering how to speed things up to save the entire party. And their own seats.
Given all this there was a small movement afoot within caucus to push Stelmach out. However things hadn’t gotten dire enough for it to be a full blown organized coup yet. But if things did get worse, it would be. And for the internal politics of the party to blow up so close to an election would have all but handed the premier’s seat to Danielle Smith. Stelmach, a 25 year veteran, must have seen this too. And so he decided to do what was best for him and his entire party. Today he swallowed his pride and jumped on the grenade.
The table is clear now. The future is whatever the PCs make of it. The Stelmach baggage is gone and there is still enough time for a new leader to set a new tone to rival the other parties and win voter support. The party has had its biggest burden lifted. They still have lots of baggage, but it’s now at least more similar in size to that of it’s competitors.
Next in part 2: what the resignation means for opposition parties.
It is not very often you hear about a political party being willing to rethink all of its policies and principles. Somehow in the process of moulding themselves into representing what the majority of citizens want, these core ideals that formed the initial impetus for the creation of the party – sometimes decades old and potentially out of date or irrelevant – escape scrutiny. I believe in order to really affect change, we must all be willing to take a deep look inside ourselves to find what flaws may be holding us back. Without doing this, and examining our principles, we would really just be rearranging the deck chairs (policies) on an extremely poorly designed ship that runs the risk of sinking if it were to innocently graze an iceberg.
This is why I have to applaud the Alberta Party. After decades of near irrelevance, the party has lifted up its eyes and has publicly stated it is willing to temporarily suspend its policy document to entertain if there may be a better way.
In case you haven’t heard yet, the Alberta Party, which has been in existence since 1985, last month began having conversations with a group of political upstarts calling themselves Renew Alberta. The culmination of those discussions resulted in an announcement this past week of a “merger” between the two groups.
I know several of the Albertans involved in Renew Alberta. The one thing they share in common, is a passion to find a better path toward creating a better Alberta. While they, like the Liberals, Wildrose Alliance and Alberta NDP, believe we deserve a better government, what really sets them apart is their belief that there must be a more participatory form of democracy in our province. Their focus is not so much on what the other parties are doing, as it is on the 60% of Albertans that did not vote and those of the remaining 40% that felt their vote really didn’t matter. Engagement can be a powerful thing – and it something that the majority of Albertans obviously don’t feel.
The enthusiasm and work ethic of the Renew Alberta people is admirable. As is the vision of the Alberta Party to accept them into their fold to help determine if their policies really do connect with Albertans or if there is a way for them to course correct.
The Big Listen is what the Alberta Party is billing as the focus of this collaboration. And again, I think it is commendable that a political party is willing to let the public at large dictate what their policies should be, instead of a small group of members who may or may not represent the views of Albertans.
Will the Alberta Party be right wing or left wing at the end of The Big Listen? Who knows?! But that’s the thing that excites me. If done right and fair, the one thing we will know for sure, is that they represent the ‘average’ Albertan. If they can build a regular feedback loop into their governing structure, this could make them… well, dare I say it?, the perfect party. One that is not governed by petty politics or the whims of its caucus, leadership or members; but instead one that is directly governed by the average citizen.
Of course all this utopian talk is more than likely ‘pie in the sky’ dreaming. Let’s be realistic for a moment and not get too far ahead of ourselves. Many folks out there appear to be skipping over this step. Jane Morgan, the former executive director of the Wildrose Alliance has raised some very good questions about how this merger came to be within the structure of the Alberta Party’s constitution. Alberta Party board members have done a decent job of responding to her criticism, but at the end of the day it is the current Alberta Party membership who will have the final say. Either they will embrace this new way their party will operate in the future, or they re-trench and leave. I certainly hope it is the former, and that they, as well as their board, improve their governance structure down the road. They will have to to be able to control the beast they could potentially be releasing by putting policy decisions in the hands of the public.
A few people have also questioned the merger of these two groups: The Alberta Party previously dismissed as a ‘right-wing’ fringe party, and Renew Alberta as ‘lefties’. How could it be two groups of people, so different in make up, could come together so seamlessly to work for a better future? Well, if the ‘left’ and the ‘right’ can, in this instance, put aside their differences and come together in the ‘centre’ – which is by definition where the majority of Albertans reside on the political spectrum – then their may just be hope for intelligent discussion free of rhetoric after all.
(Another thing that excites me about this new party: the diversity. The Alberta Party stereotypically is seen as older and rural, while Renew Alberta, rightly or wrongly, is seen as younger and urban. How nice to see differing people getting along for once.)
I think the ground work for this partnership is laid out very well in the Alberta Party’s (now temporarily suspended) policy document entitled, “Reforming Alberta”.
From the introduction to the Alberta Party’s Policies and Procedures document we can see what the two groups may share in common when it says: “We demand accountability and responsibility from our elected officials and civil servants… [T]he Alberta Party has created a bottom up organization in which the power resides with the members…”
Even it’s mission statement could be seen as something the two groups might commonly share: “To protect and promote the freedoms and best interests of Albertans.” One of the tactics outlines for how the Alberta Party will fufill this mission is “increase citizen participation in democracy by improving the process.”
I for one, can’t wait to see where this new group may go with lofty goals such as these. Either way, it will certainly be a thrill to watch.
It seems strange to me to congratulate someone who is effectively spewing venom. But I feel proud of Rob Anderson for switching allegiance from the Alberta PCs to the Wildrose Alliance. No sooner had he made the announcement and he began immediately exposing the dark corners of the Government he had supported and loved so dearly not so long ago.
To do this takes gumption and honesty. It could not have been an easy decision, but assuming he is telling the truth, it is clearly one based on morality and I applaud him for this. We need more politicians who are willing to be open and honest with the public and who are willing to stake their career on correcting their mistakes.
Yet, that is where my applause for his and Heather Forsyth’s defection ends.
If you don’t read many Alberta political blogs then you probably haven’t seen an interesting phenomenon happening coming out of the Reboot Alberta conference. Average citizens who attended – and many who didn’t – have been taking the time to put into writing what they believe the definition of “progressive” is. “Progressive” being what Rebooters have branded themselves as. (My own thoughts on the subject will come in the near future in the form of a series of posts.)
In my mind, I find myself amazed at the number of Albertan’s taking the time, through this difficult exercise, to try and spell out what they want their province to look like – and how Alberta might get from where it is now, to that point.
I’m not seeing this kind of open idealogical and policy development happening with the Wildrose Alliance and that concerns me. Hardly anyone is talking about what it means to be a Wildrose supporter. Especially before choosing to become one.
Up until this point the majority of what the general public has seen is a party which is defining itself via negative statements: i.e. “We are not the Tories.” This was perhaps most clearly stated during the Calgary-Glenmore by-election when the slogan the Wildrose Alliance staked their claim with was “Send Ed a Message”. There was nothing in there about how their position would be any different, but that’s okay because it tapped into a societal urge to do just that: send Ed a message. (Remember the Liberals did come in second in the race, also beating out the PC candidate. Meaning many voters chose to send a message too, just via a different channel.)
The problem with defining yourself in such a way is you’ve left the power to define you in the hands of your opposition. It would be very easy for Ed Stelmach to simply illustrate ‘the message was received’ and suddenly you’re brand has dried up. To be truly effective, the Wildrose Alliance are going to have to illustrate what they are and just what they are not.
So who is the Wildrose Alliance? What do they stand for?
From the policy documents on their website and what their leader Danielle Smith has said in the media, I think they can be summed up as offering ‘change’ or ‘something different’. While this doesn’t help solve my previous point it’s not a bad horse to hitch your wagon to. After all, it worked for Barack Obama.
But the point with Obama was, he really did represent a different way of doing things. (Arguments can be made that his results so far have been the same, but his methods have been near polar opposites of his predecessor.) I’m not convinced yet that the Wildrose Alliance really does offer a different way of doing things.
Case in point the addition of Anderson and Forsyth. If you’ve staked your entire brand on the fact you are different than the PC Party, how can you accept two of their MLAs as your own? This appears to be a quick – albeit short-term helpful – abandonment of the central pillar of the brand.
Yet, I think it goes deeper than just this. From what I’ve been told, the Wildrose Alliance party was founded by former PC supporters who feel the party has lost its way over the past however many years. Anderson and Forsyth and the framing of the by-election victory illustrate this disillusion as well.
Here’s my point: if voters are looking for something new – how does the Wildrose Alliance represent anything other than simply the PC Party of the past? That’s not new, that’s simply slapping a new coat of paint on the same thing we’ve already had before. Change for the sake of change, if you will.
I’m not deluded however. This alone may be enough to hand them a majority in the next election. The Liberals – despite David Swann’s best efforts – are looking to do nothing more than change their logo, while the Alberta NDP plod along contemplating no change of any kind. When these are the options you are up against, the Wildrose’s fresh face with the same tired out plan might be more than enough.
I may be wrong, but it strikes me the public don’t just want new people doing the same thing we’ve done before. If given the option, they want Alberta politics to be done in completely different – and better – way.
So far as I can see right now, those bloggers typing out their thoughts on what the province could be are the only ones offering anything “new”. And that’s too bad they’re the only ones.