By Paul Wells - Friday, April 27, 2012 - 0 Comments
The Id vs. Superego of Tory revolts
What does Alison Redford’s Alberta election victory mean for federal politics? Well, let me tell you a story.
I haven’t spoken to a single Conservative who’s satisfied with the budget Jim Flaherty brought down last month, although to be fair I haven’t spoken to Jim Flaherty. Probably he thought it was tickety-boo. Everyone else, once they’re reassured the Prime Minister won’t hear what they think, says the budget was a timid, watery thing.
And mostly they think it’s just not fair. Conservatives have been so good. All they want is to shrink the federal government until it’s about the size of a dinner muffin. Instead, they’ve been biting their tongues while they watch brand-new office buildings spring up around Ottawa like mushrooms, each one chockablock with freshly hired bureaucrats. They walked on eggshells through half a decade of minority Parliaments. They crept up to their 2011 majority victory on little cat feet.
By Colby Cosh - Friday, April 27, 2012 at 10:01 AM - 0 Comments
Voters decided they needed a salesperson to pitch Alberta, and its oil. Wildrose didn’t fit the bill
One point three. Twelve. Fourteen. Seventeen. Eight, seven, seven, six, eight, seven, ten, nine, nine . . . two.
That’s a word picture of the polls taken in the run-up to April 23’s Alberta election, starting with a Leger survey for which interviews took place April 5-8. The numbers represent the Wildrose party’s estimated province-wide lead over the incumbent Progressive Conservatives. No public poll taken by a respectable firm during the campaign had the Wildrose behind the PCs. All pollsters agreed that at least a narrow Wildrose majority government was likely. Reporters in Eastern Canada dutifully filed “Wildrose wins” copy for the April 24 morning papers, believing that the outcome was certain.
And then came the shocking result of the election itself, arriving at the end of the mathematical sequence like some indecipherable symbol from a lost language:
By Colby Cosh - Tuesday, April 24, 2012 at 8:14 AM - 0 Comments
1. Proportional representation just won itself a whole passel of new right-wing fans.
2. Alberta Liberal morale remained high throughout an election in which pollsters warned continually of disaster. And the pollsters proved to be almost exactly right about this (if nothing else). Yet even as the mortifying results rolled in, Alberta Liberal morale still remained high. Then their egomaniac not-really-Liberal disaster of a leader, Raj Sherman, won his seat by the skin of his teeth. This means he will not have to be replaced unless an awful lot of people smarten up fast. Alberta Liberal morale after this event? Easily, easily at its highest point in ten years. “Please, sir, may I have another?”
3. NDP leader Brian Mason’s first words on reaching the podium? “The phone booth [two seats] just doubled [four seats]!” Message: we like the phone booth. We’re never leaving it. Not us.
4. Total votes cast for Senators-in-Waiting, with complete results not quite yet in, are about 2,486,858. If everybody voted for three Senators, that implies about 829,000 ballots cast—which in turn suggests that around 458,000 eligible voters selected a candidate for the Assembly but refused or spoiled their Senate ballot. The practice was certainly widespread, and if these numbers are close to right, the Senate election has been boycotted quite significantly.
5. Those who did boycott the Senate election seem awfully proud of themselves, because it was a “meaningless” election. Why, one wonders, does it have to be meaningless? The “progressive” parties could have agreed on a single Senate candidate in advance; if they had done so, that candidate would certainly have ended up first in the queue, and provided an excellent test of Stephen Harper’s integrity, which I am told is much doubted.
The problem is that Harper might pass the test, you say? Then what’s the harm? You get some smart, popular left-wing independent speaking for Alberta in the Senate? That’s bad for “progressives” how?
6. It is not unusual for candidates to get 70%, 75%, or even 80% in Alberta provincial or federal elections. By this measure, however, the Alberta electorate is now unusually divided: the highest vote share earned by any candidate, of any party, was NDPer Rachel Notley’s 61.98% in Edmonton-Strathcona. (There was talk in advance of the vote that electoral redistricting would hurt Notley, though no one thought for a moment she would lose.)
7. Only one Conservative candidate received 60% of a riding’s votes cast: Human Services Minister David Hancock in Edmonton-Whitemud. PCs relishing their first-past-the-post “landslide” [see item 1, supra] would do well, I suppose, to realize that only 19 of the 61 victors have the approval of more than 50% of their fellow-citizens.
8. Voters don’t like turncoats much. There was a lot of floor-crossing in the 27th Legislative Assembly of Alberta: three PCs (Heather Forsyth, Rob Anderson, and Guy Boutilier) left for the Wildrose Party, one (Raj Sherman) bolted for the Liberals, and the PCs got one back from the Liberals in the person of Bridget Pastoor. Forsyth had a hideous scare in Calgary-Fish Creek, taking it by just 74 votes. Boutilier was turfed. Sherman, like Forsyth, narrowly escaped garroting. Only Anderson (in Airdrie) and Pastoor (Lethbridge West) got the usual easy ride that comes with incumbency.
9. Ted Morton’s widely anticipated whupping in Chestermere-Rocky View lived up, or down, to all expectations. His challenger, broadcaster Bruce McAllister, beat him 10,168 to 6,156; McAllister earned the highest vote share of any Wildrose candidate (58.4%) and, along with Danielle Smith, was one of only three to amass 10,000 votes.
10. There is this weird consensus among intellectuals and creatives that the progressive vote in Alberta will coalesce around the Alberta Party by 2016. All my techie and designer-y friends seem as convinced of this as if it were divine revelation (and, in truth, the Alberta Party’s election materials do look pretty badass, graphics-wise). I wouldn’t have thought anything of it, because these are the same people who were sure that a single-button mouse was a good idea ten years ago, but then the top young organizers in the Wildrose Party told me that the AP was full of smart, hustling people and that they, too, believed it would soon become Alberta’s party of the left.
Yes, there is plenty of embarrassment to go around this morning, but I still cannot understand why I was assured so often that the Alberta Party would win multiple seats; they were never above about 3% in the polls, and if there can be such a thing as a calamitous performance for a fledgling movement with not much of a platform and a kinda-fake leader, this must be it. The Alberta Party got 1.3% of the vote last night. If the NDP lives in a phone booth, what do you call this? A really tight pair of rubber underpants?
By Paul Wells - Tuesday, April 24, 2012 at 7:41 AM - 0 Comments
Albertans did elect a woman as their premier last night, just not the one some of us gringos were expecting. Fortunately Colby Cosh sat down with Alison Redford five months ago, and the transcript of their conversation is here. As we’ve since had occasion to learn, she’s full of surprises.
By Colby Cosh - Tuesday, April 24, 2012 at 6:04 AM - 0 Comments
An Alberta astronaut returning from Titan and seeing the result of last night’s election would say “Meh, so what else is new? The PCs carried 61 of 87 seats? Kind of an off year for them, I guess.” Yet the ostensibly boring, familiar outcome wrong-footed much of the media and absolutely all the pollsters. Even PC insiders, correctly detecting a last-minute shift away from the Wildrose Party heirs-presumptive, envisioned a much smaller vote share than the 44 per cent Alison Redford’s party achieved. The public polling firms all botched the job, with none forecasting anything but a Wildrose majority even on the final weekend.
The Wildrose Party’s final count of 17 seats must surely leave its braintrust, heavily stocked with Conservative Party of Canada veterans, obliterated with horror. The CPC has built a pretty good electoral machine, but as old Ralph Klein hand and Wildrose supporter Rod Love reminded CBC, the Alberta PC brand is the most successful in the country. He probably could have gone even further afield if he wanted to. (On August 24, 2014, the PCs will officially become the longest continuously serving government in the annals of Confederation.) In 1993 the PCs were in trouble late, but succeeded in outflanking a popular Liberal opposition and running against their own record. They did it again in 2012. Redford succeeded in making herself the “change” candidate—though not without help from the Wildrose insurgents, who suffered late “bozo eruptions” of the sort the CPC itself has long since succeeded in extinguishing.
It wasn’t all about the bozos, but they did help inspire a shift of progressive voters away from the Alberta Liberals—a party that is never quite healthy but now seems positively moribund. With overall turnout still fairly dismal (probably not much higher than 50%), the Wildrose was able to capture 34% of the vote. Almost all of that support, without any doubt, came from citizens who backed the PCs in 2008. But the Liberal vote share fell from 29% to 10%, and it seems almost all of those voters went PC, often reluctantly, in defence of Redford.
Redford seemed destined to be the Alberta PCs’ Kim Campbell for so long that it is difficult to do an about-face and assess her strengths. She played hardball when it came to the Wildrose “bozoes”, succeeding in making them a metaphor for a potential Wildrose caucus of uncertain size, ideological allegiance, and ability. That turned out to be shrewd, and the Wildrose campaign, which was rigidly committed to a tactical plan laid out before the election writ, did not react fast enough. (The WRP strategic doctrine has been that it is better not to get caught “reacting” at all. This is ideal if your preparation has been thorough. If there are weaknesses, look out.)
But what really strikes one now is the way Redford has emphasized Alberta’s national and international image from day one of her career as premier—indeed, from day one of her candidacy for premier. Whether or not Alberta is a particularly insular and self-regarding place (which, duh, it is), it has elected a few heads of government in a row who were far from cosmopolitan. With the last couple, you’d honestly be a little reluctant to let them use a really nice bathroom. Meanwhile, Alberta’s government has been guilty of neglecting or underestimating outside sentiment, most notably when it comes to environmental attacks on the tar sands.
Criticisms of Alberta began as an easily-ignored celebutard problem, but because of Alberta’s landlocked status, it grew to become a serious diplomatic one, one with a quantifiable impact on Alberta’s take from oil. Professional enviros went after pipelines connecting Alberta to U.S. and world markets because they are an easy choke point; Alberta business leaders and its government bean-counters are increasingly, unhappily aware of just how easy.
That means the province can no longer count on market-access issues to take care of themselves. Oil is not just a commodity anymore. It needs a sales pitch. And Redford has been preaching the axioms that naturally follow. Lord, has she ever. She hardly ever mentions Alberta without squeezing Canada, or the world, or both into the sentence. This turns out, as of tonight, to not just be the irritating vocal tic of a baggage-lugging, UN-certified internationalist.
Danielle Smith’s view on climate change—that the science pinning it on human activity is provisional, and it’s not clear that we really have power over the weather—has a broad constituency in Alberta. So does her view that people who literally believe in Hell are eligible for public office, provided they give a firm promise of religious tolerance. None of this is “radical”, per se. But the net effect of the last half of the campaign was to make Smith look defiantly “Albertan”, to appear to be an Albertan contra mundum and-to-hell-with-what-anyone-else-thinks.
In most years, in most Albertas, that would work. It may even work again in the future, when Albertans feel less insecurity about finding a way to force our boutique oil into foreign markets and more comfortable about reverting to “Let’s all get super drunk at the Stampede” mode. But in 2012 Albertans are feeling vulnerable about identity, and Smith’s problems provoked a late, instinctive counter-reaction. Herself a promising avatar of change and modernity, the Wildrose leader found herself endlessly defending men who looked and sounded like an old Super-8 film of Socreds at a 1968 ribbon-cutting for a curling rink. Redford, meanwhile, stuck to her game and got it right: keep reminding Albertans that the world exists, and is watching, and is very large.
Demographic change didn’t hurt Redford’s cause, of course. Alberta’s fast growth should, in theory, make old political axioms and patterns untrustworthy, as new Albertans remake the electorate every decade. Alberta remains the youngest of all provinces, and it’s now far from the whitest. But when I look at the vote totals from here in Edmonton, for example, what I see is Edmonton actually reasserting its classic liberal identity, angrily. Friends my age and younger were able to accept the bizarre logic of the PCs as the party of “change”, and voted PC for exactly the same reasons they were once determined to keep the city PC-free.
Of the 19 core Edmonton ridings, 13 went PC; more surprisingly, the PCs made a clean 5-for-5 sweep of the bedroom communities of St. Albert, Sherwood Park, Spruce Grove, Stony Plain, and Strathcona County. None of these were remotely close for the Wildrose; one of the highest vote totals in the whole province belongs to St. Albert PC Stephen Khan, who was running in a riding that has sent Liberals to the legislature at least once under every Alberta government. (At this hour, Redford herself has the very highest total—yet another surprise within the larger surprise.)
In the final weekend of the campaign, both Smith and Redford stuck close to Calgary, and in light of the polls, this looked for all the world as though Redford was desperately playing defence. Would she ignore rural Alberta if she thought there was any hope there? Redford did lose a few Conservative stalwarts in the hinterland, but, frankly, she is probably not too unhappy about losing golf-mad Ray Danyluk or Wildrose-in-all-but-name Ted Morton.
The Wildrose took no seats at all north of Lacombe (which is a little less than halfway from Edmonton to Calgary), apart from Danyluk’s northeastern Franco-Ukrainian fiefdom (Lac la Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills). Basically, the Wildrose is left with a dryland/foothills caucus and a couple of Calgary outposts. Urban Alberta has regained the upper hand in the electoral calculus after more than three decades of control by plain-spoken, half-animist, multi-tentacled PC county bosses of the Danyluk type.
And Redford has gained what no one expected her to have: a big winner’s unquestioned dominance of her caucus, with a generous helping of like minds replacing the old dinosaurs. Hopefully she will be conscious of this and enforce a regime of positive urban values, starting with honesty and transparency in government, social tolerance, and respect for innovation. (I am not convinced that throwing billions of dollars at an improvised “innovation” project like AOSTRA-2 is a good example of the latter, but in that case the goal isn’t wrong, just the old-school centrally-planned execution.) There are also negative urban values Redford needs to avoid: impecuniousness, laziness, and the eternal temptations of social engineering. But the idea of making Alberta a place people think of as cool is not a bad one. I live here, I already know it’s pretty cool: we apparently need to convince you.
By Colby Cosh - Sunday, April 22, 2012 at 2:03 PM - 0 Comments
I was chatting with Éric Grenier of ThreeHundredEight.com Saturday about Monday’s Alberta election. Grenier’s seat projection from late polls predicts a slim Wildrose Party majority for the next Alberta legislature, with 45 seats for the insurgent WRP and 37 for the incumbent Progressive Conservatives. I don’t really know the details of how he gets from the polling numbers—which show the PCs closing somewhat in recent days—to the seat counts. But because he treats the cities as homogenous metropolitan areas, as he is forced to by his commitment to a purely numerical method (that is how they are handled by the pollsters themselves), I tend to think Éric has the WRP just a tad low. He is implicitly mixing in urban-core ridings, where there is a lot of “progressive” vote to be skimmed by the fearmongering Tories, with ones that are “urban” only in the slightly demented eyes of the census, and are straight WRP-PC fights that will be hard for the WRP to lose given the polling numbers.
Four important words there: “given the polling numbers”. This Alberta election is a case in which an educated guess that incorporates local knowledge is certainly better than a purely automated model. But the educated guess can also fail in a million ways, and that is especially true here. The Wildrose Party is going stronger with “certain to vote” survey respondents, but a late break toward an incumbent is a bad sign for the opposition. Amongst individuals, the act of voting will carry high emotional stakes, and almost nobody, it seems, will be repeating his own 2008 vote.
Liberals and New Democrats who have waited long lives to throw out the PCs are now being asked to protect that very regime, and they’re obviously considering it, given that the polls show two-thirds of the 2008 Liberal vote vanishing. I haven’t seen local news reports of any mass suicides or Raptures, so some of those people will be backing Alison Redford, who would have been their dream leader anyway. I don’t mean this as a gratuitous shot; I mean literally that if the Liberals could fashion the perfect leader of their fantasies from Frankenstein-like parts, they would certainly end up with a lady lawyer who had done loads of international development work and favours Hillary Clinton pantsuits and pearls.
Conservative voters, meanwhile, will have to decide whether they are truly ready to abandon a brand they have supported since Apollo 15 took off. But there’s a third component to the electorate here that nobody’s talking about: “progressive” switchers to the Wildrose.
Madness, you say? The PCs have been making the case that the Wildrose must be stopped at all costs because a couple of its candidates have questionably acceptable views: one is a Christian who believes in the reality of Hell, and another is a guy who’s worked amongst ethnic communities for years—a gentleman not seriously suspected of capital-R racism by anybody, as far as I can tell—who was willing to say to those groups in their own media, repeatedly and in an admittedly awkward way, that his being a white dude is probably a practical electoral advantage. (A third is Alberta Report publisher Link Byfield, whose conservative political views are so freaky and far-out that he could only amass a quarter-million votes in Alberta’s 2004 Senate election.)
Social liberals who want to vote for the Wildrose must be prepared to tolerate the possible presence of such people in a Wildrose caucus, just as social conservatives who want to vote for the Wildrose must somehow be prepared to tolerate voting for a pro-abortion, pro-gay premier. Meanwhile, anybody at all who wants to vote PC must be prepared to tolerate the perpetuation of a government that has taken, and aggressively hidden the evidence of, well-documented illegal kickbacks for party purposes from schools, municipalities, and healthcare. Indeed, they must not only tolerate it: they must accept a share of moral responsibility for it, must stand up and applaud it. Some unknown number of voters will reach the conclusion that the PCs must be humbled as the Liberal Party of Canada was humbled—their offence is objectively worse than Adscam—and that a Wildrose vote is the most effective way of doing this. If you have to hold your nose, why not at least hold your nose for change?
Under the circumstances, the election is nearly impossible to handicap, with genuine four-way races likely in parts of Edmonton. What one notices is that the leaders are spending the last day of campaigning in outer-Calgary city ridings that would otherwise be rock-solid for the PCs. The ridings in question would, I think, be somewhere in the low 50s on a Wildrose wish list and maybe the low 30s on a PC one. That is what I expect to see in the seat counts on Monday, because I know of no stronger evidence apart from the polls, and the polls, interpreted properly, agree with this seat distribution. I can almost get to Grenier’s outcome if I assign everything close to the Conservatives, but the sum of individual voter decisions in the booth is impossible to foresee; that’s why we go ahead and have these election thingies. On this sunny Sunday, Alberta voters are writhing in the private hell of the potential parricide, and must grope their way toward peace with themselves.
By Colby Cosh - Friday, April 20, 2012 at 10:52 AM - 0 Comments
Inside Danielle Smith’s campaign to topple Alberta’s most powerful political dynasty
In a Calgary hotel bar, a long-time newspaper and TV pundit sips white wine and plays the favourite sport of the Alberta literati: arguing about the province’s weird political history. She has a theory. (Everyone has a theory.) It is not a bad one.
“The sudden regime changes that Alberta is famous for seem to follow the evolution of new media,” she explains. “The 1935 election, the Social Credit election, was a radio election. [William] Aberhart won because he mastered a new medium. The 1971 election was a TV election. The baby boomers responded to a young leader, Peter Lougheed, who looked like them.”
“And now,” she says, “I think we are looking at a social media election.”
By Tamsin McMahon - Thursday, April 19, 2012 at 11:00 AM - 0 Comments
Centralized health care may be cheaper, but it comes at a political cost
Alberta’s experiment with centralized health care appears to have been a cost-cutting success according to a national report card on Canadian hospitals, but it has been a never-ending political headache for the Progressive Conservative government.
Last week, after the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) published comparative hospital data for the first time, it showed Alberta spent the least on hospital administration of any province: just 3.5 per cent of its budget, or $338 million. Ontario, whose hospital executives have come under intense scrutiny since their salaries became public, spent the most: nearly six per cent of its budget, or $1.13 billion, went to administration.
On the basis of those numbers alone, one might expect Ontario to follow Alberta’s lead and abolish its regional health authorities, as the Prairie province did in 2008 in favour of a single “superboard” called Alberta Health Services. After all, the hospital reporting project shows that, with the single swipe of a pen, Alberta reined in administration expenses.
By Colby Cosh - Wednesday, April 18, 2012 at 8:22 PM - 0 Comments
Leave aside for a moment the Baptist Church Teen Talk quality of this viral third-party plea for strategic voting that is circulating around Alberta today in advance of the Apr. 23 vote. (Have you ever seen a mass-market political ad that wasn’t fundamentally cheesy and unintelligent?) Let’s ask a more interesting question: what does it tell us about the state of the campaign? It doesn’t seem to have been bought and paid for by the Progressive Conservatives; it may, for example, have merely been made and shot pro bono, in their interest and with their blessing. But it is hard to believe they didn’t have some hand in it. I am hearing a lot of conspiracy theories about “Wildrose black ops” and “rogue teenagers” and whatnot, but—hello? The message of the ad is “Vote for the PCs, even if you don’t really want to”. (Or, to take a literal direct quote: “F—k it, I’m voting PC”.)
It’s a risky move. The ad will alienate old-fashioned, loyalist blue Tories who happen to see it. It is not just old fogies in Alberta who like guns and vote for Stephen Harper. And it is not just young people who watch YouTube videos. At the same time, the sentiment that the ad is trying to appeal to is real; I have already talked to strategic voters who are going to cast their first PC ballot out of fear of the Wildrose Party. I’m actually kind of sorry to see them caricatured so brutally.
This ad—or this political tract in video form, pending its use as an ad—is both a wager and a frame-change. The wager is that an appeal to strategic-voting Liberal and NDP sympathizers will attract more marginal voting power than is given up in the form of horrified Tory loyalists, or in the form of people who aren’t especially partisan but are horrified anyway. Certainly the core idea here is strategically sound: if the Tories want to pull out some of their formerly close-run ridings in northern Alberta and even Calgary, it will help to appeal to the atavistic fears that have been raised about the Wildrose slate. This ad/tract/viral vid suggests that the PCs have given up on the hinterland and most of Calgary; the trouble is that to work even in the places where it might implicitly do some good, it must succeed in making viewers identify with the people onscreen. I have some trouble imagining a likely voter watching it and saying “Damn, the ‘I’m not like dat’ guy and the super-angry ‘Danielle Smith doesn’t believe in gravity’ chick are ME!”
The attempted frame-change is this: the 2012 election very quickly turned into a “Roust the crooks” bonfire-type occasion, with voters of all stripes sharing their disgust at the Progressive Conservative government’s bullying and corruption. Albertans will get the kind of behaviour from their next government that they choose to honour: if they reward the overwhelming sense of entitlement that the PCs have developed after 41 years in power, they will be sending a signal that anything short of murder will go unpunished. “Roust the crooks” is a recipe for electoral annihilation. The PCs need to move voters into a “Defend the status quo” mode, and that’s what this ad is about. Forget the PC kickbacks; forget decades of PC ad-hockery in healthcare; forget even that any PC caucus will probably contain dozens of people who believe that the gays are going to hell. The question—the hidden inner challenge of the ad—is: after 41 years, years which have seen plenty of liberal social progress and fairly impressive relative prosperity, do we really dare change? Things could be worse!
By Richard Warnica - Friday, April 13, 2012 at 6:37 PM - 0 Comments
Not a single question about the oil sands or natural gas
Nothing matters more to the Alberta economy than oil and gas. Nothing matters more to the Alberta environment than oil and gas, either. You could argue, really, that nothing matters more to Alberta writ large, to its people or its future, than oil and gas and how those resources are developed. These are not particularly right wing or left wing things to say. They’re just facts. But you wouldn’t know anything about oil and gas from having watched Thursday’s leaders’ debate in Edmonton.
By the standards of an Alberta election, Thursday’s event was a lively one. The main candidates, Premier Alison Redford and Wildrose challenger Danielle Smith, sparred gamely, and the also-rans were by turns punchy (Liberal Raj Sherman) and serious (NDP Leader Brian Mason). The four leaders fought over health care, deficits and low-level corruption. They touched on no-meet committees, seniors’ issues and education. They debated everything, really, except the one thing that really matters in Alberta, energy and energy policy.
Over 90 minutes of back and forth, the four all but ignored climate change, upgrading, the local environment, resource royalties or what exactly would happen to their plans if oil prices were to tumble again. They were helped in this by the media panel running the event, which asked, all of no questions that directly pertained to the oil sands or natural gas. (They ignored cities, too, which must have had Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi in a tither).
By Colby Cosh - Friday, April 13, 2012 at 10:57 AM - 0 Comments
What the embattled premier might have learned from Ralph Klein
Political campaigns aren’t what they used to be in Alberta. In 2012, the press is raising hell because the Wildrose party, which has a stranglehold on the polls halfway through the election race, has occasionally been rebutting individual newspaper columnists by means of terse little press releases. Not cricket, say the media old-timers. Yet most of these people are old enough to remember the unpredictable premier Ralph Klein and his consigliere Rod Love, whose interactions with critics were sometimes more like headbuttals than rebuttals.
Take one famous scene that preceded the 1993 provincial election, when the Conservative government of Alberta was in the deepest doo-doo it has known until now. An upstart lobby group, the Association of Alberta Taxpayers (AAT), was successfully spreading word of the crazy defined-benefit pensions MLAs had voted themselves—plans which, after repeated increases, often gave members twice the value of what they had kicked in. With dozens of caucus members jumping ship, Klein had stood behind the pensions, saying it would be “immoral” to change them. But the voters were in a lynching mood, and Klein’s campaign bagmen were freaking out.
With the election about four weeks away, the AAT held an impromptu afternoon press conference under the dome in Edmonton. The group had just unveiled a 30,000-word petition calling for reform of the odious pension plan. Unexpectedly, Klein tottered into view on his way back from lunch. Seeing the AAT’s man, the premier charged like a buffalo and, with the legislature bureau looking on in horror, began to berate the AAT at top volume over its direct-marketing tactics. The group was “robbing” feeble seniors, bellowed a crimson-faced Klein. (This was a rare failure of Kleinian instinct; AAT contributors mostly just loved its newsletter full of baroque tales of government waste.)
By Colby Cosh - Wednesday, March 28, 2012 at 4:50 AM - 0 Comments
To kick off the Alberta election, here’s Danielle Smith with some sheep, as featured on Wildrose.ca. This should not be taken as some sort of sly joke about voters, either on her part or on mine. It’s an excellent photo-op, and will be all over the news this morning; it is literally irresistible. In general, the early days of the campaign have me formidably impressed with the Wildrose tacticians. I imagine, if only because I’m used to pretty slapstick Alberta oppositions, that some snickering comic-book brain-thing in a jar is using servomotor arms to thrust and slam the levers of a great machine. But it’s probably nothing as romantic as all that; just Tom Flanagan dashing off a few memos.
Why is Danielle Smith messing about with mutton? Continue…
By Colby Cosh - Thursday, March 15, 2012 at 9:39 AM - 0 Comments
When Alison Redford suspended Gary Mar as head of the Alberta Hong Kong Office and summoned him home last week, it looked a little like a settling of scores between the premier and the man she narrowly edged out in October’s PC leadership battle. Mar had enjoyed the support of a crushing majority of the PC caucus, amidst whose ranks Redford found exactly one (1) backer not named Alison Redford. Giving Mar the Hong Kong job looked like a graceful and generously-compensated way of ushering him out of the drama of Alberta politics. And when he presented a pretext for genuine retaliation, she was not slow to seize upon it.
Except I have a question: what exactly was the pretext? Continue…
By Colby Cosh - Thursday, March 8, 2012 at 4:36 PM - 0 Comments
Behold: the first-ever extramural attack ad from an Alberta Conservative government. Don Braid says it’s the first, anyway, and if I didn’t know whether it was the first, he might be the person I’d ask.
Maybe it goes without saying, but the dearth of attack ads in recent Alberta politics is not special testimony to the politeness of those politics. It’s testimony to Alberta’s one-party nature. The Conservatives took over from Social Credit in 1971, in a youth-driven power shift: Peter Lougheed, in pushing aside a government that had delivered prosperity but was increasingly behind the times socially, was so civil and restrained and all-around decent about it that the whupped Socreds practically said “Please, sir, may I have another?” The federal Liberals and the radical ’70s NDP obligingly kept Lougheed in power for another decade and a half, and as Braid notes, the premier never so much as referred to the existence of other parties. Why would it have been in his interest to do so? Continue…
By Paul Wells - Monday, February 27, 2012 at 12:59 PM - 0 Comments
A fascinating public debate has broken out between the premiers of Alberta and Ontario. Alison Redford kicked off the festivities by calling on Dalton McGuinty to acknowledge that spinoffs from oil sands development are worth billions to the Ontario economy:
“We in Alberta have a resource that matters to the rest of the country,” Ms. Redford recently told members of the Small Explorers and Producers Association of Canada in Calgary, “It’s not enough for Alberta to be talking about the importance of Keystone in the United States. We need the Premier of Ontario talking about that. We need the Premier of Quebec talking about that, and of course, we have the Prime Minister of Canada talking about that.”
The ink on that Globe story was barely dry before McGuinty made nearly the opposite argument: that Alberta’s resource economy is driving up the dollar and sucker-punching Ontario manufacturers and exporters.
“So if I had my preferences as to whether we had a rapidly growing oil and gas sector in the West or a lower dollar, I’ll tell you where I stand: with the lower dollar.” Continue…
By Colby Cosh - Tuesday, December 13, 2011 at 9:50 AM - 0 Comments
On drafting a constitution, dealing with Afghan warlords, and why Alberta needs China
Alison Redford’s strong majority win in yesterday’s Alberta elections took many by surprise. Should we have seen this coming? This interview from late last year provides some insight into the woman who is now the elected premier of Alberta.
Since she clinched the leadership of Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives in October to become premier, Alison Redford has focused her efforts on promoting the province’s interests across Canada and the U.S., including the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which was put on hold by the Obama administration last month. Her whirlwind tour through Washington, New York, Toronto and Ottawa in November was a sharp contrast with Redford’s homebody forerunner Ed Stelmach. But her approach is no surprise to those familiar with the important work she did on the international stage, which she has rarely discussed in detail.
Q: The potted biographies about your international work are very jargony—“she facilitated this,” “she served in such-and-such an office.”
A: Well, I think part of the reason for that is the biographies are written by people that don’t have international backgrounds. They’re written for the way my political life has been for the past two or three years, as opposed to when you get into the guts of it.
Q: Can you talk about your career in plain English, then?
A: I’d gone to law school in Saskatchewan and taken a lot of human rights law, on top of the regular training, and I had always been involved in politics, so I spent time in Ottawa working for Joe Clark, who was then chair of the Commonwealth Ministers on South Africa. That’s where the debates were happening over whether sanctions should be applied to South Africa—debates that involved Mulroney and Reagan and Thatcher. I worked for Clark on a regional desk that included South Africa, and then I went back and articled, but I never got it out of my system.
I had an opportunity in about 1990 to go back to South Africa on what was originally a six-week contract, working for the European Union. At that time in South Africa you had a government that was getting ready for transition. Nobody knew what it was going to look like. You had the African National Congress, which was not just a political force but was really almost becoming a de facto government. Essentially, a government in parallel was beginning to be established there.
Q: What was your role there?
A: I was a technical adviser to the legal and constitutional affairs committee of the ANC, which was providing advice to the most senior leadership levels of the ANC. The constitution was essentially being written and negotiated at the same time. So I worked on that; and I also worked on individual special projects. They were going to have to create a public broadcaster with a governance board; they were going to have to create a human rights commission. So I would go out and work with Canadian experts, or experts from other countries, and provide policy recommendations on institutional change. And then they would make decisions as to what they wanted to do.
When a lot of that work started to get done, I went to work for the Australian Embassy doing what you would think of as nuts-and-bolts development work. I funded projects through the embassy on things like sports development, HIV/AIDS, theatre groups that were teaching local communities about education. We built water projects, we dealt with domestic violence. All of the issues about huge, transformative social change, but at a community level.
I was there until 1996 and then I came back to Calgary and I practised family law. I was in a partnership with a couple of people who were criminal defence lawyers, but I didn’t like that.
Q: Why not?
A: I’d come out of a South African tradition, which involved mediation, intraspace bargaining, all that kind of stuff. It was the beginning of the “getting to yes” model of the world. And I came back to Canada and practised family law, and saw a criminal law that was completely litigious and adversarial. I practised law for about four or five years in Calgary and then decided I wanted to go back to development work. I moved to Ottawa and managed a constitutional development project for the Canadian Bar Association. Our partner in South Africa was called the Legal Resources Centre; it did a lot of test-case litigation on freedom of expression, employee rights, whether pregnant women had the right to antiretroviral HIV drugs, that kind of stuff.
Q: Was there a moment when you considered committing to South Africa permanently?
A: Yes. When I lived in South Africa in 1995, I applied for citizenship. And they turned me down. I don’t think South Africa in 1995 was looking for a lot of white people to immigrate, quite honestly. So I just went through the normal process and didn’t get accepted, and I thought, well, that’s fate telling me it’s time to come home. Which it probably was.
Q: In a hypothetical future after politics, is there a chance you’d go back?
A: No, no. The second time I went back I had the chance to spend a year in Cape Town, on and off, not working, just living. I really did love it. But it felt like I’d been there long enough. And so we came back to Calgary, and that’s when my daughter was born, in 2002. I carried on in Calgary doing international development work for a company called Agriteam Canada, which would run projects for the World Bank, the United Nations, the European Union, that sort of thing. They’d done education, health care, water, but they’d never done governance. We started to get projects around things like judicial training in Vietnam, judicial training in Bosnia. And I managed three or four of those projects over a long period of time.
Q: And is that what ultimately put you in Afghanistan?
A: I was in Afghanistan in 2005 for the first parliamentary elections. It’s a compelling country. I felt very fortunate to get to go. It wasn’t dangerous like being there during the worst of it, and I think it’s more dangerous now than in 2005, but there was so much to do and we were starting from nothing. That was the first time that I’d taken one of the most senior leadership roles in an election system. We ended up not just having to organize a system where you were telling people it was okay to vote, and safe to vote. I’d be going and talking to women about what a vote was. They knew it was something important, because I’d go to these meetings and they’d bring their daughters. This was very fundamental voter education, with comic books and theatre and trying to get communication to the mosques and imams.
We also had to draft the election law. When I got there the first night, I said to my two colleagues, an American and an Australian, “Okay, where’s the elections act?” “Well, you’re writing it.” A group of us wrote the election act, took it to cabinet, and got it approved. We were doing things like negotiating who was going to be allowed to run as a candidate; we’d have rules, like, if you still funded your own private standing army, we didn’t think you should be able to run. That was really difficult to get through cabinet, because there were some people at the table who had private armies.
Q: Is your international experience going to be a particular asset to you as premier? You took the Keystone XL pipeline file by the throat with your recent trip, and it makes one wonder why this sort of thing wasn’t tried before things started to get out of control in D.C.
A: Well, first of all, the process of making a regulatory decision on Keystone is one that has to run domestically in the United States and we needed to respect that. The citizens of the United States need to talk about how that infrastructure project will impact communities and state governments and all of that.
What I do think is that it’s a really big world out there. There are a lot of players. There’s no doubt that we have known for some time that we were going to start to see the agenda around energy issues and environmental issues change. And my view has always been that it’s possible to be effective in that arena if you can anticipate what’s coming next. I’ll tell you that I believe that in the last while Alberta hasn’t had leadership that understood Alberta’s role internationally. We needed to understand that decision-makers in Europe could impact us, not just decision-makers in Ottawa. It’s not just us in control of our own destiny. We are part of a global economy, and a global energy sphere, and we need to understand the impact that the political dialogue could have on our province.
Q: Is that part of why you won?
A: I believe Albertans saw in this leadership campaign that it was time to have a leader who understood all that. I’ve gotta tell you, I’m a little surprised by some of the commentary around the fact that [I’ve done] a lot of travel. Really? In my life? This isn’t a lot of travel.
Q: So we should expect to see you on the road a lot more then?
A: I’m very ambitious and bold on trade missions. I think Alberta’s future is China, India and Vietnam. We need to be in those countries. I look at the people in this province, whether they live in Edmonton or Fort McMurray or Calgary, and the way that they do business. They move around this globe pretty fast. They’re doing it effectively and making important decisions and attracting investment to this province, and I think Albertans want their government to be that way. And we’re gonna be that way.
By Colby Cosh - Thursday, October 13, 2011 at 7:33 AM - 2 Comments
The CBC has done some good work on northern Alberta politics today, unearthing, among other things, a $500 payment from the Town of St. Paul to a golf tournament in support of the constituency association of cabinet minister Ray Danyluk.
“It’s been going on forever,” Andersen said of the town’s paid participation in the annual PC golf tournament fundraiser. “We’ve been doing it since before we had this administration.”
Danyluk also said he had no knowledge of St. Paul using public money for his fundraiser.
“It’s not acceptable,” he said. “It’s against the [Elections] Act.”
Only one of these answers is the right one, and it’s the one from the former minister of municipal affairs. I guess the minister also had no idea his Cormorant Classic (cheques payable to the Lac la Biche-St. Paul PC Constituency, please) may have been partly underwritten by the Town of Smoky Lake in 2009 [PDF]:
Or by the County of St. Paul, not to be confused with the town of that name, in 2007 [PDF]:
Or, apparently, by the County of Athabasca the same year [PDF]; it’s hard to see, at any rate, why a county Administrator would have to “register” golfers unless an entry fee or travel costs were being covered at municipal expense. Google up “ray danyluk golf tournament” and you’ll see that he seems to have notified virtually every county in the province of the date and location of the various Cormorant Classics. And if a few of them unwisely sent barbecue equipment in reply, could that be Danyluk’s fault?
Still, one is relieved to note that stormin’, reformin’, clean-up-the-frat-house Premier Alison Redford has moved minister Danyluk to a portfolio where he could not possibly exercise any undue influence on rural life in Alberta: namely, transport.
By Colby Cosh - Wednesday, October 12, 2011 at 9:20 PM - 40 Comments
1. Alberta elects its first female premier. 2. The news is greeted with a cry of “Congrats on joining the 20th century, ya yokels!” 3. The new premier, who had been one of seven women in the Alberta cabinet, promptly ejects five of the other six and adds only one, while carefully looking after powerful senior males who opposed her campaign with tooth and claw. 4. Response from out East? “Look at all these young, fresh faces!” 5. FACEPALM
By Colby Cosh - Monday, October 10, 2011 at 10:10 AM - 4 Comments
Alison Redford sings from the Tory hymnal, but her Calgary business connections confirm her liberalism
Alison Redford, who has captured the leadership of the Alberta Progressive Conservatives and will soon be sworn in as the province’s 14th premier, was the preferred candidate of those who wanted to blow up the “old boys’ network.” One of the ways she sought to establish her probity/transparency bona fides was to release a complete list of her major donors. This proved deft: the list won her brownie points, but few noticed that it is practically an index of highly connected, politically conscious Alberta money men.
Redford got five-figure donations from Maclab Enterprises, the property-rental giant co-founded by philanthropist Sandy Mactaggart; Ed McNally’s Big Rock Brewery, longtime provider of social lubricant for conservative events; Irv Kipnes, who spun Tory booze-retail privatization into gold as CEO of the Liquor Stores Income Fund. Name an elite Calgary clan and you’re almost certain to find its handle in Team Redford’s accounts: McCaig, Southern, Haskayne, Markin, Hotchkiss—builders whose names are physically all over the city, chiselled into the stones of schools and clinics.
These forces backed the “outsider” whose victory in the Oct. 1 PC leadership showdown sent ripples of surprise across the country. The original heir apparent had been Gary Mar, a Klein-era health and education minister who left the province to become its official agent in Washington in 2007. Mar, a Chinese-Canadian who could count on a strong ethnic ground game, started strong but watched inherent weaknesses transmute into fatal flaws.
By Colby Cosh - Sunday, October 2, 2011 at 6:31 AM - 76 Comments
When Ed Stelmach shocked Alberta and won the Progressive Conservative leadership in 2006, he took the podium in the wee hours at Edmonton’s Aviation Museum and gave a speech so deliriously garbled, some PC attendees were thinking “Can we have a do-over?” Tonight, when Alison Redford stunned the province in much the same way and at a similarly obscene hour, she read her victory address from notes, moving on to scrum expertly with exhausted reporters and even to field, and answer, a question in French. Good French.
Not that French is an important qualification to be Premier of Alberta, mind you: but Albertans uneasy with the province’s slightly savage, anti-egghead image will sleep a little easier tonight, now that a leader who was most comfortable picking rocks in rubber boots has been replaced at the head of affairs by an honest-to-God intellectual. As so often happens, the appearance of a coronation undid the front-runner in the race to lead Alberta’s Perpetual Governing Party. Gary Mar, the prodigal son who was criticized for being a little too prodigal with the public treasury, was beaten by a razor-thin margin as “temporary Conservatives” rushed to the second phase of the party’s open primary to stop him.
The defeat was not regional, though Alberta politics are often interpreted through a north-south lens. Redford gained thousands of net votes in Calgary, in Edmonton, and in hinterland Alberta between the Sept. 17 first ballot (which eliminated three of the original six candidates for the leadership) and this evening’s runoff. After the ballots were counted for Mar, Redford, and Doug Horner, Redford trailed Mar by 33,233 to 28,993. Mar needed to be the second choice on just 5,856 of the 15,950 Horner ballots to finish the job. He fought bitterly for them, demanding recounts behind the scenes as results trickled in from the last of the province’s 85 polls (83 ridings plus advance polls in Calgary and Edmonton).
But ‘twas not to be for the returnee. Redford won the decisive showdown by an overall margin of just 1,613 votes—votes that Alberta taxpayers will be paying for in the form of a quick $100-million injection into the education budget. (Though it must be said that this is a cheap bribe compared to the $2.1 billion Stelmach delivered shortly before the last election.) Redford wooed public-sector unions overtly in the days between the first ballot and the final runoff, but she would have gained progressive “Anybody But Mar” votes anyway after Mar’s explosive comments contemplating private delivery of healthcare. There was also increasing excitement, as the days ticked by and Redford’s surprise second-place standing sunk in, over the prospect of Alberta’s first female premier.
And, of course, there was the attention Redford received four days ago for a reason nobody would ever choose: her mother Helen died Tuesday, short hours after the candidate had suspended campaign activity and raced to be at her side in High River. Redford was back on the trail in a trice, delivering a gutsy performance in a televised Wednesday night debate. Her unflappability persisted into the moments after her win: when a reporter asked her whether her mother was on her mind as she celebrated, she uttered an almost impatient-sounding “Oh, my mother,” before recalling, with no hint of tears, that it was Helen who had first set her on the path to political involvement. It will still be the case for a long time that women in politics need to be ten times as tough and invulnerable as the men. Redford passed that test, and unquestionably picked up votes because of it.
It’s worth remembering that Redford’s most important challenger in the next election—which she says will be held next spring, after a Throne Speech and another budget—will probably also be female. Wildrose boss Danielle Smith surely wanted a Red Tory to win this vote, and Redford was the Reddest of the possible PC leaders on offer. Redford’s win represents a belated triumph for the Joe Clark/Ron Ghitter tendency within the PC party, the segment of PC-dom that can talk about “social justice” without snickering. In his short farewell message to Albertans this morning, Stelmach underlined with relish that the PC party is a “PROGRESSIVE Conservative party.” It has always, at any rate, been a party that yokes together progressives and conservatives, usually pretty clumsily. With each open leadership contest in a fast-growing province, it’s the former, not the latter, that seems to gain in power.
Mar, who served the Klein government and has more of a family-values persona, had the cabinet, the caucus, and the organizational old guard of the party in his pocket two weeks ago. As in 2006, their votes, in the open-primary system, turned out to be worth exactly the same as those of any other schmuck. But this time, instead of being humbled by an agrarian challenger from the North, the machine lost by a whisker to an accomplished lawyer from Calgary—one who has been careful to keep the oil industry on her good side, as Stelmach wasn’t.
Redford, in budgeting and in social policy, will probably give Smith plenty of red meat to gnaw in an election fight. There may be more defections, and certainly some despair amongst those who invested in Mar. (Many of those rank-and-file PCs had also invested in Jim Dinning, the centrist/machine fave, last time.) Turnout on the final ballot was barely half the 2006 total. (Conservatives will tell you this merely reflects the strength of the field: who cares who won, they’re all terrif!) But as a woman Premier-Designate, Redford has also stolen a march on Smith and the Wildrose. That Joan of Arc storyline that has had editors across the country captivated for the last couple years isn’t going to play so convincingly now.