By Colby Cosh - Sunday, November 11, 2012 - 0 Comments
The Oilers’ owner faces a probe over his gift to the Alberta Tories
The public-relations problems continue to pile up for Daryl Katz, the drugstore magnate who wants a new downtown arena in Edmonton for his NHL Oilers to play in. It has been more than a year since Katz Group and the city’s council arrived at a “framework” for an arena funding deal, with Katz relenting on his insistence that the existing Rexall Place be pushed out of the concert business. That framework fell apart Oct. 18 after Katz made new demands and a previously sympathetic council ran out of patience, calling off negotiations and flinging the arena into limbo.
The city had made major concessions to get Katz to back off on the demand for a non-compete agreement with Northlands, the powerful non-profit that operates Rexall Place (i.e., the old Northlands Coliseum, which now bears the name of Katz’s main pharmaceutical brand). But the two sides remained $100 million short of the full amount for the new building—money that both insisted, despite an endless series of fairly strident refusals from the province and Ottawa, would eventually arrive courtesy of “another level of government.” Continue…
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 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 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!
Scripture could have prevented bubonic plague, controversial Alberta candidate says; climate change science not settled, leader adds
By Richard Warnica - Tuesday, April 17, 2012 at 11:08 AM - 0 Comments
A controversial pastor running for Alberta’s Wildrose Party dominated news in that province again…
A controversial pastor running for Alberta’s Wildrose Party dominated news in that province again Monday after his leader doubled down in her support of him and audio clips from two of his sermons were released on YouTube.
Edmonton Southwest candidate Allan Hunsperger was thrust into the spotlight Sunday after a blog post in which he suggested gays and lesbians would burn in hell for all eternity if they chose to live they way they were born became public. Opponents have called for Hunsperger to step down. But on Monday Wildrose leader Danielle Smith stood by the preacher.
From the Edmonton Journal:
“The views he expressed are his personal views in the context of him being a pastor and I’m not going to discriminate against anyone, not on the basis of sexual orientation and not on the basis of their religion,” Smith said Monday, referring to her Edmonton South West nominee Allan Hunsperger. “I believe in freedom of religion and I believe religious people do have an opportunity and should be encouraged to run for political office.”
Smith’s defence didn’t impress Journal columnist Paula Simons, who called Hunsperger ”an unabashed old-school homophobe who makes Rick Santorum look like a drag queen at a Pride Parade,” in her Tuesday column:
Hunsperger is entitled to his personal religious beliefs. The state cannot, should not tell pastors what to preach. Within his church, Hunsperger has a constitutional right to gay-bash as much as he pleases.
But Hunsperger isn’t just a pastor. He chose to stand for office. Smith’s Wildrose Party chose to elect and accept him as its nominated candidate. His public comments on gay rights and school board policy are entirely relevant to voters evaluating his fitness, and the fitness of his party.
Meanwhile, two heavily edited clips from Hunsperger sermons were also released online Monday. In one, he says that, in God’s eyes, the Holy Land belongs to Israel. In another, he suggests circumcision can prevent HIV (an idea for which there is considerable scientific evidence) and later that “the bubonic plague would not have happened if men had paid attention to the scripture.”
Finally, in actual policy news, Wildrose leader Danielle Smith doesn’t believe the science on climate change is settled, which is, itself, kind of unsettling.
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 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 Nicholas Köhler - Friday, November 6, 2009 at 10:00 AM - 14 Comments
FROM THE ALBERTA TORY AGM: Stelmach’s comfortable finish ends two days of nice-making… Is this reality?
Like barbarians calling forth some mammoth creature lurking behind great walls—I’m thinking King Kong here, people—Alberta Tories banged their rubber sticks together on Friday in Red Deer for Ed Stelmach, their leader.
It was for many reasons a surreal show of support—Stelmach, for all his good qualities, probably doesn’t deserve to be treated like Churchill flashing the V sign—one echoed last night in the results of a leadership review vote that had offered PC delegates the chance to seek a new chief for the PC party. Few Tories were disappointed when Stelmach won the support of a large majority of voting delegates.
And yet for a while the prospect of low numbers for Stelmach seemed very real. Support for the Tories has plummeted in recent polls to historic, 16-year lows, driven down by a ballooning deficit, healthcare woes, and anger within Calgary’s oil and gas community. The charismatic Danielle Smith has arrived as leader of the Wildrose Alliance, which recently stole a by-election from the Tories, slapping a name candidate to third place, behind even the Liberals. Most recently, the government’s botched H1N1 strategy resulted in vaccination clinics being shuttered for four days.
But despite it all, Stelmach received the support of 77.4 per cent of the voting delegates.
The forces that had been gathering against the premier from within his own party—mainly Calgary Tories with links to the Ralph Klein era (including Klein himself, who’d set a widely-accepted threshold for the vote of 70 per cent)—seemed to dissipate some weeks ago, after influential party members like Peter Lougheed called for delegates to support the premier.
Nor were there any alternatives waiting in the wings, as there had been when a similar vote forced Klein from politics in 2006—Jim Dinning, Ted Morton, Stelmach.
So the premier’s numbers tonight were nowhere near as surprising as last year’s massive electoral victory, when he slammed his critics by capturing 72 of 83 seats and reduced his political opponents to rumps in the legislature.
Last night, after the vote, one aide confessed he’d been worried—hadn’t slept much over the past two weeks. Nothing had been certain. In the end, it all turned out fine.
Yes, everything is fine now. The results concluded a two-day AGM wherein Stelmach’s enemies were conclusively marginalized. But the party’s Red Deer experience also left the door open for change “in due time,” painless modification, a tweak here and there. The numbers, said Edmonton MLA Thomas Lukaszuk, “puts our premier in the position of comfort, where he knows that a vast majority of party members support him, but also indicates to him that there’s room for improvement. That’s a good place to be in.”
Stelmach hinted that a cabinet shuffle is coming (his health minister, Ron Liepert, is the target of much criticism, what with an unpopular campaign to reform the healthcare system and in the aftermath of H1N1). A tough, to-the-bone budget, answer to the fiscal conservatism of the Wildrose, is expected early next year; insiders promise, almost gleefully, that it will make the Stelmach government even more unpopular.
But more substantial change does not appear in the offing. Indeed, all of it—the AGM, the leadership review results and Stelmach’s own remarks—feeds into a single theme: continuity.
“There were those (during the AGM) who said, ‘Be very careful, because we are not to the hard right’—like some are,” Stelmach said during a press conference after the results were announced, a veiled mention of the Wildrose Alliance. The Progressive Conservative party, he added, is “a big tent. That’s one of the reasons for the success of the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party over the decades.
“Change, new leaders, new ideas. Fresh ideas.”
Same old party, though, 38 years later.
Two, maybe three years remain before Stelmach must call an election. Last night’s results risk making his team even more smug—he has defied his critics, again. Over the next 24 months, Alberta’s economy will improve, the Wildrose will stumble and sputter out, and the Tories will remain, ready for another mandate. Or so goes the orthodoxy within the PC party, it seems.
Therefore all the nice-making over the weekend. Why change? And perhaps they’re right. Why quit eating lotus when you’re in no danger of exile from lotus land?
(7:30 p.m.) The question was simple: “Do you wish a provincial leadership convention to be held?”
There were 1191 ballots cast. A scant 269 answered in the affirmative—for a new convention. Nine hundred and twenty-two said no—77. 4 per cent. Within the sweet spot—not to low, not to high—but only just.
Stelmach assured his fellow party members: “Changes are coming but they will be done in due course …. We shall plan, and then we shall execute.” He stopped. “I shouldn’t have used that word.”
(4:30 p.m.) Some members of the Tory crew gathered at the Capri for the Progressive Conservative party’s AGM—and today’s mandatory leadership review—speak of a sweet spot, a minimum threshold for Premier Ed Stelmach’s support, but a ceiling that demonstrates acknowledgment his government has made missteps.
Less than 70 per cent support for Stelmach, say many Tories, and he is in trouble. More than 80 per cent, and the party is in trouble—out of touch, disconnected, tin-eared. Think of the rig worker who’s not seen a paycheck in a while, watching Stelmach accept a standing ovation after a big number is announced.
Dinner for the delegates and the rest of the Tory funmakers in Red Deer is at 7 p.m. Mountain. There the results will be officially released.
Meanwhile, tales of goings on at the convention emerge. Calgary Tories—the unhappy kind—confronting the premier’s people over the polls. How has the party of Lougheed and Klein been laid so low, they ask, and blame the denizens of Room 307, the premier’s office. People are invited outside, but the verbal scuffle ends in a handshake. Another Calgarian, prominent in business, looks around the Capri Friday night and checks out in disgust, judging the assembly blind to the perceptions of regular Albertans; he does not even vote.
And the party keeps trucking along.
(1 p.m.) A quick update from a question-and-answer session between voting Tory delegates and Premier Ed Stelmach in Red Deer.
Responding to a question posed to him concerning a recent Toronto Dominion Bank-financed report, put together by the David Suzuki Foundation and the Pembina Institute, that said Canada could in fact meet the Kyoto reduction targets, but only on the backs of the western provinces, Stelmach said: “As long as I have breath in my lungs, there’s not going to be another tranfer of wealth from Alberta to any other jurisdiction in Canada.”
Taking recourse in a well-worn Alberta premier strategy, Stelmach then aimed his wrath at the French-speaking east. Those behind the report, he said, “want to see another wealth tranfer from this province to the province of the Quebec.” He added: “Albertans are doing their part … we’re going to lead this country out of recession. But no more.”
Confronting critics who wonder why Alberta hasn’t socked away all its nonrenewable natural resource wealth, like Norway has done with an oil fund now valued at over $400 billion, Stelmach said: ”Norway is a country … we’re a sub-state.” Then he quipped: “Someone was saying maybe we should do something about that.”
Judging by Stelmach’s theme music during last night’s speech, he already has some ideas about an anthem.
(N0v. 6, 8:30) May I offer you a bromide?… Stelmach’s pre-vote speech suggests he believes he’s about to win big
It was supposed to be the speech of his life. It had to be.
But at the Capri Hotel, Trade & Convention Centre, Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach instead delivered the kind of boilerplate that is only issued in the presence of those in the throes of partisan ecstasy.
He was among friends—nay, family—people who will accept you just the way you are, because you are who you are.
The speech left the impression that the leadership vote tomorrow is a fait accompli. Good news within the party, maybe, but one wonders if the results will be so strong that Albertans will know, unshakably, that the party that governs them does not understand them—or care to.
Same goes for anyone within the Progressive Conservative party who wonders what a future under Stelmach’s leaderships holds.
Indeed, Stelmach’s speech delivered not one lolly for those uncertain of his leadership. After two weeks in which Albertans watched the Tories bungle the H1N1 vaccine rollout and learned of polls that showed the party has slipped to a position almost neck and neck with the upstart Wildrose Alliance Party, Stelmach spoke to his friends and dismissed his critics.
“As your leader,” he intoned, “I’m not afraid of criticism, or to take advice, or to take a stand.” He added, almost combatively: “I’m not going to back away from my principles: honesty, integrity, transparency, and taking on difficult issues.”
Stelmach further encouraged the crowd to remember that, as Albertans, they have gonads. “Taking the lead,” he told them, “as a global energy producer, as Canada’s economic engine” is “bound to attract some criticism.” He started to clear his throat, Stelmach’s signal that he is about to tell a joke. “We’ve seen some of the people hanging from different structures. And that’s okay. We’re Albertans. We’re not shy.”
There was little of substance in the speech that might give the party, or voting delegates, a clue as to how the government will pull the province from the brink of systemic financial malaise. He said new limits will be placed on spending and rejected, yet again, the notion of a sales tax—the latter a surefire way to offset diminishing commodity revenues in a province still addicted to its non-renewable natural resources.
It might all have been deliberate—a gesture of contempt directed toward those who would have the Stelmach Tories change. The constant refrain in Stelmach’s speech was the mandate delivered to the Progressive conservative party in March, 2008, 72 seats strong.
Keep quiet. Take your medicine. Like it.
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways… The ballots at the Stelmach leadership review are numbered
(Nov. 6, 6:30 p.m.) At the Capri Hotel, Trade & Convention Centre, site of their annual general meeting this weekend and tomorrow’s mandatory leadership review, the Progressive Conservatives are presenting a phalanx of Ed Stelmachs—little black-and-white buttons, extreme close-ups of the premier’s face, pinned to lapels, like broaches on women’s blouses, over the hearts of Tories one and all.
It’s a showy demonstration of support for a premier who, of late, has found little among Alberta’s hoi polloi. “The boss has a lot of support ,” Jonathan Denis, MLA for Calgary Egmont, tells Maclean’s. Still, don’t get too excited, he says (though he projects further happy days for Stelmach). A lot of people wore Klein buttons in 2006, when a leadership review vote gave former premier Ralph Klein 55 per cent, forcing his retirement. “It’s a secret ballot,” says Denis.
Well, maybe. The big news in the Capri lobby tonight is that the “secret” ballots are numbered—a development that doesn’t lend support to the notion that the yeas and nays will be truly untraceable.
Could be that’s why most delegates are predicting a strong result for the premier tomorrow. Ken Allred, MLA for St. Albert, says recent polls showing the Wildrose Alliance Party giving the Tories a run for their money are worse news for the Alberta Liberals and the NDP.
UPDATE: Stelmach’s people say numbered ballots are nothing new and help in accurate counting post-vote. But because some delegates see the digits as a problem administrators have agreed to punch them out. How many people have griped about the ballots? Not many. “It’s a bit of mischief by some people with an interest in seeing Ed crash and burn,” says someone in the premier’s office.
(Nov. 6, 12 p.m.) In politics, there are polls and then there are polls. And, as Premier Ed Stelmach prepares to face his party tonight—he’s slated to deliver a speech at 8 p.m. to open the Alberta Progressive Conservative party’s annual general meeting in Red Deer—the comparison with Saskatchewan’s premier, Brad Wall is striking. And it must really sting.
Elected in November, 2007, five months or so before Stelmach won his first real mandate (he first became premier of Alberta after winning the Tory leadership race in 2006), Wall is young, dynamic, full of ideas, and has successfully steered his energy-rich province through some pretty difficult terrain. According to a Sigma Analytics survey conducted for the Regina Leader-Post, his government is more popular now than when first elected two years ago, despite recession and wobbly commodity prices. Almost 60 per cent of decided voters would go ahead and cast another ballot for Wall’s Saskatchewan Party.
And yet, because of declining potash revenues, Wall’s government has had to resort to much the same rainy-day fund shell game in its budgeting as Stelmach’s, which is dipping into its sustainability savings account to compensate for low natural gas and oil revenues. Stelmach takes a hit, Wall doesn’t, and there’s something other than mere management ability that separates the two.
Another scary thing, for Stelmach: Wall’s Saskatchewan Party, an amalgam of disgruntled conservatives and Liberals, didn’t exist in 1991, when the Saskatchewan NDP first took back government after years in the hinterlands. Founded in 1997, it took the Sask Party a decade to wrench the legislature away from a party fatigued by years in power.
The way the polls are going, you wonder whether Alberta’s Wildrose Alliance Party will take as long.
(Nov. 5) It’s been eclipsed for the last couple of weeks by Alberta’s H1N1 debacle, but a poll commissioned by the Calgary Herald showing the Tories barely ahead of the Wildrose Alliance Party focuses the mind wonderfully once more on Ed Stelmach’s leadership review this weekend. Maclean’s will be covering the Progressive Conservative party’s annual general meeting in Red Deer from this perch.