He cares. He listens.
Almost 10 years and several elections ago, that was the campaign hokum Premier Ralph Klein used to secure his biggest election victory. He got this highest level of support in the 2001 election, hoodwinking 62 per cent of Albertans and winning 74 of the legislature’s 83 seats.
Today, Ralph’s successor is taking a page out of the master’s playbook and has directed his sizeable cabinet to hit the hustings and see what the folks in Yourtown, Alta. have to say. They’re popping up like rhubarb in your backyard.
“An important part of our job is listening to Albertans,” Premier Ed Stelmach said. “We’ve made a commitment to communicate better and these cabinet visits to communities across Alberta is one way we are fulfilling that promise.”
OK, so they’re listening. What do Albertans have to say?
Waves of cabinet ministers last week breezed in and out of select meetings with select Albertans in select communities to take their pulse, make some announcements and present a few giant cheques.
Lacombe-Ponoka MLA Ray Prins welcomed 10 ministers to the constituency last week. The group had been barnstorming in Camrose and Wetaskiwin and stopped in Ponoka for an hour before making an announcement later in Lacombe that the provincial government has committed $8.8 million to fund 88 assisted living care beds at the Royal Oak residence, northeast of the town.
This tour is all about shoring up waning support among Grumpy Old Tories in rural Alberta. It was a meeting of the converted, the choir singers from town and county council, school boards, key service groups and the business community. In other words, local elected officials whose own re-election this fall could hinge on how much money the province provides in grants for municipal infrastructure projects.
While in Ponoka, some of the ministers did meet with ordinary folks: Solicitor General Frank Oberle met with RCMP brass, Gene Zwozdesky toured hospitals in Ponoka, and a few ministers visited the cattle auction mart to deliver a load.
The meeting though was not convened to hear what ordinary folks have to say about hospital wait times, oil and gas royalties, deficit spending, retraining for unemployed Albertans, the futility of farming or Alberta’s economic competitiveness on the world stage. If it had been, the government would have announced the meetings in community newspapers, the meetings would have been held when ordinary folks are likely to have some free time and they would have had some agenda or purpose. Cabinet ministers might have been better off having a double-double and a sandwich with the coffee crowd, or a couple of cold ones at the hotel with the boys from the welding shop. They could have talked to seniors at the lodge or moms helping out at their child’s daycare centre.
What these cabinet ministers will hear — and the premier too if he is back in the province before the tour concludes in June — is that it’s too little too late. The Wildrose Alliance has turned in a mediocre performance in the past year but is still giving the 40-year-old Progressive Conservative dynasty a run for its money. If a party with retread MLAs and an unelected leader can force the government to chase its own tail, what does it say about the priorities and popularity of the government?
For many Albertans the problem with politics in the province today is a matter of leadership: they feel Premier Stelmach is not providing any and Danielle Smith is the only thing the Wildrose party has going for it. If you could only mix the peanut butter with the chocolate.
It remains to be seem how well grounded the dissatisfaction with the government really is. Can either the Wildrose party or the Progressive Conservatives really count on this soft support on election day in a year or so?