Progressive Conservative party must lead change in Alberta – Editorial

GEORGE BROWN/Off the Record

Politically, last year was the summer of Ponoka’s discontent. Relentlessly hammered on alleged 38th Street misdeeds and a lack of an economic development plan for an annexation some argued was unnecessary, council was reeling. As the leaves turned so did voters’ allegiances and four new councillors were elected.

For pure drama, we are unlikely to see anything like that this summer, although the ongoing airport improvements saga, the gradual but continual loss of downtown businesses and fighting between town and county council cousins could take the centre ring in the three-ring circus.

With a majority Conservative government in Ottawa we can look forward to the first summer in years that will be free of election threats. That won’t mean an end to political manoeuvring though.

Ponoka residents starved for politics this summer need only turn their attention to the provincial stage.

To date, six experienced Progressive Conservative candidates have come forward to challenge for the leadership Premier Ed Stelmach intends to vacate within a few weeks. On the ballot are Doug Griffiths, Doug Horner, Gary Mar, Ted Morton, Rick Orman and Alison Redford. They represent a cross section of the party — both its appeal and its burden in recent years.

There are young and old candidates, both men and women running for the leadership, cabinet ministers and backbenchers, progressives and conservatives, urban and rural, north and south. It’s shaping up to be a political battle of near-epic proportions.

If you believe the PC party is tired, arrogant and out of touch with ordinary Albertans, there should be a candidate among the half-dozen thus far who speak to your sensibilities. If not, you’ve probably already abandoned the Tories for the Wildrose Alliance. Clearly, if the winner from among these candidates cannot quickly restore the trust Albertans once had in a Progressive Conservative government, the next premier may spend less time in office than Stelmach.

The PC party has cleverly managed to “renew” or “re-invent” itself over 40 years by changing its leaders and its political culture, while still maintaining its hold on voters. With Peter Lougheed, Don Getty or Ralph Klein (for the first term or so) Albertans, or at least party members, felt a connection to their premier and that we were all in it together. But today wistful Albertans feel the government is out of touch and headed in the wrong direction.

As is so often the case these days, long-time movers and shakers in the party are now holding themselves out as agents of change. Orman was a player two political generations ago. He’s an outsider now but he may appeal only to a small slice of Albertans who long for the good old days. Righty Ted Morton forced Stelmach out of office but a lot of his Grumpy Old Tory support has probably moved to the Wildrose Alliance. That leaves four “progressive” candidates to split the soft conservative vote.

Among the red Tories, Mar is the outsider since he has been Alberta’s man in Washington during the Stelmach years. The others, excepting Griffiths, have been in Stelmach’s cabinet and will have a hard time distancing themselves from questionable government policies and decisions. Do they have the nerve and political skill to lead the debate on new policy directions for education, health care, oilsands development and municipal sustainability?

Throughout the summer, the Progressive Conservative party will hold a series of eight official party forums. One will be held in Red Deer. This will be Albertans’ best opportunity to understand the subtle policy differences of the candidates — and their best opportunity to try to influence the direction and electability of the party.

And this party clearly needs new ideas, new MLAs and new cabinet ministers. To drive change, Alberta needs the rank and file of the Progressive Conservative party to push for change from within.

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