By George Brown, editor
It seems the selected delegates to last weekend’s Progressive Conservative leadership review in Red Deer came to their senses just in time, voting to stay in government rather than throw away a commanding majority in the legislature because Calgarians think Premier Ed Stelmach is not a charismatic leader.
Tories may not be inspired by Stelmach but they are loyal. To a point.
The Tory tent is a big one; large enough to house all manner of circus freaks. Simply, over the last four decades anyone who has wanted to become a Member of the Legislative Assembly has had only to wear the blue and orange cloak of the PC party, whether they were true conservatives or not. It’s kept the party in government but it has watered down its core political values. The muddle in the middle is driving a wishy-washy agenda that careers from one crisis-issue to the next.
And that lack of direction has given rise to the Wildrose Alliance, now second to the Tories in popular support despite having only one MLA and a perky but inexperienced leader. The Wildrose Alliance faces the same credibility issues as the government. It’s easy to criticize the government but eventually leader Danielle Smith will have to present policy alternatives and consign the Grumpy Old Conservatives fringe element to the background.
And you’ve gotta love a political process that openly allows former Tory cabinet ministers like Ernie Isley to pledge his support and vote for Smith and the Wildrose Alliance in October and less than a month later show up in Red Deer voting as a card-carrying Progressive Conservative, presumably to vote in support of Stelmach so the Wild Rose Alliance would have a weaker target to snipe at in the next election. Machiavelli must be grinning from ear to ear.
It was clear from the March 2008 provincial election that popular support for the PC party is slipping and there are fewer committed supporters willing to get up from the couch to support Ed’s team. Looking at Stelmach’s 77.4 per cent confidence level among 1,191 delegates it’s clear that the party is out of step with the rest of Alberta; the latest survey pegs provincial support at 34 per cent. What do Martha and Henry know that the party’s inner circle does not?
Albertans seem to understand, where the handpicked delegates don’t, that the current political leadership is unable or unwilling to deal effectively with the issues important to Albertans. The result of the review was not an endorsement of the status quo.
While Albertans still have confidence in Alberta’s future, they’re less certain the PC party should lead the government of the future. Albertans want accountability from this government before they consider giving it a break on the $7-billion deficit, H1N1 lineups or another mandate. The want their premier and their government to take responsibility. They want their premier to take control. To lead.
After the announcement of the leadership review results last Saturday, Stelmach, ever slyly, hinted at possible changes. But he didn’t indicate what they might be. “Changes are coming but they will be done in due course on my timeline.” Now that’s the strong, reassuring, take charge statement that Albertans needed to hear.
Will this be the same kind of change that Stelmach’s 2008 election campaign preached? “Change that works for Albertans.” So what’s that? A sales tax? Cabinet shuffle? Hospital closures? Wiping out the Heritage Savings Trust Fund?
It’s worth asking whether provincial politicians in the new millennium even have the capacity to lead society anymore. If we can blame the economy on global forces outside our legislature, can we expect provincial politicians to change it back because they’re charismatic?
A government accountable to its electorate will get re-elected.