Rapid Reaction: Premier Stelmach’s Address

I just watched the Premier’s address, The Way Forward.

The Four Point Recovery Plan, as flashed on my television screen, is summed up as:

1. Surplus in 3 years
2. Draw on cash reserves
3. Invest in public infrastructure
4. Attract investment

Trish Audette has more details.

Some other comments of interest. Italics denote my reaction.
– Civil servant salaries will be frozen for 2 years. No mention of MLA/cabinet minister salaries being frozen, or the 2008 salary increase being rolled back.
– The $17 billion in reserve shows that Alberta saved well. Except that this is a fraction of the surpluses the province ran earlier this decade. 3 years of recession could wipe most or all of this $17 billion out.
– Plan will not increase taxes. Won’t this exacerbate the pressures to draw on our savings, unless we’re planning to massively cut spending?
– Will continue to invest in public infrastructure. Yes! This is a good thing, and I will give full credit to the Premier and government for not stopping to build, as Premier Klein did in the ’90s.
– We were well-prepared going into recession. Huh? Are you kidding me? We went from a projected multi-billion dollar surplus to a multi-billion dollar deficit almost overnight. That doesn’t sound like being well-prepared to me.
– We have the resources the world will need to make a strong recovery. We do, but are we going to continue to rely on them, or to do our best to diversify our economy and help mitigate the boom-bust cycle of a resource economy?
– “The health system designed in 1960s…people fear change…should fear more consequences of not changing”. This was said in reference to health care. I totally agree; we need to have a serious discussion about the sustainability and future of our health care system, devoid of fearmongering, truisms, and ad hominem attacks on both sides.
– We’ll build the prosperity now without sacrificing the future. So we won’t be cutting in areas such as education which increase future prosperity, or in the health and social service sectors, where it costs less to deal with issues up front? Right?

Anyway, enough about my thoughts, because this address wasn’t about reaching me. This address, fundamentally, was aimed at getting the Premier through next month’s PC convention with his reputation and leadership intact. That will happen in three ways:

1. By reassuring his supporters, ensuring he has their continued support.
2. By changing the mind of Progressive Conservatives wary of his leadership and willing to vote for a change next month.
3. By rallying support amongst regular Albertans, hopefully boosting his poll numbers, garnering positive media, and convincing wary PCs not to try and dump him as leader.

I’d say he probably accomplished #1. His supporters are sticking with him either out of loyalty to him or the party, or because they sincerely believe in his abilities as Premier. Nothing he did in today’s address should deter his supporters.

For the second group, I’m not convinced he did much to change their minds. I suspect the reaction amongst most people is….that’s it? It was a very underwhelming address. I’d be shocked if many people in categories 2 or 3 feel appreciably different about his job as Premier now than they did an hour ago before this address.

Why do I think that? Because it tried to sell an agenda when the salesman likely has limited credibility with the intended audience. Why would a wary Tory buy into this agenda when the government has wavered on royalties, threatened cuts to health and education, and turned a massive surplus into a massive deficit overnight? They sold a vision and a plan from a government that, at the time, has limited credibility on both.

And therein lies the problem. The government may not be popular, but the Premier’s greatest strength is still his likability, the sense that he’s an honest, decent man doing his best. Someone people can rely on, and trust. A straightforward, sit-down video where he chatted from his office or his living room would have got his message out, and showcased him in his best element. He could have appealed to Albertans, especially Tories, to rally to his government’s side. To stick together, and come through this as they did during previous recessions. Maybe he could have eaten a little humble pie, and promised to do better this time around.

Instead, he did none of that. I still think he’ll come out of the leadership review in good shape – likely with 75-85% of the vote, but ‘The Way Forward’ is looking to be a flop. I suspect nothing has changed in Alberta politics. If the Premier comes out of the November convention damaged, or fatally wounded, he has nobody to blame but himself and his circle of advisers.

I’d love to hear the thoughts of everyone else who watched.

More reaction:
Chris LaBossiere: ‘Do As I Say and Not As I Do
Daveberta: “Pre-Recorded Commentary on Premier Stelmach’s Pre-Recorded Televised Address“; “Ed Stelmach’s Pre-Recorded Televised Address“; Ed Stelmach’s Pre-Recorded Televised Address (Take 2)
Kevin Libin: “Ed Stelmach’s TV Show a Rerun
W. Brett Wilson – …outgoing Premier Stelmach (wishful thinking?)
DJ Kelly: Why Stelmach Looks Disingenuous Today
ED-Vocate: Keep it Real, Ed