• Author

  • Twitter

    Error: Please make sure the Twitter account is public.

  • Flickr

  • Calendar

    November 2022
    M T W T F S S
     123456
    78910111213
    14151617181920
    21222324252627
    282930  
  • Progressive Bloggers

Politicians Just Wanna Have Fun: Alberta Edition

A short, off-topic post. Given that politics is serious business, and most politicians tend to act as such, it’s nice to see the lighter side of elected officials sometimes. At the Premier’s Capital Ex Breakfast this morning, Premier Redford led her caucus in singing John Denver’s classic “Take Me Home, Country Roads“. Here’s a video I shot of their rendition:

Advertisement

The Next Four Years: Part Two

In the first part of my election post-mortem, I wrote about some broader trends. This post will focus on each of the five main parties who contested the election.

Tory Challenges
With a strong mandate, the Tories nonetheless have some challenges ahead of them. They campaigned on a more progressive platform than in elections past. Many, including myself, see this as a good thing. I for one will consider their government a success if they implement greater powers and authorities for municipalities (such as city charters for Edmonton and Calgary), and continue with strong social policy such as the 10 year plan to end homelessness, and the promised action on child poverty.

Premier Alison Redford
Dave Cournoyer/Flickr

Yet, while the progressive wing of the party seems ascendant, there is still a conservative base that must be tended to. And here in lies a potential risk. The PCs received a mandate from voters who are likely, to some degree, out of step with the base of the party. There will be pressure to keep the base who wants a more ‘conservative’ approach happy, while also delivering on the policies promised in the campaign. Making it more complicated is the potential of stagnant, or even declining, resource revenues.

While I do know of Liberal activists who have moved over to the PCs, I wonder how many of their voters will stay actively involved in politics between elections, or would even consider committing themselves to the party. Without the active support of this base, it will be a significant challenge to deliver the kind of government Premier Redford wants to.

One of their advantages is that there is no serious challenger to them on the left right now (as we’ll get to). However, they can’t count on a divided, somewhat moribund left forever. Strategic voting is a short-term proposition too. It usually only works once (as Paul Martin learned). If Wildrose is a serious threat next election, it will be because they have proven themselves to be a competent, credible force in the Legislature. There won’t be the same fear of the unknown that exists now, and future bozo eruptions aren’t guaranteed either.

Wildrose Challenges
If Wildrose is to become a more serious threat for government, it is going to have to peel off more of the fiscal conservative wing of the PCs. Just-elected Fiscal hawks in the PC caucus like Ric McIver, the former Calgary Alderman, and David Dorward, former Edmonton Mayoral candidate, are the types of candidates the Wildrose will need to be able to attract. It will also need to find a way to keep socially conservative voters in the tent without this being a key part of its message.

Your Choice For Change

It will also have to manage the expectations of supporters, volunteers, MLAs, and donors, who may not be thrilled to commit to four years (at least) in opposition. Many of its key campaign staff came from Conservative offices in Ottawa, and they may well find it more desirable to spend the next few years in government there than in opposition at home. Without strong performers in caucus (largely supported by good staff) and a motivated donor and volunteer base, it’s hard to imagine Wildrose growing – or even sustaining – their current success.

It will also need to make inroads into the Edmonton region, and into the medium-sized cities and rural areas in north of it. While it can succeed from a base in Calgary and the south, it’s hard to imagine the party forming government without having at least a few seats solid seats in that area.

Factors outside the control of any party may play to their favour. If the PCs deliver on greater authority for cities, that may – ironically – make the provincial government’s approach to municipalities less of an issue in future elections (since cities will be less dependent on them). Furthermore, should the large infrastructure projects Wildrose opposed this time (such as the Royal Alberta Museum and a new Edmonton arena) become controversial, they may indeed be catalysts for a smaller-government message in the region. For example, if either project end up going heavily over budget, they would hardly be the first of their kind to do so.

Additionally, the next federal election will occur in October 2015, roughly 6 months before the next provincial one. Should the NDP (or a left-centre party/coalition) form government, a more parochial approach to defending Alberta’s interests (likely to be articulated by Wildrose) may resonate more than the nationalistic approach preferred by Premier Redford.

As noted earlier, there are threats to the export of our natural resources, and those could have all sorts of unanticipated effects. Suffice to say, the key issues and political landscape could change dramatically in the next four years, possibly shifting towards Wildrose’s core message.

There are, also, three left-centre parties that have significant challenges ahead:

Liberal Survival
In many ways, the Liberals outperformed expectations. Few expected them to win five seats. However, the five elected are all incumbents. Their vote was also very efficient. Outside of these ridings, they weren’t competitive anywhere else. They lost two seats in Edmonton where incumbents retired, and while they finished second in three ridings, none were particularly close.

Also of concern is that few – if any – unsuccessful candidates offer a base to build off of. As it stands, the party feels like one in significant retreat, defending its few strongholds, which will almost certainly give way should the incumbent step aside, like in Edmonton-Riverview, Edmonton-Goldbar, and Calgary-Varsity this time.

At this point, there isn’t much reason to believe they will recapture the centre-left voters who have moved to the PCs, barring a sharp turn by that party back towards the right. Having lost many activists and organizers since the 2008 campaign, hopes would appear thin for a resurgence any time soon. Their best hope for rejuvenation would appear to be some sort of ‘unite the left-(centre)’ movement, which may sacrifice their name and brand, but infuse their ranks with activists from other parties. As it stands now, I’m not convinced all of their MLAs will make it to the next election. How much fun is it going to be for some of them to sit in a smaller caucus? Is it that far-fetched to assume they may lose an MLA or two to resignation or floor-crossing? (I don’t find it far-fetched to think Kent Hehr may try municipal politics again). When I look at the decline of the SoCreds in the ’70s and ’80s, it feels like the path the Liberals could easily follow – losing seats as incumbents retire, until one day the remaining 2-3 are just wiped off the map.

NDP Movement
Colby hit the nail on the head – while doubling the size of their phone booth is a success, it also points to the fact that that’s the kind of party they perceive themselves as – one who will occupy the back corner of the Legislature.

That said, unlike the Liberals, they have something to build off of. Newly-elected David Eggen and Deron Bilous are young and have a strong record in their communities. The success of Shannon Phillips in Lethbridge-West, Marlin Schmidt in Edmonton-Goldbar, and Cindy Olsen in Edmonton-Manning could all lay the groundwork for victories in the next election. They have surpassed the Liberals in many other Edmonton ridings, and would arguably be better poised to pick up left-leaning voters should they turn away from the PCs.

What happens with their leadership could also speed this process up. After 10 years at the helm, Brian Mason could step aside, particularly with both Rachel Notley and David Eggen presenting themselves as credible options to take over. Either would present a new, dynamic face for the party, giving them a chance to grow the base that Mason and Raj Pannu before him have held on to and cultivated.

They could also be poised to ride the coattails of their federal cousins, should their success continue. There is also the risk, though, that unpopular actions from the federal NDP could tar them by association.

Alberta Party Next Steps
It’s important to maintain perspective, in particular noting that the Alberta Party has only existed for 26 months. That said, as a supporter, I was incredibly disappointed in Monday’s results. While I’m proud of the effort everyone (in particular many of my friends) put forward, I was disappointed that many candidates and campaigns who worked hard and smart for months in advance were dealt results far worse than they deserved. I was disappointed that, for whatever reason, the party’s message never made it into mainstream debate. Most of all, I was disappointed in myself for not doing more to help the party and candidates I support.

That personal reflection aside, it points to some of the challenges the party will face in becoming a viable force. While the party has policy, it does not have a well-defined niche on the political spectrum. I support the goal of changing the process and culture around doing politics, and making it more inclusive, but this can only go so far as being a part of any party’s message. Voters will want more defined policies – certainly, the major criticism I’ve heard of the Alberta Party so far is that people don’t know what it stands for. With the PC Party now occupying much of the Alberta Party’s natural policy space, this will be more challenging.

What the Alberta Party is looking for.
Dave Cournoyer/Flickr

It’s also going to continue to face the challenge of convincing voters it is a viable option. Barring a by-election win or two, it’s unlikely to be in the leaders’ debate again in 2016. For the time being, most voters will likely presume the Liberal Party or NDP to be the default centre-left alternative to the PCs and Wildrose. More resources, and a full-slate of candidates, are necessary steps towards this. Finally, the party’s biggest strength right now is a committed, talented base of activists and members. Keeping them involved, engaged, and motivated (and then growing this base) is necessary.

The work of building a strong grassroots organization and strong constituency associations needs to continue, but a more clear, concise, macro-level message and approach needs to develop in conjunction with it. A by-election win or two would be critical for establishing the party’s credentials, and gaining inclusion into the leaders’ debate. Talented candidates like Michael Walters, Sue Huff, Glenn Taylor, Danielle Klooster, and Tim Osborne, need to be willing to keep building their profile and support locally, while Taylor (or another leader) is able to simultaneously do this for the party province-wide. Frankly, more money is the most crucial thing at this point. Being able to have a full-time leader spend 2-3 years on the road getting to know Albertans and building support (like Danielle Smith just did) would go a long way towards success in the next election.

Should it be able to continue to attract strong candidates and organizers, I don’t think that a foothold in the legislature in 2016, then a jump to official opposition (or even government) in the subsequent election is completely far-fetched. At the very least, it could position itself well to pick up centre-left voters looking for an alternative to the PCs. But a lot of things happening now have to continue, and be scaled up. Doing that takes significant work, even with a lot of talented people on board.

The Next Four Years: Part One

With the Alberta election results now 36 hours old, a bit of reflection and thought on what may be in store for Alberta. In a similar vein, I’d encourage you to read Colby Cosh’s short post-mortem, and Calgary Grit’s thoughts on where we go from here. This post focuses on some broader trends across the political sphere. The second part will focus specifically on the five main parties.

Predicting the future in politics is a messy business. Nonetheless, here are some trends and things I’ll be watching in the next four years.

Realignment May Be Under Way
While the PCs were much ridiculed for their “Not Your Father’s PC Party” ad, there is some truth in it. The PC Party is a less conservative party than it has been for most of the past two decades. There is perhaps no better example of this than long-serving Cabinet minister Dave Hancock who, while highly regarded by most (including myself), seemed like an outlier – politically-speaking – in the Klein years, and now seems perfectly at home within Premier Redford’s caucus.

Danielle Smith

Naturally, their main competition now comes to them from their right, rather than their left. While the NDP and Liberals hold pockets in Edmonton and Calgary, and Wildrose saw some success in Calgary, the PCs are the leading party in both cities. Wildrose strength is based in rural areas towards the centre and south of the province, and in medium-sized cities and the outer-ring of Edmonton and Calgary.

Of the high-profile PC incumbents who went down to defeat, only two were from urban areas (Morton in suburban Calgary and Mitzel in Medicine Hat). The next cabinet figures to be heavy once again on Edmonton and Calgary MLAs.

Without reliable exit polling (or polling at all), it’s difficult to say how exactly this shift has occured. It seems highly likely though that many former PC voters (or those who stayed at home because the PCs weren’t conservative enough for their liking) make up the Wildrose base. Commensurately, many former Liberal voters have likely moved over to the PCs. I know a handful of former Liberal activists and staffers who were actively supporting the PCs even before the election. The new PC base is far more urban and moderate (leaning liberal) than before.

Conventional wisdom has been that to win a provincial election, you need to win 2 out of Edmonton, Calgary, and rural Alberta. Since the mid-’80s, this has been true. The PCs dominated by consistenly winning in Calgary and the rural areas. Their success in Edmonton dictated whether their victory would be a landslide, or merely a strong majority.

That said, I’ve long thought that if Alberta were to have a true two-party system, it would likely be more of an urban-rural split. One party (the more ‘left’ of the two) would be strongest in the urban cores of Edmonton and Calgary. The other (the more ‘right’ of the two) would be strongest in rural areas. Suburban areas and medium-sized cities would be the swing ridings, holding the balance of power more often than not.

Albertans are More Moderate, Content, or Both
I could also call this the homeostatis theory. While some of the rejection of Wildrose may have come from unfamiliarity and inexperience, it seemed largely a reaction to them being too conservative (especially on social issues) for many Albertans’ liking.

Furthermore, like with the two recent PC leadership races, voters seemed to be responding to something, rather than being proactive in endorsing a vision. The endorsement of Premier Stelmach enforced a more cautious, status quo route than either Jim Dinning or Ted Morton offered. Premier Redford’s victory moved the party to the left, but I think much can be owed to asserting the direction under way, versus the reassertion of an older political guard that was associated with Gary Mar’s campaign.

Alison Redford, campaign stop
Dave Cournoyer/Flickr

In this campaign, I wonder how many casual observers would have tuned in, and/or felt motivated to vote (Tory) without the “bozo eruptions” from the Wildrose campaign.

Or maybe Albertans are just content with the way things are, and are likely to endorse the least threatening option to it.

Change Takes Time
In retrospect, we perhaps overestimated the likelihood of a party forming government so early in its history. Most political parties and movements need time to gain traction before they can seriously contend for or form government.

In neighbouring Saskatchewan, both the-then dormant Progressive Conservatives, then the new Saskatchewan Party (starting from a base of dissafected PC and Liberal MLAs) broke through in their third general elections (’82 and ’07, respectively). In British Columbia, the Liberals re-emerged, supplanting Social Credit in 1991, then came close to winning in ’96 before earning a landslide in ’01.

Closer to home, the last party to seriously threaten the PC dynasty also saw incremental growth. The Liberals went from no seats in 1982 to 4 seats in 1986. They won 8 seats in 1989, good for third standing in the Legislature, but did finish second in popular vote (going up from 12 to 28%). They led in the polls for much of the time leading up to the ’93 election, where they ultimately finished second with 32 of 83 seats, and just under 40% of the popular vote). Of course, the PCs themselves won 6 seats (and doubled their popular vote to 26%) in the ’67 election before they won government in ’71.

On the federal scene, long-time observers will remember that the Reform Party contested the 1988 election in 72 western ridings, finishing second in several of them. Their 1993 breakthrough came 6 years after their founding convention, and 7 after the initial major gathering of the movement. More recently, the NDP breakthrough in Quebec came in Jack Layton’s fourth election as leader, by which point he’d been working to establish a base in the province for 8 years. On a national scale, you can see the incremental growth in each of his elections as well (same for the Conservative Party over that period of time).

The lesson is, while change can appear to happen quickly, there is usually incremental growth and years of work behind it that isn’t given the attention it may deserve.

Senate (Reform) is Not a Concern for Many
As Colby pointed out, as many as 1/3 of voters who cast a ballot for their MLA may not have bothered casting a Senate ballot at all. Long a passion of Alberta’s political class, the Senate election received barely any political attention at all. Most of the media coverage was of the “oh, by the way, there’s a Senate election happening too” variety. One would think that if ALbertans felt strongly about an elected Senate, they would have been clamoring to cast ballots in it. Perhaps if the Liberals and NDP bothered running candidates (instead of opposing elected senators and the Senate itself, respectively), we’d see more interest in it.

Alberta’s Election by the Numbers

I spent some time looking over last night’s election results. Here are some of the numbers and trends for each of the five parties that I found interesting.

Three or Four-Way Races Never Materialized
Calgary-McCall and Lethbridge-West were the only ridings where the top 3 finishers were within 10% of each other:

Calgary-McCall – Liberal 36% Wildrose 30% PC 29%
Lethbridge-West – PC 36% NDP 29% Wildrose 26%
PC Dominance
PCs were first or second in all but one riding (Calgary-McCall).

Of the 27 ridings they lost, they were within 5% of winning 6, and 10% of winning an additional 5.

They have the only candidate Their only candidate who earned more than 60% of the vote (Dave Hancock, Edmonton-Whitemud). (Update: it was pointed out that Rachel Notley earned more than 60% in Edmonton-Strathcona. Thanks for the correction).

Wildrose Growth
Outside of Edmonton, Wildrose finished no worse than second in all but three ridings (Calgary-Buffalo and Mountain View, won by the Liberals, and Lethbridge-West, won by PC with NDP second).

Wildrose finished second in 8 Edmonton ridings. The closest they came to winning a seat was Edmonton-Mill Woods, where they finished 11% back.

In 72 of 87 ridings, PC and Wildrose finished 1-2 in either order; only 29 of them were decided by 10% or less either way.

In those ridings, the PC’s won 9 by less than 5%, and an additional 11 by less than 10%. Wildrose won 3 by less than 5%, and an additional 6 by less than 10%.

Wildrose were within 10% of winning an additional riding (Calgary-McCall) won by the Liberals.

Liberal Collapse
While the Liberals held on to 5 seats (all incumbents), the closest they were to winning their 6th seat was 14% back (Edmonton-Mill Woods, where they finished 3rd). They finished second in only 3 ridings (Edmonton-Riverview, Rutherford, and McClung), where they were, respectively, 16, 20, and 24% back.

The highest vote share earned by a first time candidate was 23% for Arif Khan in Edmonton-Riverview.

They earned less than 20% of the vote in 7 of 16 ridings that they won 2 elections ago (2004) – Calgary-Currie, Lethbridge-East, St. Albert, and Edmonton-Decore, Glenora, Ellerslie, Manning (this also applies to Castle Downs, which they lost in ’04 on a judicial recount). Of the 8, they finished 3rd in 4 of them, and 4th in the other 4.

NDP Consistency
The NDP won back the 2 seats they lost in 2008 (Edmonton-Calder and Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview), in addition to holding their 2 incumbents.

They had two other candidates come within 10% of victory – Marlin Schmidt finished 4% back in Edmonton-Goldbar and Shannon Phillips finished 7% back in Lethbridge-West.

In addition to Schmidt and Phillips, the NDP finished second in Edmonton-Glenora (13% behind Tories). Cindy Olsen in Edmonton-Manning nearly joined them, finishing 25 votes out of second, though 15% behind the winner.

Alberta Party Baby Steps
The highest vote share earned by an Alberta Party candidate was 16.99% (party leader Glenn Taylor, West Yellowhead). Highest total of raw votes earned by a candidate was 1673 (Michael Walters, Edmonton-Rutherford).

No AP candidate finished first or second. Taylor and Danielle Klooster (Innisfail-Slave Lake) finished 3rd in their respective ridings; Walters and Tony Jeglum (Lacombe-Ponoka) finished 4th.

The Battle for Alberta

Monday is election day in Alberta. Normally, this is a ho-hum affair, the suspense being not about who will win, but about by how much the governing Progressive Conservative party will win. The PCs first won government in 1971. Starting with their first re-election campaign, they have won more than 60 seats in every campaign (the total number of seats available growing over that time from 75 to 87 today). The lone exception, 1993, is seen as the high water mark for competitive elections in this province. Even then, once the dust settled on election day, the PCs had won 51 seats, 19 more than the opposition.

All this back story is a way of saying that exciting provincial campaigns, where the outcome is truly in doubt, are extremely rare in Alberta. The upstart Wildrose Party is leading in all the polls, and it’s a realistic possibility that they will form the next government. If nothing else, it has been encouraging, and exciting, to see a truly contested election happen. It has also, however, been in many ways a disappointing election. The absence of debate on important issues, and focus instead of namecalling and fear-mongering, doesn’t fill me with confidence for the future, regardless of who forms government. An election is an important milestone in politics and government, but it’s not the only thing that matters. If we can’t have a rational discussion of candidates, parties, and ideas during a campaign, I don’t know if it’s going to get better after the fact.

Danielle Smith
Danielle Smith, possibly our Premier-designate after Monday’s vote.

In the hysteria, some important things have been lost. Energy, the foundation of Alberta’s economy, has received scarce attention. Critique of Wildrose has focused on a few extremist candidates who would likely never get into cabinet, rather than the policies and people who may actually be central to their government. People have embraced the PCs as a positive alternative, without critically analyzing how similar the two parties are in terms of some of their members’ beliefs, and the likely outcomes. It’s also received scant attention from the public that Premier Redford is unlikely to survive even if she wins another (slim) majority government. If she does, it will likely be by making compromises with the party establishment, moving it back towards the “conservative” side, and further away from what “strategic” PC voters think they’re getting – or avoiding by defeating the Wildrose.

We’ve also ignored the fact that almost every government moves towards the centre upon taking office, whether they campaign on the right or left. In terms of ideology, the Saskatchewan Party and federal Conservative Party are likely better comparisons for anticipating a Wildrose government than assuming a throwback to the Social Credit or Klein PC days. Whether or not this is a good thing is a matter of one’s view, but it’s the frame through which they should be examined. Truth is, like with the PCs, almost every Albertan would find some outcomes they like, and some they don’t (the balance of good vs. bad would vary greatly depending on your view). But the sky will not fall Tuesday morning if they’re elected. If they are as extreme in government as some fear, they’ll get tossed out next election. That’s how politics works.

Now, I do hope people get out and vote, regardless of who it’s for. More importantly, though, is for people to own their votes. If voters hold their nose and vote PC because they’re scared of Wildrose, they should be prepared to live with, and own the fact that they will still be getting a conservative government (one more so than they may expect). I won’t have any sympathy for the Aviva Zimmermans of the world if they’re unhappy with what they’d get out of four more years of PC government. If you vote for the Wildrose, it’s important that, as a supporter, you hold them to their pledges, especially the one on accountability, as that’s one of the fundamental tenets of their argument for change. If you support the Liberals, NDP, or Alberta Party, it’s important to ensure that the MLAs who are elected are being a positive force for change in the Legislature, rather than just hecklers and conspiracy theorists, as opposition MLAs often have been in this province.

No matter who you support, however, the most important thing is to not disappear for four years, but to keep working in your community, and through the political system, to help realize the change you want to see happen.

Alison Redford, campaign stop
Alison Redford during the campaign. Her time as Premier has brought forward a lot of positive initiatives, but she’s weighed down by her party’s record.
Flickr/Dave Cournoyer

Now, I have mixed feelings on every party. I think the PCs have brought in some legitimately good policies and initiatives in recent years. In this respect, the governments of Premiers Stelmach and Redford have been a notable improvement over their predecessors. That said, inheriting a government more than 30 years old comes with inherent drawbacks. A culture has developed around government that promotes cronyism, a lack of transparency, and bullying the opposition. Were Premier Redford building a party from the ground up, I suspect I’d quite like the product. Her time in office, however, speaks to just how hard it is, despite her best efforts, to reform a party – and government – that is so entrenched. Should she continue on, there’s no guarantee the task will get easier.

As for the Wildrose, it’s probably clear to most readers that I don’t see eye to eye on many policy issues with them. I do, however, support most of their accountability pledge. I also have a lot of time for Danielle Smith. She’s a policy-minded leader, and I think that a Wildrose government under her leadership will surprise many with how they’d approach some issues.

The Alberta Liberal Party looks like a group that’s run out of steam, politically-speaking. That said, I respect the fact that they’ve put forward some controversial ideas in their platform, like raising taxes, and eliminating post-secondary tuition (the latter I disagree with, by the way). It’s important to have parties willing to push the boundaries, and encourage debate on important issues, no matter how unpopular they may be.

The NDP has proven to be an effective opposition, always raising important perspectives and flagging key issues to hold the government to account on. Losing this contribution would be a bad thing.

Finally, it’s no secret to many that I’ve been an Alberta Party supporter for the past year and a half. My endorsement for a party is for them. Despite running candidates in fewer than half the ridings province-wide, a vote for the Alberta Party would be an endorsement of community-driven politics, and a message that we can do politics in a better, more inclusive and collegial manner. My support is driven in large part by the genuine commitment I see to citizen engagement, and a more collaborative approach to politics, as well as the high regard I have for many of the people involved in the party. Nonetheless, I feel like the party will need a more defined (or better articulated) set of values and policies going forward in order to be a true competitor for government.

Glenn Taylor - Alberta Party leadership candidates
Glenn Taylor, leader of the Alberta Party, hopefully an MLA-elect tomorrow night.
Flickr/Dave Cournoyer

There are also good candidates running for every party. On the PC side, losing bright minds like Dave Hancock and Doug Griffiths would be a bad thing. Whether or not Wildrose forms government, I hope Danielle Smith wins her seat, as she’d bring an important perspective to the Legislature. I’ve also gotten to know Shannon Stubbs through mutual friends and involvements over the years, and have a tremendous amount of respect for her. In a Wildrose government or opposition, she’d be a strong contributor.

Incumbent Liberal MLAs like Laurie Blakeman, David Swann, and Kent Hehr would be valuable members in opposition, contributing to debate and representing their constituents well. In a minority government, I’d be optimistic about their ability to affect change, and support reasonable legislation.

On the NDP side, Rachel Notley is a lock to hold her seat, which is a good thing, and I hope David Eggen is returned to the Legislature as well. He was a strong performer in his first term from 2004-08, and has demonstrated his ability as an advocate in leading Friends of Medicare since. I’ve always been impressed with Shannon Phillips, in the almost 10 years since we’ve known each other. While we haven’t always agreed, I’ve always had a tremendous amount of respect for both her ability and conviction. She’s the kind of person we need more of in politics, and I hope voters in Lethbridge-West agree.

I’m also hoping for an Alberta Party breakthrough, as there are a number of candidates who would be assets to their constituents and the province as a whole in the Legislature. Both Michael Walters and Sue Huff are true community-oriented leaders, and would bring a collaborative, positive approach to politics. Michael’s history as a community organizer and Sue’s work on the Edmonton Public School Board bear witness to the quality of work they’d do as MLAs. I consider both of them friends, and have been proud to support their respective campaigns over the past several months.

Glenn Taylor, the party leader, is a respected former Mayor of Hinton, and in the time I’ve gotten to know him, has proven to be a thoughtful leader with an eye for bringing people together. Tim Osborne, who I know more by reputation than personally, would be a great addition to the Legislature. His background in the social sector, and passion for helping people at risk and in need, is important to have, especially with a government who has an eye on balancing the budget (which will almost certainly involve spending cuts). Having people like Tim in the legislature would be important to balance this out.

On the whole, I’d be happiest with a minority government – whether it’s led by the PCs or Wildrose – that has representation from all five parties. It would give us a chance to see which parties and MLAs are seriously committed to working together, and getting results for Albertans. In other words, which ones are true representatives, and which ones are just politicians. I also hope the outcome provides opportunity for all five parties to engage in some self-reflection and growth. For the established parties – PC and Liberal – a chance to reflect on what they stand for and why they exist (especially in the former’s case, since they are no longer the automatic ‘governing’ party). For the NDP, to consider whether they want to occupy a more moderate space, like their federal cousins, or pursue their traditional path of being the conscience of government. For the new parties – Wildrose and Alberta – to prove themselves to voters, and define where exactly they stand when they have to make the tough decisions of being in elected office. If this can all happen in a majority government setting, great. But I think it’s much less likely to happen should that be the result.

We’re in the midst of a transition period in Alberta politics. Whatever comes out of it, I hope we see a truly competitive political arena with two viable governing parties emerge, not one where dynasties rule for a generation or two before crumbling and giving way to another. I hope we move towards a more civil and collaborative approach, where citizen engagement isn’t a token effort, but a bedrock for politics. I hope tomorrow’s election is another step towards the Alberta 3.0 I wrote about two years ago, and still believe we will move towards – whether we embrace it or not. Most important of all, I hope everyone who votes doesn’t assume their work is done for the next four years once they’ve cast their ballot, and continues to work hard to build a stronger province. Whoever wins, we’ll get the government we deserve – either through or action or our inaction. I hope it’s through the former.

Musings on Health Care

Gary Mar – the perceived front-runner in the PC leadership race – caused a stir a few weeks ago with comments to the Edmonton Sun editorial board in support of private health care delivery.

Predictably, two things happened. First, media speculation focused less on whether this was a good idea from a policy and service delivery perspective; second, public health care advocates jumped all over him and any defenders for daring to bring up the prospect of private delivery.

Many recognize that our health care system faces challenges, which will only grow in the coming years. Health care already takes up more than 40% of Alberta’s operating budget, and that figures to grow as our population ages. Sustainability – financially-speaking – is only the second biggest challenge. The first is that we seem unable to have a serious, mature dialogue about health care in Canada. Without that dialogue, we’ll never get to solving the challenge of financial sustainability.

H1N1 Clinic
An H1N1 vaccination clinic in Edmonton, from 2009.

There is some truth in what Mar says. People with means, should they be interested, will find ways to get access to timely care if the public system in Alberta is not providing it. There are an increasing number of privatized (or elective) features of health care in this province. Capturing that cost is an economic opportunity. There is nothing inherently incompatible with having private delivery happening parallel to a robust, efficient public health care system.

Where defenders of public health care fall down for me is in demonizing private delivery. I support timely, quality access to health care for everyone. The conversation in my mind is not, ‘how do we stop private delivery?’, rather it is ‘how do we ensure timely, quality delivery for everyone?’

Part of me feels the same way about private health care use and cue-jumping as I do about marijuana use. It’s going to be happen anyways, so let’s regulate and tax the hell out of it. Let’s say a few changes were made to the health care system. There were more health professionals trained and practicing. Private delivery was allowed, but heavily regulated and taxed by government (with revenues going back into the public system). As long as everyone – from the millionaire business-owner to the single parent on income support was receiving timely, effective care, would it be such a calamity?

I recognize this is, and continues to be a controversial issue. It’s going to be an increasingly complex one to deal with as our population ages. I only hope we can have a mature, serious, open conversation about health care. Demonizing people who simply raise the prospect of private delivery is not the way to get there.

Diversifying One BioMile at a Time

I’m a big proponent of economic diversification, so naturally I was interested in this story coming out of Drayton Valley, Alberta. The city has secured the commitment of CLIB 2021, a German collaborative, to open an office as part of the BioMile, an initiative to create a biotechnology park.

It’s worth reading the full background on the BioMile, but here’s a bit I really like:

Rather than view the closure of the Weyerhaeuser’s Drayton Valley OSB facility as a detriment, we have been working to create new opportunities in using the wood bio-mass in new and innovative processes. Despite the loss of tax revenue and jobs that resulted from the OSB closure, we believe that the Bio-Mile will pull our community through these hard times.

Oil and gas, along with forestry, is still a big part of the local economy. These industries may yet prove to be drivers of the economy in the coming years, or they may not. Drayton Valley, and the Grande Alberta Economic Region of which it is a part, are playing it smart by reaching out to emerging industries, and finding ways to turn potentially bad situations (such as the Weyerhauser closure) into opportunities. I especially like how many of the BioMile initiatives tie into the forestry industry – using the present to build a stronger future. The BioMile is by no means assured to be a success, but it’s a positive step. The successful communities going forward are going to be the ones that invest in emerging and successful industries, and that have a diversified base to work from.

Meanwhile, in Edmonton, we will be welcoming a new City Manager in January. Simon Farbrother, whose career started in the region, has served as Chief Adminstrative Officer for the City of Waterloo since 2005. In his time there, he was one of the drivers behind the Intelligent Waterloo initiative. The city has become a hub for technology and innovation, notably as the home of Research in Motion (RIM). This has been driven in part by the presence of the University of Waterloo, which is recognized for its strong math, physics, and computing science programs. Having been involved in Waterloo’s success, I’m optimistic that Farbrother can help spearhead similar initiatives in Edmonton.

Now, this is not to say that Edmonton (or any city) should necessarily strive to be a tech hub, or a hub for bio-industries. Those strategies may be right for Waterloo and Drayton Valley (respectively), but every city is different. The lesson is to use your existing strengths, whatever those may be, to work at diversifying your local economy and ensuring you are better prepared for the future. I’ll be watching Drayton Valley with interest, and hoping to see other communities follow suit.

Calgary Goes Wild(rose)

I predicted a Tory romp in today’s Calgary-Glenmore by-election. I was very wrong.

We can call this race for the Wildrose Alliance Party.

Your Choice For Change

As I write this, 58 of 66 polls are in. Paul Hinman of the Wildrose Alliance Party holds the lead with 37% of the vote. Avalon Roberts of the Liberals is in second place with 34%, and Diane Colley-Urquhart, the Tory candidate, is in 3rd with 25% of the vote. The vote share of those three candidates hasn’t budged more than a percent or two either way for most of the night.

By-elections are, at best, a snapshot of the voters’ mood at a given time. They aren’t predictors of how the electorate will vote in a general election – when more voters are tuned in and will turn out to vote.

Still, this is bad for the Tories. The Wildrose Alliance ran with the slogan “Send Ed A Message”, and voters seem to have responded. The voter turnout will be in the mid 30s, below the 45% achieved in the 2008 general election. In that election, the Tories ran veteran MLA and Minister of Justice Ron Stevens, who earned 50% of the vote. The second place finisher, Avalon Roberts of the Liberals, earned 33% – right about where she is in the polls right now. The Wildrose Alliance earned 8% of the vote. They’ve gained about 30% tonight, while Tory support is down 25%, or half their vote share. For reference, the 2007 Calgary-Elbow by-election saw a vote shift of +9 for the Liberals, and -13 for the Tories.

What hurts is that the Tories weren’t putting forward a run of the mill candidate. Diane Colley-Urquhart, a 9-year veteran of Calgary City Council, carried the banner for them this election. The Alliance candidate, Paul Hinman, had some profile, having served as MLA for Cardston-Taber-Warner from 2004-2008, and as Alberta Alliance/Wildrose Alliance party leader for that same time. Yet, he had no roots in the riding. The vote is a rebuke to the Tories, there’s no way around it.

We are likely 2 1/2 years away from the next general election, but the signal that Calgarians will stay home or vote for another party is strong and clear. With the right leader and message, they might be willing to take the leap in a general election, when the stakes are higher.

This result is also potentially good news for the Wildrose Alliance. Having elected an MLA through a by-election, they are in a stronger position to argue for a spot in the leadership debate come general election time.

This could be the first sign of a shift in Alberta politics, or it could be a historical footnote, like the by-elections in Olds-Didsbury in 1982, or in Calgary-Elbow in 2007. In any case, politics in Alberta is suddenly more interesting than it was when we woke up this morning. It’s also likely a more competitive political realm, which is a positive thing regardless of your beliefs.

Note: I’ll add more over the next day or so.

Update: Some Tuesday morning thoughts.
– In the original post, I projected turnout in the mid-30s. It ended up being 40.5%, not far off the turnouts from 2004 and 2008 (48% and 45%, respectively).
– There is good coverage of the by-election and its potential ramifications all over the web. I recommend checking out what Chris LaBossiere, Ken Chapman, Trish Audette, Calgary Grit, and Graham Thompson have to say about it. Tuesday afternoon update: Daveberta weighs in too.

In addition to the benefits to the WRA mentioned earlier, winning an urban riding such as Calgary-Glenmore is a huge boost to the party as well. Having won in Calgary now in addition to previously winning (and coming a close second) in a rural riding makes it harder for critics to portray the party as outside the mainstream. If you look at the demographics of Glenmore, it looks fairly close to those of Alberta (perhaps only its higher proportion of immigrants would be different), leading to a good argument that it can be considered, in general, a bellwether riding.

Finally, we should remember the psychological boost this gives to the Alliance heading into their leadership race. Having won a by-electio, they can demonstrate a payoff to both volunteers and donors, which will help them earn a continuing commitment from both groups.

Most of the talk about the by-election has focused on how its bad for the Tories. It’s also bad for the Liberals. Their vote share, dropped slightly from 2008, which dropped slightly from 2004. In effect, they’re stuck in neutral in this riding. They’ve fielded the same candidate three times in a row now, and in the most recent one the party was led by a Calgarian. This hasn’t made an impact at all. If the party wants to move beyond the status of token opposition, and be a credible challenge to the government, they have to be able to win ridings like this one.

Beyond the Liberal Party, this result is bad for all left-centre/progressive minded people. An upstart, leaderless right of centre party just won a seat, boosting their vote share by 30% over the general election in Calgary-Glenmore. Since the 2008 election, people on the left have spent a lot of time navel gazing about mergers, co-operation, as well as party name changes and forming new parties. Nothing has come out of this so far, save for the Democratic Renewal Project, which was overwhelmingly rejected at this past weekend’s NDP convention.

With a fresh threat attacking the Tories from the right, the Liberals, NDP, and all progressive/left-centre voices need to get their act in order quickly or risk being drowned out of the public debate. If there’s a lesson to be learned from the Wildrose Alliance victory, it’s that campaigning hard and finding a message that appeals to voters is more important than cosmetic things like party names.