• Author

  • Twitter

    Error: Please make sure the Twitter account is public.

  • Flickr

  • Calendar

    December 2022
    M T W T F S S
  • Progressive Bloggers

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


Quick Hit: Are MLAs Wild About Danielle Smith?

This could be nothing more than a rumour, this could be a moot point if Wildrose Alliance Party members endorse Mark Dyrholm for leader, or this could be the story of the year in Alberta politics.

The Edmonton Journal’s Capital Notebook relays this tidbit from government insider Paul McLaughlin, publisher of the newsletter Alberta Scan. According to Capital Notebook, McLaughlin, relying on credible sources, is reporting that as many as 10 Tory MLAs could cross the floor and sit as Wildrose Alliance members if Danielle Smith is elected leader. (h/t to Jenn Prosser for posting this story).

Is there any truth behind this? It’s impossible to say at this point, but let’s consider a couple of things. First, the recent by-election in Calgary-Glenmore could have many MLAs worried about their future come general election time. Second, the Stelmach government hasn’t been very tolerant of dissent from within (here’s a recent example of an MLA paying for speaking out in public). You would think the last thing an MLA would want is to be caught thinking about crossing the floor if he wasn’t serious about it. Would this be idle speculation then? I tend to think not.

If this does happen, the ramifications could be huge. First, if all ten cross the floor, that would make the Wildrose Alliance the second largest caucus in the legislature, and the official opposition. It would guarantee them official party status, giving them greater resources to support their MLAs. Second, heading into the PC Party convention in November, this would be a huge, possibly fatal blow to the leadership of Premier Stelmach. At the very least, it could plunge the party into a divisive fight over his leadership and the future direction of the party.

It’s also worth noting that if this happens, a lot of the impact depends on which MLAs cross the floor. A cabinet minister or high-profile MLA would create a much bigger stir than a relatively unknown first-term backbencher. Whether the MLAs were all on the far right of the PC Party or if some were moderates would also affect perception. How and when floor-crossing would occur also matters. A group splintering at once would create a news story. If they begin to trickle out after the PC convention, it’s still news, but the impact might be dulled.

In any case, this is something worth keeping an eye on. It might be nothing, or if it’s Danielle Smith giving a victory speech in three weeks time, it might be the start of a big story.

Books I Read: Ralph Could Have Been a Superstar

Since first hearing about it earlier this summer, I have been looking forward to reading Rich Vivone‘s book “Ralph Could Have Been a Superstar“. There has yet to be much of a post-mortem in print on the Klein years in Alberta, and as an insider to government I anticipated that Vivone would have much to say on the topic.

Rich Vivone spent 25 years in Alberta politics, from 1980-2005. For the first five he was the executive assistant to David King, MLA and Minister of Education. For the next twenty, he published the newsletter “Insight into Government”, reporting on activities in the Legislature and government.

His book is part memoirs and history of his years in politics, and parts a critique of the players past and present, along with recommendations on how to make things better.

I picked up the book at his book launch in Edmonton last Wednesday, and read it over the past few days.

Rich Vivone speaks at his book launch for "Ralph Could Have Been a Superstar".

The book launch itself was an interesting event. Rather than reading from the book, Vivone talked about how he got involved in politics (David King was a university friend, and convinced him to come work for him at the Leg), his impressions of the Wildrose Alliance win in the Calgary-Glenmore by-election (might be a flash in the pan), his thoughts on apathy in the province (the Tories encourage it, the opposition parties will merge, and once there is a one-on-one battle with the Tories, and people think the result could go either way, they’ll turn out), among other things. While I don’t agree with all of his arguments, they are certainly interesting and thought-provoking.

The Q&A was the most interesting part. People asked more about apathy and disengagement, and about what made politics in Alberta competitive for that brief window in the late 1980s and early 1990s (okay, the latter was my question). It also became a forum for people to talk about why they were frustrated with politics, and why they had given up after years of investing time and energy in the political system. This all culminated in David Carter, former Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, taking the floor and saying that while Lougheed and Getty came down on any MLA who talked about “power” or using it to their advantage, that went out the window with Premier Klein. In his words, and he said we can quote him, “Ralph was a dictator”.

Rich Vivone signs copies of his book and speaks with attendees at his book launch for "Ralph Could Have Been a Superstar".

As the Q&A/discussion was happening, I found myself thinking ‘is this the road to improving democracy in Alberta?’ By that, I don’t mean holding a series of book readings, but getting citizens together and giving them the opportunity to voice their concerns and frustrations. One of the drivers of apathy, in my opinion, is isolation, the instance where one isn’t connecting with others. Another is the feeling that nobody shares your concerns, and that your concerns won’t be listened to or given any thought. If we have more forums where people who are frustrated with politics in this province (and this country), can come together, it would be a positive thing. The dialogue coming out of them might lead to the ideas and actions that will change politics for the better.

Anyway, I promised a book review, so I should get to that. I have no reservations about adding this to my short list of ‘must-read’ books about Alberta politics. Mark Lisac‘s “Alberta Politics Uncovered” is the other one I definitely recommend. Vivone’s book is a series of essays which can be read as stand-alone pieces. They include a piece on his impressions of Premier Klein, an overview of the Getty years, topical pieces on the Oil Sands, Health Care, Scandals, the plight of the Alberta Liberal Party, Education and Children’s Services, and the issue of apathy. He closes with a piece on the failed Jim Dinning leadership campaign, and finally with an open letter to Premier Stelmach.

The book is worth reading for the anecdotes and historical value alone. It’s impossible to condense 25 years of experience into 250 pages, but Vivone does a good job of covering the major issues of his time. He also considers the causes of some of the dominant issues and events in Alberta politics, and in some cases prescribes solutions to them. I don’t agree with his analysis, but he makes an argument and attempts to justify it.

There are two themes I take umbrage with. First, I think he too easily lets the general public off the hook. He correctly surmises that the media and the powers that be have taken actions (intentional or not) that discourage participation, but doesn’t focus enough on the general population’s willingness to ignore politics, or to not engage and scrutinize the actions of the government and opposition parties. Second, his concept that “Ralph Could Have Been a Superstar” is somewhat undermined by his analysis of Ralph’s character and tenure as Premier. I agree with him that Ralph’s first term was his most successful (in terms of accomplishing his agenda, regardless of whether you agree with the aims or not) and he increasingly lost drift afterwards. However, he also describes this as a trait in Ralph’s personality – he needed a clear, concise goal to pursue. This, and an unwillingness to pursue largely controversial measures, held him back from pursuing and achieving greater things. (Note: Don Martin‘s book “King Ralph” also talks about Klein’s struggles with confrontation). Similar depictions colour the chapters regarding Jim Dinning’s loss in the 2006 leadership race, and the (so-far) unfulfilled potential of Premier Stelmach’s tenure. In a nutshell, what I feel Vivone is arguing is not that Ralph (or Ed) Could Have Been a Superstar, but that someone leading a government with tons of political capital and no serious opposition should be able to achieve more. It’s a story not so much about Ralph or Ed (or Jim), but our collective unfulfilled potential as a province.

Whether you agree with Vivone’s take on politics or not, this book, as I said, is a must-read if you’re interested in Alberta politics. Albertan or not, you will gain insight into where Alberta has come from politically in the past thirty years. Understanding our politics and where we’ve come from is key. If we want to make politics in the future better, we need to understand the history and circumstances that have led to where we are.