Hello after a LOOOONG hiatus, everyone.
I apologize profusely for my long absense. To suggest things have been busy is an understatement. I will try to post more regularily, and may even have some exciting news on the horizon to share with you soon.
The subject of today's post is entirely Alberta-centric. As such, i'm also posting it up on albertatory for the benefit of those who still check that old site.
Well the byelections in Alberta are over and the Tories and Liberals are both batting 500. Congratulations are in order for both the elected MLA's, Jack Hayden and Craig Cheffins.
Now most of the attention has been placed on Calgary-Elbow, but that's not where i'm going to start. Rather, i'm going to step back and shoot down the notions that we're preparing for 1971 all over again.
In the time between 1968 and 1971, the challenging PCs won two byelections. One in an urban riding (which is where today's Liberals get their Spirit of '71 argument)... but they also won in a rural riding. The Liberals were soundly defeated in Drumheller-Stettler, even with a candidate as respectable as they had. In fact, they were less than 200 votes shy of placing 3rd to the Social Credit Party. This goes to show that the Alberta Liberals are still a long way from becoming a pan-Albertan party that is prepared to govern the province.
Truth be told, the Alberta Liberal caucus remains out of touch with the values of average Albertans. This is plainly evident after watching even one afternoon in the Alberta Legislature.
Alberta Liberal MLAs are content to stand up and give members statements about how evil the Alberta petroleum industry is and how we need to shift away from it as quickly as possible. Nevermind the fact that the petroleum industry employs a huge number of Albertans. Nevermind that, with a focus on research and development, we can be world leaders in cleaning up these energy sources that lay underfoot. Nevermind that their Kyoto-now rhetoric would lead to a bigger economic bust than even their hero Pierre Trudeau was able to foist upon Albertans.
Alberta Liberal MLAs have no qualms about promoting socialist programs such as Public Auto Insurance. Premiums are lower, they say. Making auto insurance a public asset will save Albertans money, they say. Well that is, of course, unless you're injured in an accident. In that case, that same white-knight public insurer will do its utmost to deflate and minimize any settlement you receive. Just ask anyone who's ever had to deal with ICBC how great public auto insurance is.
Alberta Liberal MLAs have no understanding of the needs and desires of rural Albertans. Talk to some Alberta Liberals... see what their thoughts are on things such as the gun registry or the Canadian Wheat Board. Not provincial issues, they say? Perhaps... but surely they're in line with the federal Liberal cousins in Ottawa. Not affiliated with the federal Liberals, they say? Interesting... I wonder what Deputy Leader Dave Taylor meant when he said “on this side of the House we already know what's so scary about Stephen Harper.” Funny that, isn't it?
The Alberta Liberals, folks, are still not ready for prime time. They seem to take as much pleasure from the NDPs poor showing in Alberta as they do when the beat us in a byelection. No surprise, really. As long as they remain tied to their quasi-socialist dogma, there won't be much room in Alberta for TWO left wing parties.
Back to the byelection. The Liberal win in Elbow can be pinned on a combination of factors that many commentators both online and in print have identified. Low voter turnout, a long campaigning Liberal candidate, and Calgary's strong leader-turned-cranky child Mayor all had a hand in the loss. It has been rightly suggested that the Liberals didn't so much win Elbow as we lost it.
As I said, I don't think the loss in Elbow signals a massive shift in Alberta politics. What it does signal, though, is that the Calgary caucus of PC Alberta needs to get its act together. For 14 years, it was simply enough to campaign and be elected as part of Ralph's Team.
Now don't get me wrong, I don't disparage anyone in the Calgary caucus. They are all good, hard working people who are trying to get results for their constituents. But with the election of Premier Stelmach, the turf has shifted and i'm not sure that Calgary caucus has quite yet shifted along with it. SRD Minister Ted Morton put it best when he suggested “The Calgary caucus is going to have to earn its own meal ticket now.”
Back to the last factor I identified. Contrary to what he'll tell you, Dave Bronconnier played a HUGE role in knocking down the Tories in Calgary Elbow.
In his early years, Mayor Bronco was identified as a strong leader and an effective voice for Calgary. What has changed, you ask? Well back in the day, Mayor Bronco had a soul mate in the form of Premier Klein. Both lived in Calgary and both had a penchant for blunt communication. The blunt communication was never an issue because both the Mayor and the Premier came from Calgary. Bronco didn't need to bash heads with Ralph, he already knew what his issues were.
Now that the Premier's Chair has shifted northward, though, Mayor Bronco is at a bit of a loss. In the absence of any civil negotiation or communication skills, the Mayor has reverted to insults and outrage AND has shown a remarkably thin skin in the process. Look no further than his outburst at Ted Morton after the Minister (rightly) suggested that it is the compliments of its surrounding region that makes Calgary a great city.
I would suggest to that any card-carrying Conservative in Alberta who is backing Dave Bronconnier needs to seriously evaluate their priorities. Mayor Bronco is not a friend of the provincial government and, judging from his “piss on the rest of you” attitude, not much of a player on Team Alberta either.
So if the title of Strong Municipal Leader no longer belongs to Dave Bronconnier, where has it gone?
Calgary, meet Stephen Mandel.While Dave Bronconnier has been stomping his feet like a petulant child about to be given a time out, Stephen Mandel has been quietly working with the new Premier and the leaders of surrounding municipalities to address some generations-old woes.
What appears to have emerged from this is a group that will be dedicated to meeting the needs of the region as opposed to individual municipalities when it comes to big-picture policies. It can, in my mind, be likened to the GVRD (Greater Vancouver Regional District). No regional governance model is without its foibles, to be sure. But this appears to be a very positive step forward and Mayor Mandel finds himself heaping praise on Premier Stelmach.
If I were Kevin Taft, I would be paying close attention to this. Certainly, he stands to make gains in Calgary if Dave Bronconnier continues his taxpayer-funded war against the provincial Tories. But Taft needs to remember that Edmonton is not really a Liberal city. Its steady election of Liberal MLAs since 1993 has more to do with the perception that they were more in tune with Edmonton's needs.
If Stephen Mandel, who is just as popular in Edmonton as Dave in Calgary, continues to make these kinds of strides working alongside Premier Stelmach, the Alberta Liberals may find that their handful of seats in Calgary is all they have left to hold onto.