Saturday, January 29, 2011

Questions before Answers

This post isn't going to be a terribly long one... mainly because I still have less to say than I have to think about.

We're 4 days into the unofficial PC leadership race and people seem to be tripping over themselves try to find the "answer" for the PC party. Depending on who you ask, that answer could be Ted Morton, Doug Horner, Alison Redford, Jim Prentice, Jim Dinning, Dave Hancock, and the list goes on.

The answers that folks will come up with over the course of this race will depend a lot on the question they're asking. Who can bring Wildrose Alliance supporters back into the PC fold? Who will appeal to moderate Albertans? Who will best continue the work started by Premier Stelmach? Who will be our best voice on the national and international stage? And the answers to these questions will probably be different depending on who you ask.

Lots of folks have asked me who my "answer" is - but I'm not there yet.

I think Albertans of all stripes understand that we're in a different political climate these days. There are more and more of us talking about the direction our province needs to go and how we should set out to make it happen. Even though a lot of people think that PCs are afraid of these kinds of discussions, I personally find it exciting. Its said that a strong opposition makes for a strong government and, although the opposition is fractured right now, it is definitely more of a force in Alberta politics than we've seen in a long time.

Because of all this, I think PC members (and any Albertan who chooses to join the party to help select the next Premier) shouldn't jump too quickly towards a candidate that they think is the "answer". The next Premier of Alberta shouldn't be chosen as a quick fix to whatever we think the most pressing problem in the party might be. In other words, we shouldn't be rushing to find an answer without first determining the right question. And, at least in my mind, the right question is going to be far more complex than the simple ones I listed above.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a partisan and I want the PC party to pick someone who will have a broad electoral appeal and attract good candidates to match. But we owe it to ourselves and to Albertans to take a long, hard look at where we want this province to be in 5, 20, 100 years and beyond - not just the next election cycle. That kind of in-depth reflection is going to give us the right question to ask when we go to mark our leadership ballot. At this stage of the game, our party still has the best chance of implementing the kinds of policies that will make those dreams a reality. But we need to show Albertans that we've done our homework, chosen an intelligent and charismatic Leader to outline our plan, and offered up a slate of top-notch citizens to be part of the team that makes it happen.

For now, I'm going to take my time to determine what my ballot question is. Until I'm confident in what that question is for me, I won't set out to answer it prematurely. I hope my fellow Tories do the same.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Four Years Later...

Real life has a very funny way of throwing you curveballs when you least expect them. Same goes for politics (which is not to be mistaken for real life since it is often so far removed from it).

I had been agonizing over whether or not to resume blogging. There was so much going on in Alberta's political landscape that I simply couldn't help myself from participating more actively online. I even had an idea for an inaugural post on the topic of political labels and why they aren't as dastardly as some parties (or one, anyway) would have you believe.

And then yesterday happened.

The weeks and months ahead will undoubtedly be full of analysis, speculation, and posturing when it comes to the changing of the guard within the PC Party of Alberta. I hope I can be a helpful contributor to those debates as they move forward. But this is still a bit of a strange period for those of us the PC party as we adjust to the news of Ed Stelmach's departure. For now, I can't help but share some personal reflections on Alberta's 13th Premier.

I had a PC membership card in my wallet before I had a Driver's License and have had the good fortune to get to know most of those who served in the PC caucus since the late 90s. The first two Tory MLAs I met after my own were the late Dave Broda, then MLA for Redwater, and Ed Stelmach, then MLA for Vegreville-Viking and Minister of Infrastructure. I was seated at a table with these two gentlemen and their wives at my very first function as a member of the PC Youth. Although there was a room full of people far more important than I, they made a point of taking the time to chat to this obviously-keen young fellow. It was the kind of first impression that every politician should strive to make.

A few years later, I remember during the election of 2001 a couple of us young PCs used our reading week break to tour across the northern Alberta constituencies and help our MLAs/candidates for a half-day or so on each stop. The final stop of day one was Vegreville where we'd be going door knocking with Ed Stelmach. We were looking forward to it. Two of us, another young PC from Vegreville-Viking, and Ed. The only problem was that the only one of us who had a vehicle with more than two seats was the young local volunteer. So there we were, three linebacker-sized youth and the Infrastructure Minister piled into an early 90s model 2-door Ford Escort. There is nothing policy-wise that stands out in my mind from that night, but I will never forget trying to get out of the back seat of that damned Ford and having to eventually tuck my legs in, roll onto the pavement, stand up, and dust off. Ed has assured me that he won't ever forget that ridiculous sight, either.

Over the years I became more and more involved with the party, I often ran across Ed Stelmach at functions across Alberta. I enjoyed the opportunity to chat with him, partly because the portfolios he held (Infrastructure, Transportation, Intergovernmental Affairs) were areas of policy that I was interested in, and partly because he was just such a good guy to chat with one-on-one.

I still remember attending a meeting of PC Association in Calgary years ago where Ed Stelmach was the guest speaker. I caught up with him in the parking lot after the event and talked about overpasses, freeways, and the need to beef up Highway 63 (old habits die hard) until long after the parking lot had cleared out. Not wanting to monopolize much more of his time, I thanked him for the chat and wished him a safe flight back to Edmonton. He chuckled at me, pointed at his Buick, and said he wasn't flying... the Transportation Minister should drive the highways he's responsible for. It was classic Ed Stelmach.

Fast forward again to a cold night in early December 2006. I was at the hangar in Edmonton where Alberta's new Premier would be announced. Those who read this blog in those days knew I was a staunch Jim Dinning supporter and was happy to be there to help with the final push. I remember watching the results come in, riding-by-riding, and trying to do some guesstimating based on the returns from strongholds for each of the three final contestants. With about a dozen constituencies from across the province in, I knew what was to come. There wouldn't be enough Dinning votes to take it on the first ballot, and there was no way that Dinning would be the second choice of Ted Morton voters. Ed Stelmach was going to be Alberta's next Premier. Casually walking over to the Stelmach side of the room, I found Ed's eldest son Les (who is every bit the gentleman that his father is) and quietly congratulated him on his father's win. It wasn't my guy, but it was a good and decent guy and that was enough for me.

Over the next four years, we all watched as Ed Stelmach tried to put his own stamp on the way government, and the PC Party, were run. The shortcomings of some of those efforts are well-known and will be discussed in the coming months as Alberta searches for a new Premier (and don't worry - I'll be frank enough to talk about them, too). But there were some good things that shouldn't be overlooked.

On the government side, I think the Premier's efforts to help get less-fortunate Albertans into stable, permanent housing will have a long-lasting effect on both our society and our economy. From a party perspective, its encouraging that we're starting to see the development of a more professional and multi-faceted campaign strategy for the party. Hopefully the days of a Kleinfeld-esque campaign about nothing and using only old methods of voter contact, and only sparingly, are over within the PC Party. They must be if we are to continue in the current political climate in Alberta. I hope the next Leader continues to champion both of these important initiatives.

In the meantime, I guess what I've been trying to say as I've been jotting down some of my memories of Ed Stelmach is pretty simple.

For 25 years of public service... for sharing yourself with Albertans when your family would have gladly had you home... for trying, even if not always succeeding, to do the right thing... for taking the time to talk to "the little guy" in thousands of venues across Alberta... for, difficult as it was, falling on your own sword.. and above all, for being yourself...

Thanks, Ed.