Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Long Goodbye

I said when I started blogging again that I wouldn't merely be a party cheerleader and that I'd sometimes be frank about some of the goings on in the party. Today will be one of those days.

Ed Stelmach's proposal to step down and have a leadership vote in September is a terrible idea. For the party, for the government, and for his reputation.

His reasoning has been well-published in the media. He wants to complete his legislative agenda in the spring session. He wants to give candidates lots of time to sell memberships and raise money. It's the same timeline we used last time.

Respectfully, these are all easily rebutted.

While I wholeheartedly respect his desire to put his final stamp on the government of Alberta, he rang a very clear bell when he stepped up to the microphone cast week and told us he was resigning. And you can't unring the bell. A series of natural events have now been set in motion that will culminate in the election of a new leader. The acceptable timeline for the occurrence of such events depends on the mood of party members and electorate. The more they are looking for change, the faster it must happen. And, in our current circumstances, 8 months is just too long. Period.

Frankly, passing the last of one's legacy bills should not take up 4 months of debate in the Legislature. Pick a handful of key legislative items that you want in place, get them and the budget passed after a month or two, and adjourn. Trying to squeeze every last sitting day out of this administration's tenure looks desperate and does a disservice to the next PC leader who will surely want to move quickly to put their own stamp on government.

This extended timeline also does a disservice to the party. Where the Premier suggests a summer-long campaign to let candidates sell memberships and raise money, I firmly believe that summer would be better spent with a new leader and cabinet team hitting the road and introducing themselves to Albertans and outlining their priorities. And while raising money for leadership candidates is nice, raising money for the party as a whole is far more important. Every dollar raised for a candidate is a dollar that is NOT going to the party to help fight the next election. And we need that money more than any election since 1993. Delaying the race will weaken our financial position as a party, and I don't think that's the legacy one should be aiming to leave.

Many defenders of the September timeline will say that an 8 month timeline is what we operated on in 2006 and it's just fine now. I'm not sure if those folks have taken a peek at the current political volatility in Alberta, but it's worth a ponder. Our opponents have planned an entire campaign against the PC Party based on Ed Stelmach as Leader. That rug has now been yanked out from underneath them and given us a window of strategic advantage. The longer we drag out our leadership race, though, the more opportunity we give our opponents to define our next leader before they can define themselves. If you disagree, I invite you to look up historic examples filed under Dion, Stephane and Ignatieff, Michael.

On top of all of this, I think our Constituency Associations are also going to suffer implications from a delay in electing a new leader on two fronts.

First off, every Constituency Association in the province has to be "re-founded" before the next election. This is because the upcoming electoral boundary changes require new associations in place with all of the logistical hoops that go along with it: distributing funds from existing accounts, transferring memberships, electing new boards, etc. Although this is a process we go through every 8 years in Alberta, it still takes an extraordinary amount of time and effort on the part of both party staff and local volunteers. These are people who will now be otherwise occupied until the conclusion of the leadership race. The longer it goes on, the less time we're giving ourselves to complete this important pre-writ work.

More importantly, we need to nominate candidates in 87 constituencies. This was work that was supposed to be completed by this summer, but will obviously be put on hold as long as the leadership race is going on. Local boards and the party office simply won't have the resources to run candidate nominations while we're in the middle of the race and, before that's even considered, the new associations need to be formed anyway. In days gone by, the PC Party would rarely nominate candidates more than a few months before an election. It wasn't considered necessary. I long disagreed with this practice and was thrilled when the Premier said we wanted candidates in place early so they could start knocking on doors now. The need for this kind of proactive approach to nominations remains, but dragging out the leadership race only delays the nomination process to the point where we may only have a few months before an election to nominate our candidates. This is especially true since many potential candidates wont commit until they know who's the Captain of the ship. Meanwhile, the opposition will have had their candidates at the doors for months. Why would we put our candidates at a disadvantage unnecessarily? There is zero advantage here. None.

The worst part of this, in my opinion, is the damage this risks to Ed Stelmach's reputation. As I pointed out in my first entry last week, I think Ed is one of the most honorable and decent people who will ever serve in the Alberta Legislature. The September timeline he's proposing, though, does him no favours. The goal for any departing leader, regardless of circumstance, should be to leave with their organization in a position of relative strength. I worry that the consequences outlined above will erode much of the goodwill Ed Stelmach has earned and the good work he has done. Instead, people will be focused on a perception that the Premier's inner circle are desperately clinging to their jobs as long as possible. That perception may be untrue, is probably the worst way to leave office, and is not deserved for the Premier and his team. But the longer this race drags on, the more fuel is thrown on that fire. Why subject yourself to that?

So to any PC MLA, Executive, Constituency President, or regular ole member like me who is reading this: please, consider what a September leadership vote could do to our party going forward.

We have the ability to get this done sooner so we can move on with all of the important work that needs to be done before we ask Albertans to renew their trust in us. Talk to the people who can make this happen - implore them to do what's best for our party. Pass the budget, pass the last few legacy bills, adjourn this spring, and call a leadership vote for June.

Let us get on with founding our 87 local PC Associations to build our party at the grassroots level. Let us get on with nominating the best possible team of men and women to fly the PC flag in the next election and in the Legislature. Let us get on with raising the money we need to fight a winning campaign in every corner of the province. Let us look forward to the future, not cling to the past.

Let us get on with choosing Alberta's next Premier.

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