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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

shakin' up the alberta scene.

This great editorial from today's Calgary Herald touches on some of the same points surrounding the myths of Alberta's "new political forces" that I've talked about for some time now...

Shake up party from inside out
Brent Johner, For The Calgary Herald
Published: Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Alberta's new premier may be know affectionately as Steady Eddie in small town coffee shops, but his cabinet selections -- chosen more for their loyalty than for their brilliance -- are seen by many here in Calgary as the Special Eds.

And despite this city's willingness to give the new guy a chance, many find it hard to believe that a white, middle-aged, male and mostly rural group of conservative cabinet ministers will ever feel comfortable with urban Alberta's growth-and-change agenda.

So what's to be done?

What are the alternatives should Steady Eddie and the Special Eds turn out to be Harry Strom and the Socreds reincarnated?

At least one Calgary columnist is predicting the imminent collapse of the Alberta PCs and is calling on Ted Morton and Jim Dinning to flee with their supporters to the Alberta Alliance Party -- Alberta's newest protest party.

He's not alone. Jeffrey Simpson of the Globe and Mail is also wondering aloud if it isn't time for a new political alignment in Alberta.

Like many pundits, Simpson disdains the current opposition and looks to the formation of a new party in the event that Steady Eddie proves "too steady," boring and old-fashioned for Albertans focused on a growth-and-change agenda.

"The name 'Liberal' is just too toxic in Alberta," writes Simpson. "The desire for political change in Alberta runs not through an established political alternative but some new political force."

He's wrong, of course. But he can be forgiven for being so. Many people, professional historians included, have looked at Alberta's history and have come to exactly the same utterly incorrect conclusion.

The brilliant success of two protest parties -- the United Farmers of Alberta (1921-1935) and the Social Credit Party (1935-1971) -- blinds people to the fact that more than 20 other "new" parties have failed to gain any traction whatsoever in Alberta.

In fact, only a tiny fraction of Alberta's "new" parties have been able to elect any members to the provincial assembly and with the exception of the two just mentioned, none were able to garner enough support to form a government.

It is nearly three generations now since a new political party in Alberta has gained sufficient momentum to seize the reins of government.

Witness the spectacular lack of success now enjoyed by new parties such as the Alberta Alliance and the Alberta Greens.

A single MLA between them doesn't give much credence to the arguments put forth by new party proponents.

Even the federal Reform Party (what a monumental waste of time and energy that proved to be) has now slipped below Alberta's political horizon after failing to achieve anything more than forming the Official Opposition for a few brief years.

So much for the Manning model. So much for Simpson's "new political forces."

A much better idea, if history is to be accepted as our best instructor on this subject, is to take an existing party and remake it. That's what Peter Lougheed did. Or at least, that is what Lougheed is often credited with accomplishing.

In 1965, Lougheed inherited a failed party and a "toxic" brand. Two years later, his Progressive Conservatives formed the Official Opposition. Four years after that, they formed the government.

How did Lougheed do it? He didn't. At least, not really.

Albertans did it. Specifically, voters in Edmonton and Calgary who had been voting for Social Credit candidates for decades, brought about the government's sudden collapse.

In 1971, they decided that the Socreds were too steady, boring and old-fashioned. They looked at the dim lights and rural faces perched on the cabinet benches and decided that enough was enough.

After 36 years of one-party rule, the time had come to make a change.

So they switched to a different party -- not a new party, but an established party.

It was an enormously practical decision. Not a minute was wasted trying the reinvent the wheel.

Change came in an instant. Without warning, Albertans put a new government formed from an old party on track toward a growth-and-change agenda valued by a new generation of urban voters.

And in doing so, they permanently changed the political landscape.


docsanchez said...

Is Kevin Taft really the man for the job? Are the cities ready to overcome the stigma attached to the party name and vote Liberal?

Anonymous said...

Is Ed Stelmach really the man for the job? Are Alberta's booming urban centers ready to be ruled by a farmer from Lamont and his brand of rural conservatism?

I think urban Alberta is more ready for Kevin Taft than they ever have been.

Werner Patels said...

I enjoyed the column too in today's newspaper, but his logic is a wee bit flawed: just because 20 new parties have failed doesn't mean that there won't be a new party (AGAIN, as before) to take things over. If anything, his flawed argument only demonstrates that Alberta is quite resourceful and productive in the field of "party creation".

As for Stelmach, the jury's still out. As for Taft, even a lot of Liberals don't think he's leadership or premier material. Get the Alberta Liberals a new leader and things could take off really quickly. He's come up with some good ideas and platforms, but Albertans, even the liberal and progressive ones, don't think Taft would be a good premier (I also hear that Taft could be faced with a leadership review this year much sooner than anyone might have thought).

brad said...

The Liberals have a very good chance at scooping a number of Calgary seats in the next election.

I voted for my MLA Ron Stevens last time, but now that I'm living in Calgary Varsity in Liberal MLA Harry Chase's riding, there is no question that I'm going to be supporting Harry next time. Kevin Taft has impressed me and I think he'll do very well in attracting support in Calgary. I don't buy the bit about the Liberals needing a new leader to win. I think one of the biggest weaknesses of the Alberta Liberals is that they continue to replace their leaders in every election. They need continuity. I think the Liberals will do well next time around.

Some people may not like Taft, that's fine. A lot of people didn't like Ralph Klein and he still won.

christine said...

It will be telling to see where Calgary goes in the next election. Most of Alberta's electoral battles since 1986 have been Edmonton v. Calgary and Rural Alberta.

In 2007/08, a Kevin Taft v. Ed Stelmach battle will carry a strong Edmonton v. rural stick, but the question is where will Calgary go? Will they like the taste of Ed Stelmach's deep rural conservatism and the Special Ed's? Or will Calgarians go with something a lot more forward looking, moderate, and positive like Kevin Taft and the Alberta Liberals?

Even if the Tories still win, a divided Calgary could damage the Tories beyond repair. Should we start calling him "One-Term Eddie?"

Anonymous said...

christine, anonymous, et al

Even realizing that this is a liberal-ish blog, don't you think you are being a wee bit hasty calling Stelmach "One-Term Eddie"? Considering Ed has held the reins of power for just over 2 weeks (which includes the Christmas holidays). Jeez, at least give him the benefit of the doubt.

But I guess it is easier to slam him because he is "just a white male farmer from Lamont". Would he automatically be a better Premier if he were a black female lawyer? Or better yet, a transgendered interpretive dancer of mixed racial parentage?

The collected commentary in the newspapers of the last week or so doesn't impress me. These pundits were so incredibly wrong in their predictions of the outcome of the Alberta PC leadership race, that I have some difficulty accepting their collective "words of wisdom".

It's all relative. You call Ed a rural conservative. The types behind Ted Morton think Ed is too liberal. Go figure.

When the next election comes, the people of Alberta (even the farmers) will judge his achievements and consider if the Opposition can do better.

daveberta said...

It's obviously too early to tell what the playing field will look like. Considering that many media folks are predicting a long-honeymoon period, it's not unreasonable to predict that Stelmach may get over the "Special Ed's" appointments and ease some of the pressure from Calgary. Then again, maybe not. Time will tell.

I will be very interested to see what Stelmach's leadership style ends up looking like along with the dynamics of the new Tory cabinet. Will Stelmach be a good Premier? It's way too early to tell.

I think it's very important to remember that many Albertans aren't familiar with Stelmach or have any real knowledge of his experience. I'm one of them, still attempting to figure out what his actual record and accomplishments during his 10 years in Ralph Klein's cabinet were.

Anonymous said...


"Considering that many media folks are predicting a long-honeymoon period, it's not unreasonable to predict that Stelmach may get over the "Special Ed's" appointments and ease some of the pressure from Calgary."

It is a little funny, by the way, that the same media types that suggest Ed is getting a honeymoon period are the same ones that are kicking him in the ribs in the daily papers. Wonder what they would be like if he were not on a "honeymoon"? Pitchforks? Or, since they are more sophisticated, "urbane" types, a drive-by shooting?

I live in Calgary, but I try and stay up on the Edmonton papers as well. Calgary - at least as represented by the chattering classes here - is behaving like a spoiled child suddenly bereft of their inheritance. Is Calgary the "Tori Spelling" of the province, perhaps?

If I recall an earlier posting (way back - I have been a reader for awhile), I remember that daveberta had the opportunity to have dinner with Stelmach (and several other provincial/municipal figures) well before the leadership campaign. So at least you have met him. Many others who have not seem to imply that they know all about him. Glad you are being even-handed (as per usual).