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Sunday, December 20, 2009

premier stelmach's problems are bigger than a cabinet shuffle.

There has been a lot of chatter about what Premier Ed Stelmach can do to reverse the Progressive Conservatives downward spiral in recent polls. According to these recent polls, the PCs now sit at 25% province-wide and in third place behind Danielle Smith's Wildrose Alliance and David Swann's Liberals in Edmonton and Calgary. Another recent poll framed Premier Stelmach as the least popular Premier in Canada with a 14% approval rating.

Sheila Pratt has written an interesting article in today's Edmonton Journal about the PCs current misfortune and the new groups of Albertans like Reboot Alberta and Renew Alberta that have emerged. Even Preston Manning is interested in starting something new. Luckily for Premier Stelmach, he still has two years before he has to face the electorate for a second time, but what does the Premier need to do to turn his fortunes around?

Will finally ending the disastrous reigns of Children & Youth Services Minister Janis Tarchuk and Health & Wellness Minister Ron Liepert change Premier Stelmach's position in the polls? Will moving Education Minister Dave Hancock in the midst of the School Act Review boost their numbers? Will moving Energy Minister Mel Knight to another portfolio halt the Calgary energy sector support that is flowing towards the Wildrose Alliance? Will promoting Advanced Education Minister Doug Horner to Finance Minister improve their image? Will relocating Culture & Community Spirit Minister Lindsay Blackett bring back the PC supporters who were offended over the embarrassment of Bill 44?

Will rearranging the deck chairs change the course of the ship? It is going to take something much more meaningful than a cabinet shuffle to change PC Party fortunes. As I said during an interview with Calgary Today's Mike Blanchard this week, one of Premier Stelmach's greatest challenges is that his government doesn't have a defining purpose beyond governing for governing sake, and it shows.

In his recent book, Rich Vivone accurately pointed out that when Premier Ralph Klein declared Alberta to be debt free in 2004, the PCs began to drift. Aiming to defeat the deficit and debt saved the PCs from being unseated by Laurence Decore's Liberals in the 1993 election and it was the defining theme in Alberta politics in the 1990s and early 2000s. In many ways, Premier Klein's 55.4% approval in 2006 reflected the drift.

Premier Stelmach is far from an amazing orator or political strategist, but one of his greatest strengths is that he is constantly underestimated by his opponents and the media. No one expected him to defeat Jim Dinning and Ted Morton in the PC leadership race or lead his party to win a 72-seat majority in the March 2008 election. The recent polls may spell demise for the near 40-year governing PCs, but with at least another two years to create a defining purpose for governing, their political and electoral opponents would be foolish to write them off just yet.


Anonymous said...

Bill 44 is hardly an "embarassment" - more like one of the most important and forward-thinking pieces of legislation, opposed by only a narrow minded fringe.

Berry Farmer said...

Bill 44 WAS an important piece of legislation. Important because the "fringe" you point to was awakened.

But more than Bill 44... Bill 46... Bill 19 and Bill 50... these are simply undemocratic.

Thirty-four percent raises to themselves and continuing cuts to services and public sector wages... sheer stupidity on the public relations front... superboards to replace regional boards that worked... making mental health patients pay for their own toilet paper....

Enough is enough.

The role of government is to look out for the interests of society as a whole and not to protect the wealth of those who are already wealthy.

... and then there is our environment and the total lack of stewardship this government shows....

We can do better. We need to do better.

Signed... a farmer from that "narrow-minded fringe" of Albertans now committed to something new... and something NOT the WAP.

Anonymous said...

Bill 44, parents rights. Bill 50, ensuring we have electricity. Don't agree with Bill 19 so I'll givce that to you.

The PC party is by far the best party to govern - not a fringe WAP and not the socialist two parties that are stuck in the 1940's.

Lou Arab said...


In addition to the question, "can a cabinet shuffle save Stelmach," we have to add the question, "how much damage will a cabinet shuffle do to Stelmach?"

Until Stelmach shuffles his cabinet, MLAs not in the inner circle live with the hope that they will get the call. Once they don't, or existing Ministers get demoted, what is to stop them from crossing the floor over to the Alliance? Not too much if you ask me(other than Smith's willingness to take them).

When Stelmach shuffles, he has to balance making the team better with not bruising too many egos. This is going to be a very tough process for him to succeed at.

jerrymacgp said...

I think one important signal we will be able to read from the shuffle when it happens, is the fate of Minister Ron Leipert at Health & Wellness. If Mr. Leipert is moved out of Health, then Dr. Duckett may need to get his house appraised. A new Minister may not change what is happening at AHS, but he may decide to try and paper over the stresses at Alberta's largest employer by putting a kinder, gentler figurehead at the top. On the other hand, if Leipert stays where he is, that is a strong signal that the Premier approves of the direction that the Minister's hand-picked board (and their Aussie hired gun) is taking. Any political fallout from that approach would therefore need to be laid squarely at Special Ed's feet.

Unknown said...

I don't think there will be a movement of MLAs or ex-cabinet ministers to Wildrose. There is a lot of noise about this, but these are politically smart people and there is nothing for them to gain and a lot to lose. Wildrose is still politically untried and its new foundation could disappear if there is a change in PC policy or leadership.

As a reminder, Wildrose didn't win by a landslide, they just eked by the Liberal candidate (4,052 to 3,776)and that is in Calgary.

There are a lot of issues the PCs have to work on and hopefully they don't think their problems will be solved by pandering to who they perceive to be Wildrose supporters or then again it might work. They might want to read up on Tom Flanagan's stratgies

Anonymous said...

Reboot has proven to be a great success. Even Danielle Smith has adopted the Reboot ethos of non-partisanship. Danielle was recently asked what her position was on same-sex marriage. Her response was that her party didn't take a position on socially divisive issues (a truly non-partisan position). You and friends have accomplished something hitherto unthinkable.

I just hope all the other parties eliminate partisanship by taking no positions on any issues, then we will have acheived democracy!


Anonymous said...

Have a look-see at this article and tell me if you agree with the last item in the article. If they're mistaken, tell us all why.

daveberta said...

Lou - that's a good question. It could do a lot if his approval ratings continue to stay low and PC party support continues to plummet. Previously powerless backbenchers and junior cabinet ministers could all of a sudden wield more influence in the PC caucus if the Premier becomes a liability in the next election.

It will be an interesting balance act, trying to include new blood while not damaging too many egos.

daveberta said...

jerrymacgp: In one of his columns last week, Don Braid suggested that Ron Liepert could be moved from Health & Wellness to Energy.

Anonymous said...

Anon @ 11:03 proves that the whole Reboot movement is flawed and will go nowhere. "Non partisan" is code for "I tolerate everything, stand for nothing". The public has moved beyond this fluff and expects people to take a stand and they can decide which one they want. We don't need more politicians who refuse to take stands on issues just because it might be "divisive".

Berry Farmer said...

REBOOT is not non-partisan... and anyway... non-partisan doesn't suggest, "I tolerate everything, stand for nothing." What a puerile comment.

I guess tolerance is an idea that just never finds a home on the extreme right... not tolerance of everything, but tolerance, to be sure.

However, I'm one Albertan who's done with tolerating and incompetence and demagoguery.

I will agree that progressives have an unfortunate tendency not to go for the throat of political adversaries. This time, I hope we find a bit of that in ourselves.

Tolerance is not a weakness. However, it seems to be perceived as such by those who cannot fathom the idea.

Will (never anonymous)

Anonymous said...

I want a non-partisan alternative. Who needs principles when you can just take a sentimentalist approach to politics and pat yourself on the back.

The centre-left should stop calling themselves something other than the centre-left/liberals and start putting forward good arguments for their political principles.

Anonymous said...

I think Dave's wrong and a significant cabinet shuffle can go a long ways towards reversing Ed's tailspin. The trouble is I don't think he has the cahones to do what's needed.

Ideally he'd turn some of his younger & smarter rookie MLAs into senior ministers. Raj Sherman would be great in health. Janice Sarich would be good for education. Jonothan Denis should handle justice.

Ed needs to clear out all the deadwood farmers he put into all the senior positions and let people with actual real world knowledge take over the portfolios in question.

Oh and punting Ted Morton wouldn't hurt either. Briefcase-gate certainly gives Ed some ammo to do that.

Anonymous said...

Just because you spell Jonathan Denis's name wrong doesn't mean we don't know you're Jonathan Denis, Anon 7:41. In fact, that just draws more suspicion.

Party of One said...

"Luckily for Premier Stelmach, he still has two years before he has to face the electorate for a second time, but what does the Premier need to do to turn his fortunes around?"


"but with at least another two years to create a defining purpose for governing, their political and electoral opponents would be foolish to write them off just yet.

OR, Stelmach and the Conservatives can truly demonstrate their collective lack of competance!

And let's not forget that the WAP ALSO has two years to develop their party and "create a defining purpose for governing". It would be nice if the NDP and Liberals would do the same, but I see no evidence that they're going to.

Right now, it seems that the only reason that any party in Alberta runs is to hold power, with no clear idea of what they're going to do with it. It reminds me of the pathetic Paul Martin, who spent his whole adult life trying to become Prime Minister, only to be lost at sea once he acheived that goal.

Unfortunately, Albertan voters seem to be okay with "non-leadership"; Smith seems to be counting on that with her disavowal of "partisanship" or "leadership" on social issues. The thing is, if all decisions are only to come down to economics, we would be better off with an accounting program than actual politicians!

Personally, while I tend toward "left of centre" politics, I'm more interested that there be actual and effective opposition in the leg, of whatever stripe. Hopefully, the days when the only real contest in provincial politics is getting the nomination will soon be over, and we can expect better (read "competant" and "responsive")representation.

Anonymous said...

If our MLA's have nothing better to do than surf blogs during the day, we really ARE paying them too much. Like 100% too much.

David J. Climenhaga said...

Dave: I agree with you that it is dangerous to underestimate Mr. Stelmach. However, I am beginning to wonder if we haven't been over-estimating his ability to pull his chestnuts out of the fire. Either way, his defining characteristic seems to be stubborn determination. Where the Tories NEED to go to survive is toward the centre. With the Liberals seemingly crumbling, lots of Liberals and even a few New Democrats would vote for centrist Conservatives to keep the real far-right loonies of the Wildrose Alliance out of power. But Mr. Stelmach seems stubbornly intent on outflanking the Alliance on the right. That's a strategy most likely to cost him votes on his own right wing without winning any from the centre. I keep hearing stories of senior Conservatives, including some in Cabinet, in despair because of Mr. Stelmch's inability to even acknowledge this strategic interpretation as a possibility. If his greatest strength has become his greatest weakness, his party is doomed.

Anonymous said...

A question on our parliamentary system...Would I be right in thinking that any governing caucus can fire it's leader? Is that what happened to Margaret Thatcher?

Quite simply, could the PC caucus fire Stelmach at their whim?

johnnie h said...

Liepert's (and Duckett's) job(s) is to rein in Health Care spending. If Leipert can get'er done before the next election, he'll be shuffled into an innocuous cabinet position (Infrastructure maybe?) and Duckett will be toast (with a golden parachute).

Hancock has already had Justice, Health, Advanced Education, and now Education. He's far and away the most able Member of the PC caucus, but would moving him now make any sense?

Redford is an up and comer, but she's a micro-manager who learned "the art of governing" from the Mulroney toadies.

I could go on; the thing that's interesting to me is that after the last election Ron Hicks, arguably the strongest (and most progressive) Chief Deputy since the Lougheed era, "retired". Very shortly thereafter Terry Matchett, the Deputy AG and arguably the 2nd strongest Deputy, "moved" to the Bench (rather than continue under Minister Redford - see micro-manage above).

Then Ron Stevens, again arguably as able as Hancock, and probably of greater power in Cabinet other than Stelmach and Hancock also "moved" to the Bench.

How much longer until Hancock moves to the Bench? The next Cabinet shuffle may answer that question.

And Stelmach (or was it Ron Glenn) was also quoted as saying that when he makes the shuffle, Ministers will be able to take their Deputies with them to their new portfolio.

The potential ramifications of that are enormous for what actually goes on in Ministries on a day to day basis.

I won't get into the debate here; it's hardly a debate. There are some that get it (mostly those that aren't afraid to identify themselves) and some that don't (that would be the others)- and likely never will.

Anonymous said...

The different thing with the UK is that they do not have leadership conventions - they elect leaders by elected MP's only. So it would be easy to fire the leader. Here it's a somewhat different situation. I would think that if a bunch of ministers visited the Premier or there were a lot of defections he'd have to resign. But this guy has surprised me three times: his election as leader, the 2008 election, and 2009 leadership review. Who knows what else he has up his sleeve.

Anonymous said...


Public School Boards' Association of Alberta said...

Thanks for the interesting post, Dave. Naturally, we are most interested in this question you pose: "Will moving Education Minister Dave Hancock in the midst of the School Act Review boost [the PC party's] numbers?" There seems to be a consensus in Alberta that it would not boost their numbers tremendously, and that Minister Hancock still has valuable work to complete in his current portfolio. Johnnie H touches on this when he states that Minister Hancock is "far and away the most able Member of the PC caucus" and, perhaps rhetorically asks, "would moving him now make any sense?"