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Sunday, September 10, 2006

The Oberg – Bronconnier Alliance: Synergy or Symbiosis?

Is the unusually prompt, synchronous and enthusiastic response of Calgary Mayor Bronconnier’s to Dr. Oberg’s education policy announcement last week his first step towards taking over the provincial Liberal Party leadership? Looking at the politics of this Oberg-Bronconnier alliance, one has to ask is it synergy or symbiosis? If it is synergy then the total outcome for Alberta ought to be bigger and better than the ambitions of the individuals involved? If it is symbiosis, then is the alliance more about personal political ambitions? A sidebar question around the symbiosis alternative is who is the parasite and who is the host ;-> In the end the nature of the alliance really doesn’t matter. What matters is the soundness of the Oberg education policy.

Oberg’s solution to education in Alberta is to distribute the education portion of local property taxes between municipalities and school boards 75/25 – in favour of municipalities. The idea has already been vetted within the PC party caucus when Oberg was the Learning Minister. It was rejected - and for good reason. Now he says as Premier he would still do it. No wonder Oberg was kicked out of Caucus. For every complex problem this is always a simple solution – that is terribly wrong.

Mayor Bronconnier gets to be the champion of getting more municipal powers and credit for growing the funding base. He is reported to want to use Calgary as the “pilot project” for the Oberg scheme. Does that mean the rest of Alberta has to wait until the Calgary project is complete before they see any implementation benefits of the policy? That dog won't hunt!

Dr. Oberg’ policy proposal also puts one more nail in the coffin of local school boards. He is setting them up to fail by allocating insufficient dollars to do the job assigned to them. He openly dislikes teachers – remember the teacher’s strike he caused? With this policy he proves he has little respect for local school boards too. It is a nice policy set up though if you want to undermine both groups under a guise that just shifts the burden for schools off the province and to the municipalities and school boards and with no implementation framework for them to work with. Sweet!

Bronconnier and Oberg both benefit from working together because they get to use this idea to cut into the Dinning Calgary dominance. This serves both personal political agendas. I have no problem with that. We are into a political process here. Oberg has mere weeks left to cut into Dinning’s Calgary support base if he is to win. Bronconnier gets to keep his provincial aspirations quiet, his political options open and “his powder dry.” He has to move on the Taft leadership in the spring of 2007 however to be ready as “the new alternative for Alberta” in time for the next election.

Bronconnier’s support for Oberg has to be because he believes it will all be easier to beat the PCs if Oberg (or Morton) wins the leadership. A win by either of them will do irreparable damage to the unity of the PC party and then easier to topple in the next election. If we get a Hancock or Dinning win, party unity will be an issue but not an insurmountable one. Then Bronconnier has to win the next election – not just wait for the PCs to lose it.