Tuesday, June 12, 2007

How Will Alberta PCs Respond to the By-Election Results?

Today in Alberta we will see two by-elections that will once again prove that all politics is local. There is a strong sense of change in the air but not only in Calgary Elbow or Drumheller-Stettler. It started in the 2004 general election when Alberta voters wanted to move past the Klein Era - but Premier Ralph didn’t want to. Politics being the blood sport it is saw Klein out and Ed Stelmach picked as his successor – and perceived as an agent for change.

The jury is out if Premier Stelmach is a looking forward, take charge and "lead the charge" kind of guy or is he merely an extension yesterday’s Klein Era. The mood is for change and for me things are begin to feel like 1970 again when Lougheed made the breakthrough of the Social Credit dynasty.

These by-elections are always a prime opportunity to send the government a message. I expect the PCs to do relatively poorly as a result…even if we win them both! What is important is what messages will we take from these results? Is Calgary grumpy and feeling that they are now distant from its old role as the centre of provincial power and influence? Sure, but is that the only message? I don’t think so.

Is the Drumheller-Stettler result to be taken as a bell weather of where rural Alberta is leaning in the forthcoming election? Sure, but there is lots more going on in rural Alberta that needs to be considered as well.

The key message is going to be it is time for a change. If the PCs don’t change how they lead, plan and govern, the citizens will do it for them. There is shift in Alberta from the feel good sloganeering of the “Alberta Advantage” past a general grumpiness into one of genuine angst about the future direction of this province. For too many this new wealth that is being generated is not reaching them. Not only that, their cost of surviving, not just living, is on the increase. Pressures are mounting and the consequences are not happy ones for many ordinary Albertans.

There is ample economic evidence in Alberta, to borrow a cliché form my mother, “That our ship has come in.” If that is the case why is there so much anxiety over our future? I think it is the result of the chronic complacency that beset government in the last half of Klein’s premiership. He used to like to say that after defeating the debt and deficit he “wanted to put his feet up for a while and enjoy the accomplishment.” He did, and we allowed it for too long. We became focused on the past instead of preparing for the future. As a result some important things are missing in Alberta today. The most obvious ones are leadership, stewardship and citizenship.

We PCs are going to get a comeuppance today at the polls, even if we win! And we deserve it. The question is how we will respond to the alarm bells. We PCs need to leap out of the comfortable bed we make for ourselves and have been languishing in for far too long. It is time for Premier Stelmach to show he hears the alarm bells and for him to take personal control of the leadership of this province. The way to do it is through a creative, comprehensive, and long term stewardship perspective focused on the future of this Province. Those qualities are the essence of the Ed Stelmach I know.

Albertans are very focused on the future and tired of the PC aggrandizing or eulogizing over our past accomplishments. To see the future as merely about winning the next election is not going to be seen as good governing either. It merely political posturing and people are not only tied of that – they are afraid of it - and they will punish any party that pursues such an agenda.

It is time for Ed Stelmach to be Ed Stelmach. These by-elections are a perfect time for him to get a serious focus and get on with a new game plan. He needs to tell Albertans exactly where he sees this province going and how he plans to get us there.
Change or be changed, that is the question! Tomorrow is not too late to start to really re-engage with Albertans and help change their disenchantment into re-enchantment. My money is on Ed Stelmach to do just that.