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Monday, August 13, 2007

Why Dinning and Morton Lost the PC Leadership

Ed Stelmach’s win of the Alberta PC Leadership last December was a surprise to many but not to his hard working campaigners, especially given their success between the first and second ballot. Yes there was the emerging ABD and ADM factor (Anybody but Dinning and/or Morton) that will draw some to conclude Stelmach was a “compromise” candidate, but there was something else going on too.

The vote on the next PC Leader would also be the Premier of Alberta so the selection process was open to any adult Albertan who wanted to pony up 5 bucks and take the trouble to show up and vote. There were lots of people who were not typical Progressive Conservative party types but they did join the PC Party and they showed up and I think they made a big difference in the final outcome.

I had access to some particular insight as to what Albertans wanted in their next Premier. My firm, Cambridge Strategies Inc. with a strategic partner, did a Discrete Choice Modelling survey in the summer of 2003 where we asked Albertans to tell us what qualities they were looking for in the next Premier of Alberta. Given that it was done a while ago I think those findings still reflected, in large part, why Jim Dinning and Ted Morton lost and why Ed Stelmach won the PC leadership on December 2, 2006.

We surveyed influential Albertans, those who are involved in thier communities and whose opinions matter to other people, as to their preferences in three major leadership categories, Preparation for Premier, Vision and Education. We broke Preparation to be Premier in four experience areas, political, business, academic and legal experience. As for vision we asked if the next Premier should focus strictly on Alberta's needs, Alberta’s Role in Canada or Alberta’s Role in the World. The level of education preferred for the next Premier was between High School, University Degree and Post-Graduate levels.

We also asked about some personal qualities, communications skills and approaches to change citizens valued in their next Premier. The results showed the values of Albertans, including both positive and negative attributes, that would influence and drive their preferences in selecting their next Premier. It also indicated the degree of intensity Albertans held on each attribute.

I will share in my next posting my analysis of why Ed won, but first I will discuss what we discovered to be the least optimal leadership characteristics for the next Premier. I think this analysis of the study results around negative attributes, what Albertans did not want in their next Premier, provides some real insight as to why Dinning and Morton lost.

If your Experience in preparation for leadership was mostly political (Dinning) or academic (Dr. Morton) there was a significantly negative voter influence on you and your candidacy. If your Vision was focused exclusively on Alberta, like Dr. Morton who signed the famous Firewall letter, along with now Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The Firewall letter urged Premier Klein to isolate Alberta from the rest of Canada by erecting a policy “Firewall” around the province. That was the second significant negative attribute on the Dr. Morton candidacy and campaign.

If your perceived personal qualities were Assertive and Self-confident (Morton) or Informed and Curious (Dinning) it was a turn off to voters. The world is a complex place and Integrity, Honesty, Real Life Experience and practical Know-How were the preferred personal leadership qualities Albertans were looking for in their next Premier. If your Communications approach was that of a media savvy political spinner (both the Dinning and Morton campaigns) it was a major turn off. Being perceived as slick and glib was a curse to any candidacy for Leader/Premier.

If your approach to dealing with change was to follow the lead of others; that was the most negative turn off in the entire study. I think Dinning may have gotten caught in this negative attribute because many saw his leadership as an extension of the status quo Calgary dominated continuation of the Klein agenda. Morton, a Reform Party activist, Senator-in-Waiting was perceived to be strongly tied to the agenda of the Reform wing of the federal Conservative Party. He was perhaps seen as someone who would be more inclined to follow the Harper Conservative agenda and isolate Alberta from the rest of Canada.

Voter perceptions of a candidate having to kowtow to those backroom people who “brung you to the dance” and who those people were would have had an influence on deciding if a candidate was “their own man or not.” Morton stating early on that he would not be disclosing any information about his campaign contributors made people wonder who he was going to be beholden to and if such unknown forces may have too much influence that would not be in the best interests of Albertans. The Dinning campaign was seen as having lots of the Klein era holdovers from the plethora of MLA endorsements to long time Klein political organizers in key campaign roles. That could have contributed to a suspicion about Dinning’s practical capacity to be an independent leader and an agent of real change or would he be just a continuation of the same old – same old.

This is admittedly all 20/20 hindsight but it is interesting to consider nonetheless, especially as we go into the next provincial election expected in the spring of 2008. Next posting I will discuss the survey results and how they indicated how Stelmach presented a winning combination of experience, qualities and capacities.