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Monday, November 05, 2007

Manning Wants a More Comprehensive Policy Approach in Alberta - and He is Right

You have to admire Preston Manning and Peter Lougheed. They both have different takes on the Stelmach’s government responses and the consequences to the “Our Fair Share” Royalty Review Panel recommendations.

Lougheed praised Stelmach and it should be noted Lougheed knows what he is talking about, having raised royalties himself many years ago. The federal Minister for Alberta Jim Prentice also praised the Stelmach response.

Manning, on the other hand, pans Stelmach’s response but not so much on the royalty issues in terms of balance and appropriateness but on the larger issue of the capacity of Stelmach to adequately govern.

Let’s look at what Manning has to say. He accuses Stelmach of tearing up agreements with two major oilsands players (Suncor and Syncrude). That is not the case and Manning knows it. Stelmach has confirmed that those deals run until 2016 and if they are not renegotiated by mutual agreement, they will continue to be honoured.

Manning was on CTV’s Question Period yesterday noting that the Stelmach government may fall into minority territory should another 150,000 Albertans stay home on Election Day. This is in addition to the 210,000 PC supporters who stayed home in the 2004 Klein election. Here is where I agree with Manning, if that happens, Stelmach in minority or even losing territory.

However an election is not here yet and there is lots of time for Stelmach to do the rights thing to restore good government to Alberta…and get the credit for it. That means he needs to be between the far right and the old-style Klein somnambulist approach to governing but also to fix the social and ecological deficits in Alberta to day and going forward. A single minded focus on the economic agenda alone is not good enough.

Now let’s look at the Manning Agenda based on from his reported comments. He notes “…the big picture just hasn’t been spelled out, that’s where I see the problems.” The items in the Manning “big picture” are tying royalty rates to tax policy, continental energy security and environment. And he pointedly asks if Stelmach has the competence to deal with these issues as well. It is a fair and provocative question. It will get distorted and massaged by all kinds of spin-masters but I think Albertans can see through that noise and keep a focus on their core concerns.

Here I think Manning’s focus on what he calls “the big picture” is right on. But I think the focus is not on Stelmach’s competence to govern alone is too narrow. Do any of the political party leaders in Alberta have the trust of Albertans to competently deal with these issues? Our oil sand survey preliminary results show that none of them have generated sufficient trust to deal with growth issues in the province. Stelmach is by far the most trusted political leader in Alberta according to our results but at only 32% support that is not enough to presume electoral success.

There is a need for the political agenda to deal beyond the dollars and get into the environment and social issues and angst that this economic growth has caused. Albertans know that and have moved ahead of the political pundits and politicians to embrace a more comprehensive and integrated approach to public policy and governance. So media sound bites and political personalities aside in the complex real world I think Lougheed, Prentice and Manning are all correct in their comments and observations on the Stelmach royalty response and the potential political and policy consequences to governing.

Albertans will decide all of this in the next election. Staying home and not participating is not a viable option to sustain a robust democracy. My bet is if people are not happy the far right will go to the Alliance or the new Wildrose party if it gets enough signatures to forma party before the election. The left will go Green and the disenchanted middle will also park with the Greens as a way to send a message.

I will shortly post what I think that could mean for all the current political party leaders in the aftermath of the next election.