Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Ed Stelmach's Astonishing Election Results

So what did the Alberta election results tell us? The results astonished just about everyone I spoke to except one of my staffers who yesterday about noon predicted 71 PC seats . All the people I know and who are “in the know” about these things were mostly thinking 55-60 seats and some were at the 65 level but we all admitted we did not know for sure. We were all surprised.

I think this result was a vote for change. It was a change away from the "Ralph’s World" but not a desire to change the fundamental governing philosophy of the province from a Progressive and Conservative party. My Stelmach endorsement post the other day asked Albertans to “Give Ed a Chance.” I think that is what many Albertans decided to do as they took the weekend to think about the future of the province and reflect on the choices they had in the election.

The Calgary results show that the “energy industry silk suits” don’t speak for the people of that city. The negative/attack ads against Stelmach done by the Building Trades Council, the Alberta Federation of Labour and later the Alberta Union of Public Employees under the guise of “Albertans for Change” backfired. The belittling branding of Stelmach as just a “Ukrainian Farmer” backfired.

The Liberal campaign tried to tell Albertans that the PC government that they had chosen to govern the province for 37 years had been a mistake...the electorates mistake. Albertans did not believe that nothing had changed in how they were governed in the past 37 years and the strategy backfired. The Liberal campaign ran as much against Ralph Klein’s record and did not focus on the future under them - or Ed Stelmach. I think that strategy misfired.

So 53% of Albertans who showed up, chose a decent man with a big heart who they acknowledged, had spent most of his 15 months as Premier, fixing the screw ups of the past administration. In that 15 months Ed also showed he was prepared to take on big new challenges like the regional governance in the Capital Region, a royalty review that he opened up to all Albertans to read and respond to right along with him and his government. That new openness created an energetic public policy conversation amongst Albertans on big issues - and it was a big change.

I think the Alberta public collected their wisdom together on Election Day and decided Ed was a change, and if nothing else, a change from “Ralph World.” They decided he deserved a real chance to be our Premier but with this own mandate and the opportunity to set his own course. He got his chance in spades in this election and now he has to show us what he will do and how he will do it - without having to pick up after Ralph anymore.

I think there are some serious challenges for the Stelmach PCs. They have some policy blind spots that became apparent in this election but that too can be fixed. The first test of a blind spot that needs fixing from Ed's past will be his Cabinet selection. He can’t repeat the mistakes of an over abundance of loyalty like last time. He should not take the "easy way out" of a larger Cabinet either, because there is no real need to increase the size, at least not significantly.

In fact there is such a dire need for more interdepartmental collaboration in government these days that a key test for any Cabinet appointment should be the person’s ability to collaborate, integrate, design and then execute policy decisions. I am keen that he keeps a small Cabinet and goes forward with his best and brightest people, mixing those of proven experience and ability with some promising newbies - and of course being very very careful to provide the necessary geographical mix.

I know some will be concerned that with 73 seats the Stelmach government may turn arrogant, self-absorbed and self-satisfied. Perhaps that could happen - under a different leader - but not under Ed Stelmach. That is not his nature nor part of his character. He will have to be careful to show that he will not tolerate those attitudes in anyone else in his government either. After all, as the “renewed Premier” says, governing is a privilege that has to be earned. He knows that privilege has to be earned everyday and in every way – not just at election time.

This is part of the point Ed Stelmach made last night at his victory celebration in Edmonton when he said, “It is not about how long you govern but how well you govern.” Let’s get going on some damn good governing!

Congratulations for this victory are also due to the entire Stelmach family – both personal and political. Well done and thank you.