Sunday, July 05, 2009

Beware and Be Aware of the Political Back Story at the Calgary Stampede

The Calgary Stampede is in full swing and so is the political back story that happens concurrently with the midway, rodeo, pancakes, BBQ and bull riding. The Stampede time has a serious political dimension too. It is when the Alberta and Canadian political class converge on Calgary to party but also to position, plan and even posture a bit. The eastern political leaders like Ignatieff and Layton and May show ostensibly to show they value, "get" and embrace the west.

Many goofball pictures of out-of-character "city slicker" eastern politicians costumed up in in urban cowboy gear "grace" the pages of the newspapers and television newscasts over the years. Ironically no such picture as been so devastating as Calgary's own Stephen Harper for showing laughable unauthentic caricatures. My guess is shortly after that Harper hired a wardrobe and image consultant on the taxpayer dime.

Where politicians gather so will political consultants, lobbyists and various hangers-on and fast-track Wanna-Be's. The vast array of Stampede BBQ and breakfasts are meet and greet/grab and grin gabfests in the good old fashioned tradition of politics. There are other events that are more serious politically and they are mostly behind closed door meetings with, between and amongst the politicians go have made the pilgrimage to Calgary this week.

There are lots of private events and meetings with lobbyists and government relations consultants representing various special interests and politicians. But these meetings happen all the time and are simply part of Canadian political culture. Full disclosure, this is part of the work that I do professionally. I just never did it at the Stampede, at least not yet.

The more interesting political meetings will be the pure political events amongst politicians themselves. They are the joint Federal and Alberta caucus meeting and the Alberta Caucus Meeting on Monday. There are lots of Alberta-Canada complex political and critical policy issues in play between Ottawa and Edmonton. It seems, from an Alberta perspective, that there is no difference as to who is in power in Ottawa. Ottawa is still Ottawa even with a Conservative government in both jurisdictions. Shared partisanship seems to be irrelevant to finding effective resolutions on fed-prov issues and on US-Canada relations that impact Alberta.

In fact it is Michael Ignatieff, the Liberal, who seems more in tune and in touch with Alberta's aspirations. He is more informed and focused on our issues these days than Harper the Calgary Conservative. Will it make a difference in the forthcoming federal election? Who knows but Ignatieff's overt support for responsible oil sands development and insight into the Alberta angst and our importance to the country are being noticed in this province.

To be a fly on the joint Fed-Prov caucus meeting would be great fun. It would also be informative about where Harper sees his power and purpose in the months leading up to an inevitable election. Will we know what was said and what was the atmosphere in the room? Not likely. There will be media measured platitudes and strict speaking notes of having frank discussions and both sides having a better understanding of the issues and a mutual commitments to seek satisfactory solutions Blah, Blah, Blah.

The other critical political meeting that happens in Stampede week is the Alberta PC Caucus meeting. This is the real start of the next budget cycle. They get a serious sense of where things are at, what is happening in the province in a kind of SWOT analysis (Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats). Some preliminary policy and political objectives are usually set at this caucus meeting. General guidelines are determined for the administration to start the next budget cycle and the next years fiscal/policy/planning process starts as a result of this PC Caucus meeting. The whole thing will start to gel at the Cabinet and Caucus retreats in the Fall when the administration comes back with their budget and policy suggestions for the government for the coming fiscal year.

So tomorrow the Alberta government process about the fiscal and policy planning for the province starts. Ever since the retreat from the royalty review recommendations, the province as become more and more strategically incoherent. Lets hope tomorrow they find their footing and start to figure out a consistent, comprehensive and comprehensible path forward for Alberta. It will not be easy in these uncertain time, but it will necessary for the people of this province to continue to enjoy a high quality of living in economic, social and environmental terms.