Monday, September 14, 2009

By Election Results Shows that Alberta PC's & Premier Stelmach Have Some Serious Soul Searching to do!

UPDATE Sept 16/09: Now I just got home from Edson and read Dan Arnold's like-minded piece on the implications of the Calgary Glenmore by election in the National Post. Worth a read.

Just got home from meetings in Jasper and looked at the Calgary Glenmore by election results. Congratulations to WAP's Paul Hinman for his impressive victory. The results are going to have to take some time to sink in especially as the PCs start to reflect on the implications of these results.

The PC percentage vote was cut in half in a seat they have held since 1969 and held by the Deputy Premier in the Stelmach PC government. Clearly some PCs stayed home and some switched to WAP in this by election. In the March 2008 election PCs got 6436 votes for 51%, same percentage vote as in the 2004 election. Today with a high quality candidate with lots of name recognition, the PCs fell to 26% of the popular vote. ASTONISHING!

The total turnout for this by election was 41% (11,208 votes) compared to 44% (12701) votes in 2008 when there was a very poor turnout in Calgary PC country as they tried to send Stelmach a message. In the 2008 election the WAP vote was non-existent at 8% (1025 votes) Well this time the WAP supporters showed up and lots other conservatively inclined Calgarians decided to use this by election to send a very strong message.

Last time there was such a dramatic rejection of a PC candidate in Calgary was in 1992 at the end of the Getty era when Rod Love came in third behind a Liberal and an NDP candidate garnering only about 15% of the total vote.

The Liberals came in second again and held their position in terms of popular vote at 34% compared to 33% in 2008.

So the Monday morning political quarterbacks will be out in droves for the next few days. Here are some grounding realities that can cut both ways. This is a by election and there is 3 years until the next election, lots can happen. There is a WAP leadership in a month that will frame them in a certain way, for good or ill for their longer term political fortunes.

The Liberals are in suspended animation floating in a political weightlessness bouncing off issues and events but not creating them. The Greens are a spend force due to internal squabbling. The NDP are still trying to perfect yesterday and Albertans are happy with them a the Jiminy Cricket kind of conscience of government but not ever to be a government.

The political reaction from Premier Stelmach is what I will be watching for. How will the Premier's Office interpret and respond to this slap up the side of the head? How will the core group of Stelmach's leadership team who brung him to the dance respond. They are all in Cabinet so it will be interesting to see how they respond and what they do to change things.

What will be the PC Caucus reaction? They used to tolerate Klein's shortcomings, both personally and politically, because most of the PC MLAs felt that they owed Klein their seat. He was always more popular than the party. None of the current caucus owes Stelmach their seat. PC caucus reaction will be interesting to watch.

How will the PC party membership respond in the November AGM leadership review vote? Will the rally behind the Premier? Will the Social Conservatives in the party, who had a group of about 12 like-minded MLAs orchestrate Bill 44, feel even more emboldened and vote against Stelmach? Will the Progressives decide to stay home? Or will the party show up and rally around and support Stelmach? Or will they vote confidence in the leadership because they want to support the "brand" as much or more than the leadership?

What if Stelmach gets around 70% support? Will that be enough to keep control of the government? What if he does a Joe Clark and says he wants to reaffirm his leadership with another leadership contest? That would have to happen pretty quickly given the turmoil in the economy and the strain on the social contract. My guess is only Ted Morton could be up and ready to go to challenge the current leadership.

Politics is a cruel and all too often, a blood sport. Based on this by election, the recession, budget cuts now and much more next year and the political power shift to the right in the PC party since the leadership I expect there will be political cruelty, both against politicians and even by them. I hope not but experience tells me turmoil and tensions are the most likely to be the political forecast for Alberta's political climate for the foreseeable future.

It does not have to be that way but unless Stelmach becomes, or is allowed (?) to become the Stelmach that I know, it is not going to be easy or pretty in Alberta politics - not for quite some time. The next election is 3 years away.