It has been over a week since Premier Stelmach executed his much rumoured and much anticipated Cabinet shuffle. It was not much of a shuffle, more of a minor, one portfolio expansion of the Cabinet.
When former Deputy Premier Ron Stevens left politics for the Bench Premier Stelmach wisely assumed the International and Intergovernmental Affairs portfolio in his own office. Stelmach used to serve in that Ministry and knows the files. He also knows the IIA function is become essentially a glorified Parliamentary Assistant to the Premier's office. So it only makes sense governance wise and for fiscal prudence to reduce his cabinet by one and for the Premier to be the International and Intergovernmental face for the province.
So it is interesting that we saw the appointment of Len Webber as the new Minister. Len Webber is a good guy and I am sure he is capable of fulfilling the Parliamentary Assistant to the Premier function of this Ministry. This appointment had nothing to do with good governance of fiscal prudence. It was pure regional appeasement politics that pushed this appointment. It is more Calgary appeasement by the Stelmach PCs who looking for love in all the wrong places.
WHAT WAS THE MESSAGE SENT FROM CALGARY GLENMORE?
The key messages gleaned from the PCs enormous loss of the Calgary Glenmore by election is the recession is hurting and Albertans are grumpy with the spending plans of the province. It had nothing to do with the perceptions of the leadership capacities of the Premier or his office whatsoever. It was the good folks of Calgary Glenmore send a fiscal message only.
I don't think the Stelmach government is reading all the signs. They are practicing and perfecting selective listening. We have experiences a relatively light recession in Alberta compared to Canada and the planet. We have cash to cover the deficit. We have the "luxury" of not having to raise taxes for at last 2 years. We have unemployment at about 7.2%. In "normal" times 6% unemployment is considered full employment by economists. So Alberta is in a recession but it is not a dire as many of the past.
We have a natural gas revenue hit caused by low commodity prices between $4 and $5B but that is not enough to account for the almost $15B swing from last years estimate of $8B surplus and a $7B deficit one year later. We Albertans have not been shown how that math really works. I hope it is not more political messaging to manipulate expectations instead of actual accountability and authentic transparency.
So what. The "official government" key message and speaking points response to the wildly successful Wildrose Alliance campaign slogan of "Send Ed a Message is the recession and there is too much government spending. So the question for the Premier and his brain trust is what to do? The answer is clear. Shift to the right, fiscally and socially. Spend less and a lot less, right now.
Go ahead a break trusts by clawing back prior social infrastructure promises, especially in the vulnerable social service sector. They don't vote and if they did, they don't vote Tory anyway. One thing for sure, in a perpetual appeasement to Calgary elites we can't risk alienating the energy industry millionaire masters of the universe types, especially in times of recession.
WHAT WAS THE MESSAGE RECEIVED FROM CALGARY GLENMORE?
The real evidence of a fundamental (sic) social policy shift is in the other appointments made concurrently with Len Webber's ascending into Cabinet. Look at the rewards given to the social conservative gang that promoted and won the battle to pass their beloved Bill 44. This is even more disturbing and profound evidence of the social repositioning of the Stelmach government to the right. I suggest the far right. This is an exercise in social conservative appeasement but there is some overtones of more Calgary Appeasement as a beneficial by-election by product.
The elevation of rookie MLA Jonathan Denis to Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Energy puts a socially conservative Calgary face on the portfolio. Jono and I are Facebook Friends and follow each other on Twitter. [We are @JonoMLA and @KenChapman46 on Twitter if you want to follow us.] I find him to be an intelligent and civil debater as we arm wrestle in the social media. He may prove to be a very capable guy and deserves the benefit of the doubt. But there is not doubt of is social conservative credentials as one of the front men on Bill 44.
Side note: Jono beat the ultra social conservative Craig Chandler who ran as an Independent in the 2008 election after winning the PC nomination but Stelmach refused to sign his paper. Mr. Chandler is now the power and behind Mark Dynholm's bid to lead the Wildrose Alliance Party.
Next is Broyce Jacobs as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister Agriculture and Rural Development. Mr. Jacobs is and was the MLA from Cardston. He lost to Paul Hinman in 2004 but beat him in 2008. Remember it was Hinman who parachuted into Calgary Glenmore and trounced the local high profile PC candidate in the by election this month. Elevating him also sends a message to Albertans with a strong fundamentalist faith base that they have a voice right into the provincial political power structure.
Next we have the evidence of the social and fiscal shift to the right in the new appointments to key Cabinet committees. Adding Lindsay Blackett to Agenda and Priorities is a reward for a job well done on pushing through Bill 44 in the face of serious, vocal and broadly based public opposition.
There seems to be soap-opera around the selection of rookie Rob Anderson to the all powerful Treasury Board. Rob is apparently a fiscal hawk and was the face of Bill 44 to the social conservative element in the caucus and in the PC party. His appointment is clearly a reward for his Bill 44 efforts and success.
The soap opera element is the apparent political punishment of Kyle Fawcett, another social conservative Bill 44 caucus promoter. Kyle, a Calgary rookie MLA, had the temerity to say the equivalent of Premier had no clothes in his analysis of the messages coming out of the Calgary Glenmore by election. See the blog post of Don Braid, provincial affairs columnists for the Calgary Herald for details.
All of this is a symbolic sign to those former PC supporters who abandoned the party and voted Wildrose Alliance in Calgary Glenmore. The Premier is showing off his social conservative bench strength and trying to convince So-con swing voters that their concerns will be dealt with from now on by his government. He is trying to show those folks that he got that message. I think that message has come through loud and clear since the last election.
That puts the progressives in the PC party on notice that they are marginalized. I think it may prove that the progressives int eh PC party will be even more marginalized than in the darkest days of the Klein regime. Time will tell.