Monday, October 19, 2009

Alberta's Political Eyes Now Turn to PC Leadership Confidence Vote

I had a great conversation with Katherine O'Neill of the Globe and Mail yesterday on the Wildrose Alliance Party leadership and the pending Alberta Progressive Conservative Party Annual General Meeting leadership confidence vote for Premier Stelmach coming up November 7th.  Here is the link to the story in today's Globe and Mail.

I think the Alberta political media attention will shift now to the PC AGM leadership confidence vote but with the Danielle Smith WAP leadership lurking in the background.  The speculation will be rampant but pointless.  What is on the minds of the delegates and what do they see and the confidence vote "ballot question" is the real issue. 

There is a growing amount of grumbling in the PC rank and file these days.  It may be that I attract the griping because I speak out about political and governance concerns on this blog.  The big tent for fiscal conservatives and social progressives is wearing thin on both counts.  Walking away for $2B in royalties for no good reason other than to appease the Calgary based energy executive suites and at the same time to be calling for the same $2B in program cuts in the coming fiscal year captures the essence of why both elements in the PC Party are dissatisfied.

The Premier's political response to the embarrassing third place finish in the Calgary Glenmore by election was restricted to blaming the results on the bad economy and the rapidly expanded government program spending.  That presumption that the Stelmach government is not fiscally right-wing enough ignores the growing lack of confidence in the governance and leadership capacity of the current regime.  It also ignores the revenue problem caused by politically motivated giveaways and concessions to the energy sector with no positive economic upside for the provincial treasury and the Premier painting himself in a corner with a hasty announcement about not increasing taxes on his watch.

Now the cost-cutting strategy is to give token claw backs of the massive recent Cabinet pay increases as if that would provide some moral high ground to go to public sector workers to induce them to walk away from legally binding mutually agreed to collective bargaining agreements.  The not-for-profit community based service sector agencies doing the government's work in the volatile and vulnerable areas like seniors, children's service and the developmentally disabled are being penalized even more than the union based public sector workers.

Passing up non-renewable resource revenues in the face of market based commodity prices and putting the burden for that giveaway on the middle class and most vulnerable in our society is not good politics and even poorer governance.

Will this message come through loud and clear at the pending confidence vote at the November PC AGM?  My betting is not at all.  Even with all this crashing down on the shoulders of the provincial government and the downloading of the burden on municipalities, schools, hospitals, universities, community based not-for profit social service agencies, it will all be stifled and not talked about openly at the AGM. 

The first rule of old-school politics is to get re-elected and the next election is a long way off in political time.  There is a lot of water to go under the political bridge before Premier Stelmach has to face the people.  The "people" in the PC party know this.  The only thing that could cause Stelmach to face the citizens of Alberta earlier would be a low confidence vote in the party leader and Premier by the party faithful. That would trigger a PC leadership contest and with the party policy of one-membership one-vote process Albertans could destabilize the entire PC party tradition and structure.

The PC party faithful will stay "faithful" on November 7th if not to the leader at least to the PC brand.  To do anything else will only hurt the party, the province and destabilize provincial politics by unnecessarily increasing the already considerable instability and uncertainty of being Albertan.