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Thursday, November 05, 2009

Is Alberta About to Enter an Empire of Illusion Stage Politically?

The speculation about the PC AGM party leadership review this Saturday is just another act in the on-going political power drama in Alberta these days. The flu fiasco is a much more critical concern for the population and the politics of the province.

That does not mean these matters are not related. They are just two issues on the minds of Albertans, including the economy, the environment and our democracy. Everything is attached to everything else in our complex inter-related and interdependent world these days.

PC Leadership Review:
It is hard to imagine that PC Leader Stelmach will not get at least 80% support from the party faithful this weekend. I say the party faithful because even if you are unhappy with the job the party leader is doing, he is still Premier of Alberta. And the primary purpose of a political party is to stay in power. Why would any of the delegates take the risk of opening up a bitter leadership fight? Better to get the leader to change than change the leader.

The PC Party is not the Same as Alberta:
The thinking members of the PC party appreciate that the people of Alberta are very unhappy with the Stelmach government. The new Environics poll in the CanWest papers today proves that in spades. The horserace part of media coverage is always the main focus. But it rarely reveals the real story.

So the Wildrose is #2 and closing in on Calgary. That’s not news. At best it is old news since the Calgary Glenmore by election. What does a Wildrose Alliance far right reactionary party holding the #2 spot mean for politics in Alberta? Is that the alternative most Albertans want? If not, then what? Where does all this leave the Liberals and NDs? That is the deeper news story.

Other Interesting Poll Results:
The poll raises some interesting concerns. Like why was there a 2 week data collection period? Very strange when one considers the impact of the emerging H1N1 story. It also makes you wonder how many calls were made to get 1000 Albertans to answer the poll. Some estimates say as many a 20 calls have to be placed before someone will answer a pollster. Makes you wonder about the true randomness doesn’t it? We don’t know much about the participants either but we presume they are properly demographically distributed not just geographically.

There are more interesting results in this poll than just the top line. Top issue for me is that the PC approval rating is at 36% - a 16 year low. With 54% of Albertans saying they disapprove of the government's performance. There is not much equivocation in opinions about the quality of our governance and leadership. I remember back in the day Don Getty had a personal approval rating of 17% - just before he retired. What is Premier Stelmach’s personal approval rating? We are not told. Hope it comes out in follow up stories. Please tell me that this question was asked.

The other interesting findings are the province wide 16% of undecided Albertans. That is as big as the Wildrose Alliance support in Edmonton. The tale of two cities is another interesting story. Calgary is used to having power, access and getting its way in the province, a holdover attitude from the Klein years. They continue to send a message of displeasure by parking support with the Wildrose Alliance. But do they truly believe in the WAP or just want to send a message the Premier. Or is this all about having a Calgarian in power, regardless of party? Too early to tell but that is an interesting unanswered question.

Edmonton is a much more interesting place politically these days with the PCs (34%) and Liberals (27%) statistically tied within the margin of error. The WAP is a distant 3rd and the NDP has their strongest showing in Edmonton at 13%. Are there are at least three solitudes emerging in Alberta these days? It sure looks like it. I think south, central and northern rural Alberta has some considerable differences too but the poll samples are too small to show them.

Another curious result is the Green support at 8% in the big cities and 9% in the rest of Alberta. That party does not even exist anymore but still can garner that kind of support. The Greens are equal to NDP in Calgary and beat them in the rest of Alberta. Ouch.

The Politics of the Poll:
The PC Party and the Premier’s office will see the timing of this CanWest sponsored poll coming out just before the leadership review on Saturday, as mischievous at best. Not that such manipulative and mischievous media messaging ever emanates from government. Remember the phony beach ads and the $25 million taxpayer paid slick ad campaign of the government to respond to dirty oil and the ugly Albertan? Whatever happened to that campaign?

This tradition of political and governance mis-messaging is exactly what will happen in coming weeks if the PC party leader gets over 80% support in the review process. The official line will be to ignore these poll results. They will say: Hey, we won the PC leadership when we were not supposed to. We won the election when we were not supposed to - and we got a larger majority too. Now we have the overwhelming endorsement of the party. There is a recession going on so what is the problem? The conclusion will be that there isn’t a problem. Things are just fine. The message will be that leader’s hand is on the rudder, the direction is clear and the government is on the right path. Steady as she goes and there is no need to change a thing. With that level of support they will promise to “stay the course.”

That attitude will likely be confirmation of an accelerated end of dominance of the Alberta PC political brand. Will it result in the demise of the dynasty that was created and nurtured by Peter Lougheed over 40 years ago?

“People who shut their eyes to reality simply invite their own destruction, and anyone who insists on remaining in a state of innocence long after that innocence is dead turns himself into a monster.”

That is a James Baldwin quote from “Empire of Illusion – the End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle” by Pulitzer Prize Winner Chris Hedges.

Time will tell but will the clock be ticking for Premier Stelmach starting Saturday?