Monday, July 19, 2010

When and What Will the Next Alberta Election Be About?

I get a strange feeling the Stelmach government is easing into the election prep stage known as The Red Zone. That is where not much happens in governance because they don’t want to make political mistakes. With the rise of the “pungent and pink” Wildrose the current government, if not in the Red Zone, it is definitely concerned about the Wildrose “pink zone” of election readiness.

I don’t think we will have a snap election in Alberta but I would not count on Stelmach waiting until March 2012 as stated earlier. Alberta is mindful of many external forces influencing its election timing. For example there is potential for a federal election late this fall or next spring. It may happen over the next budget or, depending if Harper thinks he can get a majority, he will engineer his own defeat. The midterm US elections will be watched carefully by the Stelmach government for policy trends that impact energy policy and oil sands development.

Then there are domestic concerns about election timing. The Stelmach government had an approval rating of 12% in a recent survey of Albertans. The economy is apparently recovering but is it due to the billions of provincial and federal government stimulus money or is it authentic economic growth at play? Are we into a slow and steady economic turn around or a double dip recession? Too early to tell yet and economist are pointing in every direction, as usual.

Then we have the volatility of politics to consider too. There is change in the air in Alberta these days. And what form that will take is still unclear. Albertan’s self –image from environmental pressures and negative PR is eating away at our pride of place, our self-confidence and our self-esteem. Albertans are clear that oil sands are critically important to our future prosperity. But they are now questioning themselves and their government about how well this resource is being developed and managed.

The lack of faith in the leadership in any of the current political parties is another measure of volatility. We recently asked a random sample of over 1000 Albertans which political leader they trusted most to manage the growth in the Alberta economy. The results brought a sharp focus on the general disaffection Albertans have with the current crop of political leaders. Only 4% picked the NDP’s Brian Mason. Some 9% trusted Liberal leader David Swann. As for The Wildrose and Danielle Smith only 19% would put their management trust in her. Premier Ed Stelmach of the PCs garnered a scant 23% who said they trusted him the most to manage Alberta’s growth. Here is the kicker – 45% of us said we mostly trusted none of them to manage the growth of the Alberta economy. That survey outcome speaks to potential for serious political change but begs the question – change to what alternative?

Now add in the right-wing conservative political culture war that is raging in Alberta between Progressive Conservatives and the Wildrose Alliance Party. With Ted Morton’s move to Minister of Finance and Enterprise he is doing the next budget for the spring of 2011. We can expect his ideological fingerprints will to be all over the economic and fiscal policy direction of Alberta by next year. Kevin Libin has a very insightful and telling column in a recent edition of the National Post on the Morton factor in Alberta politics and policy directions. I recommend you read it.

If Kevin is right in his observations about Minister Morton, and my comments he quotes about Minister Morton from 2006 are still valid (and Morton himself says they are) then we have another fly-in-the-ointment political dynamic that will influence the election timing.

What if the PCs become less progressive and more Morton-like conservative between now and the next election? What if the defacto election battle on the right is between the Sorcerer Morton and Smith, his former Apprentice from the Calgary School? Where does that leave Stelmach? Where do progressives go given the current anemic political alternatives they are being offered? What does the next Alberta look like if only the radical right and reactionary left show up to vote?

We need a viable progressive political alternative in Alberta. The current situation is untenable for any thoughtful Albertan who sees a positive balanced role for responsible, accountable, open and honest government. Reboot Alberta is not a political party but it is a way to influence and shape any new or existing political party. We need to show the powers that be and any that want to be that they must move towards a more inclusive and effective approach to a more contemporary political culture that reflects the next Alberta instead of trying to perfect the past.

Efforts are afoot for staging Reboot 3.0 in late October to look at a more activist approach to bring the progressive agenda and voice back to Alberta politics. Stay tuned for more information here and to join the Reboot Alberta citizen's movement go to