Monday, January 12, 2015

Does Jim Prentice Need a New Mandate?

The spring 2015 election rumours are rampant amongst the chattering class in Alberta politics.  Of course all the reasons given to go early are pure politics and nothing to do with good governance.

Some reasons for an early election, instead of honouring the legislated fixed election date, is the "new management" under the new Premier needs his own mandate from Albertans.

Other reasons are the oil price decline needs Albertans to go to the polls to provide Prentice with the power to make the "tough choices" (a.k.a. draconian cuts) about programs and to keep taxes low.

Finally I believe the new Premier wants an election to enable him to clean house and get rid of the remaining progressives in his caucus. An election is the fastest way to do that by culling the herd.

A New Man Needs a New Mandate:
Why a new mandate?  Prentice won the PC leadership and consequentially became Premier of all Alberta.  He ran in the context of a very recent ( April 2012) and successful Redford election with a majority government.

He also knowingly inherited the fixed election date period of March 1-May 31 in every fourth calendar year of office.

The PCs have a clear mandate and a majority government elected less than two years before they decided to dump Redford. He inherited a 66 seat majority government elected with 44% of the vote that crushed the WRP momentum.

His own leadership win was "decisive" with 17,963 of the 23,386 of memberships counted.  We know more memberships were sold or given away by the Prentice campaign so there is a cloud over his "win." Not all eligible members were able to vote due to serious and suspicious electronic voting irregularities.

As for the PC Party mandate, Prentice has (or at least had until recently) the overwhelming support of the party executive, the caucus and the party establishment.  The PC caucus members were almost unanimous in their support for Prentice as leader.    

Alberta citizens were able to participate in this leadership selection by simply buying a PC membership (or getting a free one from Prentice's campaign) and voting for any one of three candidates.  

The fact that the general population overwhelmingly choose not to participate in this PC selection process, compared to previous contests, can be seen as indifference to the outcome. It could be seen as a general public acceptance that any of candidates offered could continue governing the province for the rest of the legislated mandate.

What if the low participation rate is because Albertans stayed away from the PC  selection process in protest? Even that clearly means they were prepared to accept the winner as their Premier in the context of the PC 2102 campaign platform and election victory.  

Then consider the dramatic shift in the polling results away from the Wildrose to the PCs since Prentice's victory in September 2014.  This shows Albertans now support his Premiership over the WRP regardless of the Redford legacy.

His recent polling results are at least as good, if not better, than the Redford 44% election support in 2012.  Again evidence that Albertan's do not see the need for a "new mandate" for the "new management" Premier. "He's da man!"

Budget Pressures Due to Oil Prices:
This is hardly a reason for a general election.  In fact it is just the opposite.  We need certainty in governance and leadership in such volatile economic times.  Oil prices started dropping in June of last year, when Prentice was announcing his candidacy.  They became more significant starting in September, when Prentice was selected PC leader.  It is not as if he didn't see this coming.

Prentice is not a new kid on the political block.  He is an experienced and seasoned politician, elected federally in June 2004 until November 2010 when he mysteriously resigned the Harper government.

In that time he served as Harper's Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, Minister of Industry and Minister of the Environment. All vital portfolios and significant experience for dealing with Alberta's policy choices and fiscal plight in the light of falling oil prices.  We don't need him to win an election to prove is political bona fides.

Again his leadership success on October 27th by winning all four by-elections shows Albertans are not ready to dump him or even send him a discouraging word about his least not so far.

We need certainty in provincial leadership and management to deal with the pending budget issues.  This is not new to Alberta or Albertans, notwithstanding Prentice's hyperbole to the contrary about the fiscal issues.  We have been down this road before.

Hopefully with Prentice's experience, and others in the recent PC political past, we can avoid making the same policy mistakes of previous resource revenue downturns. Time will tell but in any event oil price volatility is not a reason for an early general election.  

Prentice's Purge of the Progressives:
Prentice has taken the PC party significantly to the right in the political spectrum. This is especially evident with the floor crossing of the majority of the Wildrose caucus.  He has been described by Danielle Smith, the former Wildrose leader and floor-crosser, as the "first Wildrose Premier."  How much more proof do you need of his shift to the right?

The "retirement" of progressives like Hancock and Hughes was allegedly for being too close to Redford.  The demotion of people like Lukaszuk and Griffiths plus the announced retirement of Pastoor, (with others to come?) it is pretty clear the "P" in the PC party is being systemically removed by Prentice.

An early election gives Prentice a way to tell remaining progressives there is no future for them in his government,  He can also give the WRP crossers the chance to try and win nominations as Prentice Conservatives before other inside progressive candidates can get organized.

The other pure political reason for an early election is to kill the rest of the WRP as a political force.  They would not have time to select a new leader with an early election call, in fact may be trying to select a leader in the middle of an election.

That is Harper-esque politics at its lowest.  It is sadly ironic for the WRP to be subjected to such tactics given the past support the enjoyed from the Harper caucus members. The death of the current WRP would be the culmination of Prentice becoming the de facto WRP hard-right Premier of the province.

Change to a Progressive Political Culture:
The centrist Alberta Party, the centre-left Liberals with the leftist NDP do not have the funds or other resources to mount a strong offence against Prentice in the short term. The non-aligned progressives who voted Redford in fear of the WRP are in a dilemma.  The Prentice PCs are clearly no longer destined to be a big-tent party that includes progressives.

The Liberals and NDP are not a preferred progressive alternative choice or they would have done better in the 2012 election and in the October by-elections. The NDP is an Edmonton-based party and the Liberals are in serious internal decline loosing 3 seats in 2012 and with 2 of the current MLAs leaving for federal politics in the next election this year.

The Alberta Party showed they can campaign and do well in the Calgary Elbow by-election coming in a strong second.  However there are no silver medals in politics.  They have a lot of organizing and fund raising to do to be a contender but they are making progress on both fronts.

However, given Prentice is not going to lose the next election, the Alberta Party is a smart parking place for a progressive protest vote against the Prentice Conservatives. Full disclosure: I am on the Provincial Board of the Alberta Party.

What will happen about an early election call is anyone's guess, including Prentice, who says he is keeping the option open. To go early would require the Lt. Gov to call it or for Prentice to call the Legislature back and amend or repeal the fixed election dates law. Integrity, accountability and transparency would suggest the latter course is the better approach, but again, who knows and does Prentice really care about those political values?  

If we do have an early election it will be for purely partisan political reasons and not sound public policy purposes.  Hopefully progressive Albertans will take such self-serving partisanship seriously and judge the "Wildrose Premier" accordingly.

The best way to show displeasure for Prentice opportunism in making such a partisan anti-democratic early election decision is to get out and vote for a new progressive movement.

To my mind that is the Alberta Party.  While it is new it is young, energetic and full of  new ideas and public-interest thinkers.  With proper support, it would legitimately aspire beyond becoming a replacement opposition.  It could and should aspire to become a progressive party capable of offering a viable alternative the first "WRP Premier" approach to the governance of the province.

Time will tell if any of that happens too...but in the true spirit of Don Quixote, I remain faithful to an Alberta Aspiration that is hopeful for her progressive future.