Reboot Alberta

Monday, September 14, 2009

By Election Results Shows that Alberta PC's & Premier Stelmach Have Some Serious Soul Searching to do!

UPDATE Sept 16/09: Now I just got home from Edson and read Dan Arnold's like-minded piece on the implications of the Calgary Glenmore by election in the National Post. Worth a read.

Just got home from meetings in Jasper and looked at the Calgary Glenmore by election results. Congratulations to WAP's Paul Hinman for his impressive victory. The results are going to have to take some time to sink in especially as the PCs start to reflect on the implications of these results.

The PC percentage vote was cut in half in a seat they have held since 1969 and held by the Deputy Premier in the Stelmach PC government. Clearly some PCs stayed home and some switched to WAP in this by election. In the March 2008 election PCs got 6436 votes for 51%, same percentage vote as in the 2004 election. Today with a high quality candidate with lots of name recognition, the PCs fell to 26% of the popular vote. ASTONISHING!

The total turnout for this by election was 41% (11,208 votes) compared to 44% (12701) votes in 2008 when there was a very poor turnout in Calgary PC country as they tried to send Stelmach a message. In the 2008 election the WAP vote was non-existent at 8% (1025 votes) Well this time the WAP supporters showed up and lots other conservatively inclined Calgarians decided to use this by election to send a very strong message.

Last time there was such a dramatic rejection of a PC candidate in Calgary was in 1992 at the end of the Getty era when Rod Love came in third behind a Liberal and an NDP candidate garnering only about 15% of the total vote.

The Liberals came in second again and held their position in terms of popular vote at 34% compared to 33% in 2008.

So the Monday morning political quarterbacks will be out in droves for the next few days. Here are some grounding realities that can cut both ways. This is a by election and there is 3 years until the next election, lots can happen. There is a WAP leadership in a month that will frame them in a certain way, for good or ill for their longer term political fortunes.

The Liberals are in suspended animation floating in a political weightlessness bouncing off issues and events but not creating them. The Greens are a spend force due to internal squabbling. The NDP are still trying to perfect yesterday and Albertans are happy with them a the Jiminy Cricket kind of conscience of government but not ever to be a government.

The political reaction from Premier Stelmach is what I will be watching for. How will the Premier's Office interpret and respond to this slap up the side of the head? How will the core group of Stelmach's leadership team who brung him to the dance respond. They are all in Cabinet so it will be interesting to see how they respond and what they do to change things.

What will be the PC Caucus reaction? They used to tolerate Klein's shortcomings, both personally and politically, because most of the PC MLAs felt that they owed Klein their seat. He was always more popular than the party. None of the current caucus owes Stelmach their seat. PC caucus reaction will be interesting to watch.

How will the PC party membership respond in the November AGM leadership review vote? Will the rally behind the Premier? Will the Social Conservatives in the party, who had a group of about 12 like-minded MLAs orchestrate Bill 44, feel even more emboldened and vote against Stelmach? Will the Progressives decide to stay home? Or will the party show up and rally around and support Stelmach? Or will they vote confidence in the leadership because they want to support the "brand" as much or more than the leadership?

What if Stelmach gets around 70% support? Will that be enough to keep control of the government? What if he does a Joe Clark and says he wants to reaffirm his leadership with another leadership contest? That would have to happen pretty quickly given the turmoil in the economy and the strain on the social contract. My guess is only Ted Morton could be up and ready to go to challenge the current leadership.

Politics is a cruel and all too often, a blood sport. Based on this by election, the recession, budget cuts now and much more next year and the political power shift to the right in the PC party since the leadership I expect there will be political cruelty, both against politicians and even by them. I hope not but experience tells me turmoil and tensions are the most likely to be the political forecast for Alberta's political climate for the foreseeable future.

It does not have to be that way but unless Stelmach becomes, or is allowed (?) to become the Stelmach that I know, it is not going to be easy or pretty in Alberta politics - not for quite some time. The next election is 3 years away.


  1. Never been so happy to have gotten out when I did. Good luck Alberta, but I'm not holding my breathe for you (unless the right splits the vote in the future).

  2. Frankly the PC's need to engineer a push to the middle and get rid of the baggage of the right-wing so-cons.

    Even more brutally, they should consider a new leader who can excite the masses and talk about an exciting new vision for Alberta. You're correct in that they have some time to get this figured out and if not Stelmach's move, but the party grassroots as a whole who must look inward.

    But that's my humble opinion ;)

  3. Anonymous12:07 am

    Clearly the message here is that the PC party is drifting too far to the left. It's time to move to the party's roots and become a truly conservative party - otherwise another party will come and take it over.

  4. "None of the current caucus owes Stelmach their seat."

    I disagree. Tony Vandermeer, MLA for Edmonton Beverly-Clareview, said on election night last year that Stelmach was worth at least 1000 votes to him. This when his margin of victory was 318.

    Besides the Edmonton area caucus, outside the caucus a fair number of supporters have left the party in the last year for the Wildrose Alliance such that the remaining people in the PC party are disproportionately that much less likely to be keen on turfing Stelmach in favour of some Calgary corporate type.

    Anyway, I think the real lesson from Glenmore is that this is not quite the one party state Alberta was before such that people like yourself should be giving the Liberals a second look; they looked like contenders in Glenmore while the PCs looked like pretenders.

  5. OK Brian one MLA attributes his victory to the Premier and I can think of one more, but not many more. The loyalty factor of the leader's influence vs the fear factor of the leader's power is always at play in a caucus.

    Rumours of a Cabinet shuffle have been circulating for a few weeks now. Interesting to see if that has any resonance with Premier Stelmach now.

    Things are going to be very "fluid." Alberta has not been a one party state for quite some time. The Ennui Party is the most popular.

  6. Anonymous12:29 am

    The risk to the PC party is that Stelmach will tarnish the brand. His bumbling mannerism and giant deficit will not be tolerated for long by Albertans. WAP has the big momentum which will seriously erode PC support.

  7. Anonymous6:58 am

    Stelmach should make Ted Morton Deputy Premier.

  8. Anonymous7:16 am

    For once, I would have to agree with Brian Dell. More than one newly-minted Edmonton PC MLA rode in on Stelmach's coat-tails. The view from Calgary is different, just as it ever was.

    Interesting observation however. If, as some pundits were paintign it, people were worried about cuts to healthcare and social services, why didn't the Liberal pick up more votes? They went with the guy that represents the party that would naturally be more associated with budget cuts (they go on about their fiscal conservatism). WAP + PC was almost two-thirds of voters in the by-election.

  9. Anonymous9:32 am

    Wow, This political stuff is killing us! Less than 1/2 of the electorate show up and STILL you politicos insist in reading the entrails and parsing the message between the parties and candidates.

    What about the message: current politics are so FAR out of touch that less than 1/2 of the voters can bring themselves to engage.

    In spite of everything that is said by all of you posters and on the street... I still like Stelmach and many of his crew. The handling of the messages to voters and public SUCK big time though. That keeps me home and quiet in my support in the coffee shop discussions.

    If you are lucky enough to be plugged into the finer detail of happenings Stelmach has a lot of very good things going on.... but you NEVER hear of them.

    You hear about GREEN WASHING of the oil and gas industry... and reaction to really shocking news items... since the talent does not seem to be able to capture the moment with current top of mind news stories... why are they not putting more effort into speaking about collaborative and complicated issues where progress has been made?

    just wondering.... greengirl

  10. Good for Paul Hinman, doesn't anyone else see the strong showing of the Liberals as a big story here? And the really poor showing of the NDs?

    With the Liberal party in near obscurity, they still came close.

    Albertans still seem to want to call themselves Conservative, whether that be with a big 'C' or not and the Wildrose allows for that. Still, enough people supported the Liberals to make the point that there is quite a section of people who might be able to get past party labels.

    Still, it was still less than 50% of the electorate who made the effort... and that's the other big part of this story.

  11. Anonymous1:26 pm

    It is clearly time for the PC party to abandon any "progressiveness" and move straight to the right. This is the message to Ed.

  12. Glen Argan1:47 pm

    No good news for the Liberals in this.
    They have a Calgary leader and can still not improve their vote over 2008.

    Nor does it make sense to say the Conservatives have moved too far to the left. What movement! They are as far out in right field as they have ever been.

    So what does this result mean? First, a protest against the Stelmach crew. Second, a sign that the Liberals are not going to be the place where disgruntled Calgary Tories go. Third, given those 2 points, the result could be ominous for those who would prefer a centrist government. The Stelmach Tories will remain stagnant and if Wild Rose begins to catch fire, things could move very far to the right in 3 years.

  13. Dear Anon.

    If it's clearly time for the PCs to abandon "progressiveness," then it is also clearly time for the Liberals to abandon that damn name, move into the center and get elected.

    Sadly, Albertans can't get passed the moniker. It is all about bumper stickers and sound bytes.

    C'mon Liberals. Join the Alberta Party en masse (best name in Alberta politics), and tweak policy. You'd be in government in two elections. It's already a registered party. It just needs a nudge into action.

    Just a thought.... I've been outside all day in the sun.

  14. Could this be (finally) a reaction by the people to a party that has forgotten who they serve; a party that has broken it's social contract with the people? I hope so! My view is that a government's primary responsibility is to ensure that a population's basic needs are met such as health, education and housing. In addition, that the most vulnerable are protected -- this is what I mean by their social contract. The conservative party has forgotten this and now seem to despise those they are charged to serve; I hope that the populace see this and do not forget, but rather seek other alternatives.

  15. Anonymous2:03 pm

    Different Anonymous here:
    Albertans need to think about how long the PCs have been in office. Longer than the Berlin Wall stood. While I am all for stability, the arrogance and exclusivity of the PCs needs to be excised. WAP's rightwingedness scares me frankly. Time for Albertans to get engaged, learn the facts and punt the PCs.

  16. Anonymous2:47 pm

    One data point does not define a trend. Who remembers the year the only seat was won by the Western Canada Concept party (Olds Didsbury)? That's what I thought. Nobody.

    The Alberta of my youth no longer exists. Economic growth has opened the doors for virtually all races and creeds. Either we embrace it and value the change (or we suffer and live in the past). All the major parties need to be revitalized.
    Three governments since 1921. Hmmm...

  17. Anonymous2:55 pm

    If the Premier starts listening to some of his MLAs who have a pulse of what's going on in this Province, rather than listening to his Chief of Staff, Ron Glen he wouldn't be finding himself in this horrible position. Turf Ron Glen and get someone that is less vindictive and more responsive to Albertans and their needs. Appoint some smart MLAs to cabinet instead of punishing them because they didn't support Stelmech during the leadership contest!


  18. Anonymous4:00 pm

    BILL 44 PROCLAIMED INTO LAW TODAY! Clearly the PC Party is moving to the right.

  19. In the three by-elections that opposition parties have won in all of the era in which the Tories have been in government (two in ridings including Three Hills) the Tories won the seats in the next election.

    Third place sucks. For a sitting Alderman and President of the Prime Minister's riding association, to be defeated by the Prime Minister's supporters is ironic.

    But I'm not sure that it really is cause to try to remove the Premier.

    That's not to say that the ambitous won't try...

    More interesting to me is how Paul Hinman will react to a new leader and no longer being a one man band.

  20. Anonymous8:44 pm

    The move to the Wild Rosers have gained momentum and it is interesting if they know how to grow their party. Only fiscal conservatism won't do it because the pressure to cut spending will wain when the price of oil goes up.

  21. Dear Glen Argan,

    Appreciated your perspective. Thanks.

  22. Anonymous7:10 am

    Ken, I personally doubt we'll see the “2012 election” you anticipate, because the PCs (under any leader) will not give Danielle Smith two-and-a-half years to organize their come-uppance. I would not be surprised to see a writ dropped next spring.
    Pity that this government refuses to enact a fixed election date.

    Link Byfield

  23. Anonymous8:23 am

    Fiscal conservatism will always "sell" well with all people because it is the right thing to do. Unfortunately, the PC's need to reinvent themselves once again to capture the support of Albertans. The Liberals will never govern this p[rovince because there fundamental philosophical base doesn't grow. Plus, there philosophy scares the bejeebers out of hard working folks. The PC's have moved too far to the left of the spectrum and even though it seems the whole world went crazy trying to "manage" a global recession that simply has to run it's course, most folks don't see spending, deficiets and possibly debt as good things in this province. The great thing about the PC party is that the Lougheed/Getty government was much different than the Klein government and the Stelmach government has no resemblance to the Klein folks. While the same party may have been in for 38 years, Alberta has had very different governments; we just never changed party names!

  24. Anonymous9:44 am

    The only possible lesson from this is that the PC party must abandon its left fringe and move completely to the right to co-op the Wildrose.

  25. Anonymous4:26 pm

    If the PCs abandon Stelmach, Edmonton and the rural areas will abandon the PCs in favour of the WAPers. if the PCs don't abandon Stelmach, Calgary will abandon the PCs in favour of a mix of WAPers and Liberals and the Edmonton and rural support will mostly stay with the PCs. So, likely Stelmach is still in there for awhile.


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