Reboot Alberta

Thursday, September 24, 2009

What Messages Did Premier Ed Get From the Calgary Glenmore By Election?

It has been over a week since Premier Stelmach executed his much rumoured and much anticipated Cabinet shuffle. It was not much of a shuffle, more of a minor, one portfolio expansion of the Cabinet.

When former Deputy Premier Ron Stevens left politics for the Bench Premier Stelmach wisely assumed the International and Intergovernmental Affairs portfolio in his own office. Stelmach used to serve in that Ministry and knows the files. He also knows the IIA function is become essentially a glorified Parliamentary Assistant to the Premier's office. So it only makes sense governance wise and for fiscal prudence to reduce his cabinet by one and for the Premier to be the International and Intergovernmental face for the province.

So it is interesting that we saw the appointment of Len Webber as the new Minister. Len Webber is a good guy and I am sure he is capable of fulfilling the Parliamentary Assistant to the Premier function of this Ministry. This appointment had nothing to do with good governance of fiscal prudence. It was pure regional appeasement politics that pushed this appointment. It is more Calgary appeasement by the Stelmach PCs who looking for love in all the wrong places.


The key messages gleaned from the PCs enormous loss of the Calgary Glenmore by election is the recession is hurting and Albertans are grumpy with the spending plans of the province. It had nothing to do with the perceptions of the leadership capacities of the Premier or his office whatsoever. It was the good folks of Calgary Glenmore send a fiscal message only.

I don't think the Stelmach government is reading all the signs. They are practicing and perfecting selective listening. We have experiences a relatively light recession in Alberta compared to Canada and the planet. We have cash to cover the deficit. We have the "luxury" of not having to raise taxes for at last 2 years. We have unemployment at about 7.2%. In "normal" times 6% unemployment is considered full employment by economists. So Alberta is in a recession but it is not a dire as many of the past.

We have a natural gas revenue hit caused by low commodity prices between $4 and $5B but that is not enough to account for the almost $15B swing from last years estimate of $8B surplus and a $7B deficit one year later. We Albertans have not been shown how that math really works. I hope it is not more political messaging to manipulate expectations instead of actual accountability and authentic transparency.

So what. The "official government" key message and speaking points response to the wildly successful Wildrose Alliance campaign slogan of "Send Ed a Message is the recession and there is too much government spending. So the question for the Premier and his brain trust is what to do? The answer is clear. Shift to the right, fiscally and socially. Spend less and a lot less, right now.

Go ahead a break trusts by clawing back prior social infrastructure promises, especially in the vulnerable social service sector. They don't vote and if they did, they don't vote Tory anyway. One thing for sure, in a perpetual appeasement to Calgary elites we can't risk alienating the energy industry millionaire masters of the universe types, especially in times of recession.


The real evidence of a fundamental (sic) social policy shift is in the other appointments made concurrently with Len Webber's ascending into Cabinet. Look at the rewards given to the social conservative gang that promoted and won the battle to pass their beloved Bill 44. This is even more disturbing and profound evidence of the social repositioning of the Stelmach government to the right. I suggest the far right. This is an exercise in social conservative appeasement but there is some overtones of more Calgary Appeasement as a beneficial by-election by product.

The elevation of rookie MLA Jonathan Denis to Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Energy puts a socially conservative Calgary face on the portfolio. Jono and I are Facebook Friends and follow each other on Twitter. [We are @JonoMLA and @KenChapman46 on Twitter if you want to follow us.] I find him to be an intelligent and civil debater as we arm wrestle in the social media. He may prove to be a very capable guy and deserves the benefit of the doubt. But there is not doubt of is social conservative credentials as one of the front men on Bill 44.

Side note: Jono beat the ultra social conservative Craig Chandler who ran as an Independent in the 2008 election after winning the PC nomination but Stelmach refused to sign his paper. Mr. Chandler is now the power and behind Mark Dynholm's bid to lead the Wildrose Alliance Party.

Next is Broyce Jacobs as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister Agriculture and Rural Development. Mr. Jacobs is and was the MLA from Cardston. He lost to Paul Hinman in 2004 but beat him in 2008. Remember it was Hinman who parachuted into Calgary Glenmore and trounced the local high profile PC candidate in the by election this month. Elevating him also sends a message to Albertans with a strong fundamentalist faith base that they have a voice right into the provincial political power structure.

Next we have the evidence of the social and fiscal shift to the right in the new appointments to key Cabinet committees. Adding Lindsay Blackett to Agenda and Priorities is a reward for a job well done on pushing through Bill 44 in the face of serious, vocal and broadly based public opposition.

There seems to be soap-opera around the selection of rookie Rob Anderson to the all powerful Treasury Board. Rob is apparently a fiscal hawk and was the face of Bill 44 to the social conservative element in the caucus and in the PC party. His appointment is clearly a reward for his Bill 44 efforts and success.

The soap opera element is the apparent political punishment of Kyle Fawcett, another social conservative Bill 44 caucus promoter. Kyle, a Calgary rookie MLA, had the temerity to say the equivalent of Premier had no clothes in his analysis of the messages coming out of the Calgary Glenmore by election. See the blog post of Don Braid, provincial affairs columnists for the Calgary Herald for details.

All of this is a symbolic sign to those former PC supporters who abandoned the party and voted Wildrose Alliance in Calgary Glenmore. The Premier is showing off his social conservative bench strength and trying to convince So-con swing voters that their concerns will be dealt with from now on by his government. He is trying to show those folks that he got that message. I think that message has come through loud and clear since the last election.

That puts the progressives in the PC party on notice that they are marginalized. I think it may prove that the progressives int eh PC party will be even more marginalized than in the darkest days of the Klein regime. Time will tell.


  1. Anonymous8:30 am

    What I find funny about the this byelection is that everyone has differing interpretation of the results, almost like reading the tea leaves at the bottom of a cup. What is scary is that major decision makers are doing the same thing and are subjected to making big mistakes by comming up with unvalidated interpretations and making their decisions that impact us all.

    I liked how Graham Thompson put it. You can read his piece at:

  2. Good reminder about the economic reality in Alberta - we are falling victim to the "Shock Doctrine" practices so favored by those that don't want intelligent, rational consideration of issues.

    The problem with the PC party and pretty well any party that has power is that people who really have no political philosophy other than what will get them into power attach themselves. The ideas of conservatism and liberalism are irrelevant now - it is the party in power versus the party that wants to be in power. If the NDP had won Glenmore, wouldn't the PCs be considering a move to the left. In the words of the country song - "if you don't stand for something you'll fall for anything".

  3. Glen Argan11:10 am

    I find your comments on the message the Tories received from the byelection to be interesting and perhaps revealing of what's going on under the Dome.
    Not so sure that I buy your analysis about the message sent, however. All I hear from Calgarians is how incompetent they think Stelmach is. The huge deficit may play into that perception, but from what I see and hear, it's the perception of incompetence that is the main threat to the Tories.

  4. Anonymous12:52 pm

    I agree with you that Denis is very capable and deserves the benefit; but I wouldn't call Denis a socon. I heard him disagree with Iris Evans that women should stay at home. No socon would say that - plus Denis is single and has no children.

  5. Anonymous1:27 pm

    Okay so these guys supported Bill 44 but so did Len Webber.

    Just because someone supported Bill 44 doesn't make them a "social conservative" anyways.

  6. Anon at 12:52 - There are various degrees of being socially conservative. Disagreeing with Iris Evans is no absolution.

    Anon at 1:27 - I don't know anyone who supported Bill 44 who is not a social conservative. If you do name names!

  7. You keep beating the "Stelmach has moved socially to the far right" mantra over and over again, but it remains completely out to lunch.

    After all, social conservatives have been abandoning Stelmach in droves. You can't talk about all the things Stelmach is doing to make social conservatives happy and simultaneously be concerned about the social conservatives fleeing for Wildrose Alliance where they expect their concerns are met.

  8. Why can't someone hold two conflicting or paradoxical views in their head at one time? It is the real world.

    I am not disputing that social conservative members are leaving the PC party with the rejuvination of the WAP from the Calgary Glenmore By Election. It is a free country and that is democracy.

    I can also be concerned about the steps being taken by the Stelmach government (like Bill 44) to try and "prove" its socially conservative credentials to that segment of society. That is just politics.

    Don't see the inconsistency in both ideas at the same time at all.

  9. Anonymous8:58 pm

    There's also no inconsistency in being a classical liberal or libertariain and supporting Bill 44.

  10. True! But are there any folks who fit that bill?

  11. Paul McLoughlin's weekly subscription only newsletter Alberta Scans cites anonymous sources to claim that up to 10 MLAs may jump to the Wildrose Alliance if Danielle Smith becomes leader.

    I wouldn't leak info from a subscription only publication but the Edmonton Journal already did it on their Capital Notebook blog Friday.

    Assuming this rumour has any basis, I cannot see it being Bill 44 s.9 supporters. They are already getting their way with Stelmach. And to Danielle Smith who went on the record in no less a rural publication than the Nanton News to protest Bill 44's section 9 (evidence that her position is more than just pandering to urban sensibilities)? If anything it would be those OPPOSED to Bill 44, and if they were regionally diverse such that it wasn't dismissed as a Calgary rebellion, that would would really throw a bomb in Alberta politics!

    But I can't see anyone outside of Calgary seriously considering switching. There would be a big internal debate in the WAP about whether to accept any floor crosser without him or her committing to a byelection within a short period of time, and surely the MLAs would have enough sense to anticipate this and put feelers out to influential Wildrosers to ensure that they wouldn't be surprised by such a requirement.

    If any MLA outside of Calgary publicly announced a desire to cross the floor, I would take it as evidence that Stelmach must be running a virtual dictatorship or there is some other sort of serious problem that we cannot see from outside the party. Either that or they truly think the dynasty is going to end in favour of a Wildrose Alliance govt and only the early jumpers will be able to win riding nominations from Wildrose Alliance members and continue to serve as MLAs!

  12. Anonymous3:15 pm

    For a party who's only ever elected one person - what a stretch to say it's going to topple the ruling government. Kool aid anyone?

  13. Reality Bites10:17 am

    Reality Check: The Alberta government already spends far more per capital on social programs than any other provincial government in Canada, and has done for a long, long time. And that is despite the fact that Alberta's unemployment and poverty rates are lower than average, and our population younger. Talk about the Alberta government being "far right" is just nuts, crazy, loopy. Stelmach and the gang would fit comfortably into any NDP government in Canada on the fiscal side.

  14. Thx for the Comment Reality Bites. The reality is that the Klein regime ignored the growing social infrastructure deficit for 15 years. Alberta has had enormous population growth and the social issues that growth causes. Premer Stelmach has done some very good work to address those issues, like affordable housing, safe communities and others.

    Those days are past and new fiscal realities face us. In American terms of what is "far right" the shift of the GOA is not to the far right...just to the right. Fiscal prudence is called for but we need intelligent adaptation not just simple-minded cuts like we did in 1993

  15. Anonymous6:59 pm

    Hey Reality Bites. Your argument that Alberta spends more per capita than any other province on social programs is seductively inaccurate and does not take into account other costs that contribute to the per capita caculation that has nothing to do with direct real world service delivery. When it comes to single programs like AISH, PDD, Welfare, or Day Care the numbers that I have suggest we actually spend less as compared to other provinces. Other costs associated with the per capita caculations in Alberta has also been significant and ongoing change management such as when Alberta Children and Youth Services reduced the number of Regions and the massive costs associated with changing all the forms, training, etc, to accomidate new leglislation, new computer programs, and on and on goes the list. Speaking about leglislation we have a number of single issue pieces of leglislation that makes it look like your Government is hard at work tacking the issues of the day, but the more single pieces of leglislation you have the more costly it becomes to operationalize it. For example consider the question of why do we need the Children and Youth Family Enhancement Act, as well as Drug Endangered Children's Act, Protection of Persons Involved in Prostitution Act. Would you not think that having one piece of child welfare leglislation could adequately protect all children at risk instead of all the add on leglislation ? You'll be glad to know that your Government is proposing yet other bill against bulling that again add to the per capita costs that you wrote of ? I could write more about why per capita costs is a wrong figure to use when it comes to comparing programs in Alberta to other Provinces, but I think you get my point. The issue here is efficiency and stability which Alberta is not really great at doing which in the end will end up costing the Alberta taxpayer even more money in the long run.

  16. Anonymous9:43 am

    Ken, I have to disagree with your response to Reality Bites. Klein had it right in the early 90's and action was taken to ensure government only was involved in doing those things collectively that individuals could not do for themselves. The essense of fiscal conservative, smaller government and much less "Big Brother". Since about 1997 onwards the "progressives" as you call them, the red liberals within the conservative party as I call them, have worked to undo all of the good action Ralph took as he "right-sized" government. I truly believe the Alberta people are much farther ahead of their government and when the pendulum swings too far towards the social agenda, as it has now, then the real people stand up and demand a change. The real question will be is the PC party, with or without Ed, going to reinvent itself yet one more time to appeal to the real folks out there.

  17. anon @ 9:43 - there are a lot of people who can't take care of themselves like kids at risk, disability folks (mental, developmental and physical) seniors in need of long term care. All of these people are going to be bearing the burden now of the same kind of '93-'96 across the board cuts with no planning - just getting the budget math right.

    The social contract between a governbment and the society ii is intended to serve cannot be measured by money alone.

  18. Anonymous11:37 am

    Ken, a hand up and not a hand out should always be the principle. I agree there is a role for government support to some who truly have no ability to care for themselves. The trick is how you determine the measurment. Government support should be a last resort and it should not give those on it the same standard of living as folks who find ways to care for themselves. As for the "across the board cuts with no planning" comment you make towards the Klein early years, I disagree. There was a thought process and action taken. I beleive that the 4th level of government, called the "non-profit" sector who was doing quite well with massive amounts of government coin to run social programs, were the ones that felt slighted and they perpetuated the myth that Ralph had no plan and just indiscrimanately cut. Remember people weren't dying on the streets, the seniors weren't homeless, etc. The socialists and liberals wanted folks to believe that but it simply wasn't true.

  19. Actually Jim Dinning at the end of the cuts admitted, as least as health care cuts were concerned, that there was no plan to concern and preserve vital services. As for the NPVS, they have never had enough coin to run programs and the downloading is happening again. The gov't knows they can do it better as community based and cheaper too than union based gov't employees.

    As for people dying in the streets I htink that is true but hardly the litmus test of good social planning. We have what looks like a murder suicide of a Dad and autistic boy who ws cut off psych services with budget cuts. Autoposies today will tell us for sure.

    The boys from Bosco who murdered 2 people were not properly taken care of due to service shortfalls from insufficient funding for staffing. Looks like people are dying this time.

  20. Anonymous1:05 pm

    Oh please, we can not as a society accept the burden of everyone's troubled life or private torment. I suppose you can blame society for not allowing those two little you know whats to probably get the spanking they deserved when they were younger or the capital punishment they deserve now for committing the absolute crime of murder. I truly appreciate your comments and I hope readers of this blog can appreciate them and mine as well. It truly shows the difference between social, small L liberal, "just society" thinking people and those who value individual responsibility, individual resolve, and government staying out of folks lives so they can truly have more freedoms.

  21. Anonymous5:57 pm

    I am the the person who posted about the problems with the per capita comparison argument as proposed by Reality Bites. I do appreciate the comments by anon 1:05 as well as Ken's comments, if anything the broad based generalizations about small L liberal and individual responsibility (I suppose you mean consertative) does not do justice when it comes to sastifying our personal ideologies about what we think we right, (sorry I mean good) for Alberta. What I mean here is that the contemporary "left verses right" political spectrum idea has it's own weakness as any party who may be in power may commit to policies that are both 'left and right' So really instead to getting stuck on what is left verses right why can't we talk about common vision, or what kind of outcome we want for Alberta ?


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