Reboot Alberta

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?


  1. Looking at this, it's clear that the idea that WAC is a shoe-in as the next Official Opposition or Government, is not based on fact. For one thing, it's likely their supporters have been told to answer these 'random' polls while Albertans without party affiliations are hanging up the telephone. Secondly, most pundits are missing the fact that we could well see a Liberal Minority. Places like Edmonton, Northern AB, and Lethbridge are more likely to vote Liberal than WAC. And every Tory supporter in AB is not going to switch parties, either.I hardly think the Tories are going to lose enough support to make WAC a shoe in, either.

  2. re Canwest, the Edmonton Journal's unsigned editorials have, in fact, been defending the premier and Kerry Diotte of the Edmonton Sun has insisted that Mr Stelmach has been hard done by as well.

    I don't see the government as having much grounds for complaint about the Edmonton media. If there is some coverage of the Wildrose Alliance it is arguably warranted if support has risen from less than 2% of the electorate in the capital city last election to 17% currently (ahead of the NDP). The NDP took 2 seats in Edmonton with 18% of the city-wide vote.

  3. Anonymous8:42 am

    With all of the negative press against the government, it's shocking the Wildrose isn't in the 40's or higher. The public is starting to see them and their leader for what they are: a bunch of extremist ideologues not fit for a single seat.

  4. Anonymous12:21 pm

    Stelmach wins 85%
    If this occurs this weekend what does this mean, what is the party saying to the citizens of Alberta? On one hand the message from the loyalists is that the leader and party are doing a wonderful job. The media and a few flakes are simply out to get us. Alternatively, the meaning might be that we don’t sacrifice our leaders in public but in the interests of protecting our tenure in power we will deal with it (privately) behind the scenes. Perhaps replace some advisors, perhaps a strategic cabinet shuffle (but not too soon), perhaps Ed learns that “family priorities are more important” with 14 months still to go before the next election in order to anoint a new leader and rebuild brand.
    Both of these approaches have embedded risks. The first is continuation of the pure distain that the party is perceived to hold for citizens at large; a big brother mentality that we know what is right for you. It would appear that their are forces (on both the right and left) are no longer prepared to acquiesce. It does not matter if Wildrose is real or not, the fact that people are talking as though they are is providing the closet critics some confidence to become more publicly vocal. Continuing to pursue politics as usual may make the Harry Strom phenomenon come true. The other approach is equally dangerous for the party and the province. Everyone will be continuously looking for the Diefenbaker knives to be drawn; any chance of good government will be reduced to palace intrigue.
    A true leadership position would involve a very public statement by the leader; a “we have really screwed up and here is what we want to do to make it better” speech and an active agenda to, in fact, try to make it better. Unlikely though.

  5. Anonymous1:20 pm

    Simply put...the season of discontent is not just now, but nested in the very nature of a province in dramatic demographic shift. We have a new population in Alberta, and 'the old ways' were never a historical moment for these people. It will be the party that can connect with Albertans (old and new), and understand a vision to move the province forward. The PC party has shown very clearly what happens when you are in power too long, they are unquestioningly in decline, and the power base has shifted with immigration.

    44 Billion in Net Assets
    No Provincial Debt
    And we are cutting education, health and essential services?

    Ed, time to go and relax with a cup of coffee with your spouse. It is time for serious people to take control of this listless province.

  6. Clyde Blackburn3:01 pm

    Interesting point about the challenge of getting poll participants. With phone technology today, many fewer people even answer their phones. I wonder if there is a profile of the demographic that's likely to participate in a poll, and whether that has an effect on poll results.

  7. Anonymous3:20 pm

    I am constantly surprised that the media ignores the obvious when it comes to the PC's response to our lost resourse revenues. Their handling of information is abissimal, the Gov'ts plan is no plan at all, no wonder Albertans are disillusioned.
    As an example: More than 40% of every health dollar goes to administration. I work in an industry with endless regulation, yet our admin expense is 12% and falling. There are millions available if the gov't takes on beaurocracy... but they cut beds instead???

    P.C.'s will protect their leader. They have to. I rather like steady Eddy, but he better show some inovative, out-in-front leadership soon or his career will be short-lived.

  8. Hey, Ken - about your twitter post, I think that the uncertainty is a good thing. It keeps everyone on his toes - not just Ed and the PCs, but the rest of us. A good friend f mine had a favourite saying: "In uncertainty, there lies profit." And I believe that. Life/society/community/individuals do not grow and progress on the basis of the status quo, but rather on constant change - and accepting that.

  9. The appetite for change is certainly in the air but the question becomes change to "what". The PC tent has grown so large that it has become dysfunctional. Until more of the PC active supporters, back room organizers, and the sitting MLAs start making their positions public - voters have little of anything to go on. Until the WAP begins coming out with substance - not just criticisms - voters have very little to go on. Change for the sake of change is never a good thing. It has happened in Education far to many times and also in Health. For existing/former PC supporters to hold memberships in both the PC and the WAP solves nothing - just exacerbates the situation and reinforces that it is all about power, not the benefit of Albertans.

  10. Anonymous8:06 am

    You are the only voice of reason that people like me rely on. The good thing about your blog is that you write things that most of us want to say but we don't have a voice to speak. You are very objective and quite engaging. Where are others like you with so much passion for this province?
    I agree with the person who mentioned the lack of recognition of change in Alberta demographics which is something no one seems to be addressing. The last boom brought new people to the province from different parts of the country and the world. So it can’t be business as usual. Politics in Alberta should be more inclusive. There is a large pool of people out there looking for a reasonable, inclusive and moderate party to believe in. So far, none seem promising.
    Ken, thanks for providing this forum because it gives someone like me the hope that there is someone selflessly caring for people like me and giving me hope that all is not lost in this province. Sometimes the political class seem like a joke. They are totally out of touch and always hiding behind one finger as if we are special breed of stupid people.
    Alberta is blessed with natural resources and good people but no leadership. A lot can of damaged can be done with more that inadequate leadership. We need to reassess our future as a province now, and figure out how things can better work for the people. This province has so much potential.
    I am just wondering if your audience can suggest what we can do get our province out of this political conundrum. We need something to give us hope, engage us and energize us a people. We need a whole new perspective, what we have is definitely not working for us.
    Thank you.

  11. Anonymous11:41 pm

    Can anyone point to some policy positions of the WRA? (besides their lackluster website)When Ezra Levant is raving about them that scares me.


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