Reboot Alberta

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

What Does the Fiscal Four Mean for the Stelmach Government?

Here it comes! The seeds of a PC caucus rebellion are planted by a group forming and publically calling themselves the Fiscal Four! Is this reminiscent of the (not so) Deep Six that Stelmach was part of as a rookie MLA? Three of them are strong social conservatives from in and around Calgary that were active in pushing the anti-gay, anti-teacher aspects of Bill 44. This will not sit well with the powers that be!

Is the Party Behind Stelmach but the Caucus, Not So Much?
This split in caucus is not a surprise. It is just coming much sooner than I expected. The 77% party support solution from the recent PC AGM was a great example of the wisdom of crowd. It was not so low that it caused a partisan panic. It was not so high that the Premier’s office could claim all was well in Ed's world regardless of evidence to the contrary.

The response from Premier Stelmach was obvious relief but too tentative in terms of articulating what he heard and what is intends to do. He says he will make changes - but slowly and on his time schedule. The delusional declaration that the PC policy is perfect and then blaming of the media for the poor communications and the head nod solution to using social media is inadequate and unimpressive. This response to the public’s resistance to the Stelmach government policy is just a “pocket full of mumbles.” That is the true communications problem.

Is Social Media Stelmach's Communications Solution?
The old-school command and control, top down, message management mentality of the PCs, and the Wildrose Alliance too, will not work in the culture of the new world order known as social media. The PCs tried to adapt to social media a year or so ago - and with some considerable effort and enthusiasm. The effort was shown with the set up of MYPCMLA site. As soon as the social media conversation started to work, the PCs enthusiasm waned and they have essentially abandoned the effort. Now a few PC MLAs still use it as well as Twitter, Facebook and personal blogs but on a cautious and inconsistent basis.

Fear of the openness of the social media world is the dominant reaction of traditionalists in political parties. This fear is because the inner circle political machinery in the Stelmach government wanted to continue to have absolute control over the messages. You can't do that in the social media world. It is too democratic for that. They are wary of joining in any authentic conversation with engaged Albertans online using social media tools.

Facing the rabble known as netizens without the usual tools of coercion and fear feigning as respect forced them PCs to retreat from the field. The rabble is talking about them anyway so it would be wiser to be involved and ensuring accuracy, understanding and context as well as the opportunity to learn and show real leadership.

So What is With the Fiscal Four?
Now we have the Fiscal Four breaking ranks and sending out their own messages. Two of them are very adroit at using social media and have substantial networks in the wired world. Is this self-anointed fiscal watch-dog group the start of the PC caucus “big tent” folding and not flourishing?

Are some of these MLAs part of the 10 closeted Wildrose floor-crossers that were rumored to exist a few weeks ago? Are they so fearful of defeat in the next election under the current leadership that this is now every man for himself - especially in Calgary? It has been that way for Edmonton PCs for decades. Or are these guys in Kris Kristofferson land and feeling a new found freedom because they have nothing left to lose?

Looks like the Premier may have to fast-track identifying and making the changes he alluded to last week end in his speech after the confidence vote. To delay now will only weaken his power, his base and undermine his own effectiveness and survival. He was quick to reverse the liquor tax increase last summer because he said he "did not feel right about it." He may need to be that nimble and assertive now. For sure he will have to be more substantive and more strategic now that these caucus cracks are showing.

Is the Wildrose Alliance Worth the Risk?
Albertans have to ask ourselves why the Wildrose Alliance is the best alternative for most us...not just the wealthy elites from the Calgary oil patch. They are in many ways scarier than the old Alliance crowd because they are not open and transparent on social and environmental policies. They seem to be conniving to avoid talking about key social (gay rights, abortion) and environmental issues because they say they are "divisive." It is all about aligning with the narrow and shallow Fraser Institute culture for the Wildrose Alliance.

It is as if the Wildrose Alliance believes if we just ignore human rights abuses, the plight of the poor, the obligation to the vulnerable, like children, seniors and the disabled they will go magically to away. It is as if the goal for Albertans is to aspire to get as rich as possible and as quickly as possible regardless of environmental implications.

The Wildrose Alliance has pledged to stifle government by starving its capacity with more ill-advised tax cuts. That way the self-fulfilling prophesy of government being incapable of doings it job is assured - but that is ok because that is the world unfolding as it should in a Wildrose Alberta.

The next government can deal with social fabric breakdown fallout, the environmental and climate change disasters we are developing today through a wanton and reckless focus on only economic policy. To them it is as if that is somehow acceptable for the current narcissist generation to ignore and avoid any social or environmental responsibility to future generations.

We still don't know who funded and is hidden behind the scenes and influencing the new Wildrose leader. She has refused to disclose her funders and the reason is "because they fear reprisals" from the government. That is not good enough.

Lots to look at and much more attention needs to be directed towards the Wildrose Alliance Party by all Albertans. We need to see if they are an alternative to be trusted and worthy of our consent to govern us. And by “us” I mean all Albertans from all over the province - not just the beautiful and bountiful Albertans in the Calgary elites and the disgruntled old-school former Reformers they are currently courting.


  1. Hi Ken - As I wrote on my blog this morning, it is not difficult to imagine that a significant element of the 'Fiscal Four' production is a staged exercise in PC Party myth-building.  

    I do not doubt that these four PC MLAs picture themselves as the very models of modern fiscal conservatives, but until now they have either remained largely silent or have risen in the Assembly to praise their party's fiscal leadership. I have been told that a similar tactic of external criticism only after internal permission was adopted by the Deep-Six.


  2. Anonymous1:18 pm

    I ran in the last Provincial Election and conclude that the Wildrose Alliance is much further to the right than the Conservatives. It is my feeling that the Wildrose Alliance, in power, could be very dangerous.

  3. Anonymous1:23 pm

    Oh Ken, Ken, Ken....bless your heart. Your underlying bias towards red tory's, social activism and "big brother" government including policies of tax and spend to be politically correct and save us from ourselves comes through loud and clear in this article. I'm proud of the fiscal four for stating their concerns and hope they stay true to the priciples they are advocating. I think Albertans see right through the antics of the current mismanagement of finances and that we are once again headed for deficit and debt. It's not whether the Wildrose is worthy of our support, it is that more and more Albertans are starting to show their support for values that I think we have always held in this province. Those values are towards individual responsibility, individual resolve, caring for one self and for each other personally and not through big government buracracy, and for small government, more freedom and less regulation. The private sector is not evil and bad but rather the driver of our standard of living and what makes Alberta a great place to live, work and play! Ed needs to further embrace the fiscal fours position and reform (no pun intended!) our PC party into one that brings back all of the support we are losing to the Wildrose.

  4. ab_baby1:45 pm

    Good observations, Ken. I especially like your analysis of why the PCs fear getting involved in authentic conversations via social media. I've noticed how many previously enthusiastic govt users of social media seem to have backed off after the active engagement of Albertans during Bill44 debates. It's unfortunate, since I saw excellent discussions between MLAs and citizens beginning, but then inexplicably fading out when pointed questions were skirted or ignored (so reminiscent of OQP). Loss of control of the message certainly seems a logical explanation.

  5. Hiu Anon- don't get me wrong, I have great respect for the Fiscal Four and what they are trying to do. It flys in the face of the traditions of centralized power in the leadership in Alberta and Federally too.

    I love hearing about individual MLAs positions on policy going into Caucus - even if they have to bite their tongues coming out because they did not carry the day.

    Democracy is messy and is at its best when it is messy. That disagreement does not mean disrespectful or disagreeable.

    I am disappointed in one comment you made about me thought. My Red Tory spirit is not "underlying." I wear it with pride but that does not mean I am not a fiscal conservative regarding taxpayers money. I just believe government is a force for good when done well.

    The only sin worse than too much government is too little government. We n eed to get value for taxpaer maney and have a publis service attitude - not a self-service belief amongst the political class. We nneed to get it right when it comes social cohesion, fairplay, inclusion, respect for differences, care for the vulnerable and enabling and empowering folks to be capable to realize their pontential.

    While we are at it, it is a ggod thing to be very concerned for the environment and holding conservation values for protection of our natural capital and biodiversity as paramount when we consider development projects.

  6. Carl Hunt3:00 pm

    Oh Ken, 'bless your biased red tory heart' etc at least you have the integrity to sign your name to your ideas.
    I think most of us advocate fiscal responsibility, conservative spending, government efficiency and fair taxation however politicians use our simplistic aversion to taxes and make promises to avoid paying for health, education, infrastructure and environmental protection.
    The fiscal four and Wild Rose Alliance want fiscal responsibility achieved by tax cuts and savings that usually punish the disadvantaged and the environment.
    Politicians should be telling us how to make our tax system more efficient but instead they promise tax breaks, give our tax dollars to inefficient industries (auto) or provide lucrative royalty subsidies for profitable global industries such as the petroleum industry.
    Politicians never tell us how or when we, the tax payers, are going to pay for all their generosity (really short-sighted waste and stupidity).
    Our current civil service has already been cut back, intimidated into silence & replaced by public relations hacks analysing misleading polls and telling political leaders how to provide 30 second commercials to sell simplistic solutions to complex problems.
    Tax cuts are always strong political fodder that usually turn into manure.

  7. Anonymous3:12 pm

    Ken, no offense meant by the underlying red tory comment from my earlier post. I just get really frustrated with all of the political correctness around those issues you value regarding envirnoment, nature capital, etc. as I think the economy and freedoms get lost in all of the rhetoric around them. I believe in a clean environment but I think it can be done through technology development driven by the private sector and I believe we can all be more efficient but I resent being made to feel guilty about being a consumer. We live in the strangest of times when on one hand, if you believe the David Suzuki's of the world, we should give up our trucks, big houses, toys, etc. and go live on the land I guess while on the other hand government's and economists are all wishing the public would keep spending money at the retail level so we could get out of this recession. Makes you wonder, eh?

  8. No offence taken Anon. This progressive movement is not about guilting or picking sides like left versus right. It is about moving forward in ways that are sustainable, responsible and in a spirit of stewardship.

    Consumerism like anything else, is only bad taken to extremes. We are unfortunately doing that these days...especially in the developed world. And now we insist the developing world cannot follow our model if people of the planet are going to respond to the human and industrial contribution to climate change.

    Not fair and intellectually dishonest at best. Not a solution to either problem either.

    Business will only rarely pushes past the point of minimum compliance with the rules and the law. They are profit making machines who do the greater good if it serves the profit purpose. I like that but if that is the level of compliance required then they have to be forced to take on the full cost of their efforts then, including the social and environmental costs of their activities. Reclamation to restoration in resource extraction has to be costed into exploitation activities.

    Making money is not that hard compared to governing. Making a positive difference to the society or the ecology - that is tougher to do. Business can do it but not if we continue to insist on measuring commercial success on a Quarterly profit basis. It will only get worse, like in this current deep and distrubing recession that was caused because the regulatory system borke down.

    It allowed rewards to the captains of commerce with excessive bonuses for activities that are based on greed that do more harm than good to the rest of us. Now we are borrowing from future generations to borrow, print and spending taxpayer money to bail those bozos out.

  9. The issue is not, in fact, care for the less privileged etc etc.

    The issue is that there are limits to what government can spend, and that limit is what the economy can sustain. The spending spree that has occurred this decade is not sustainable. The voices that opposed the increases were overridden by the sorts of arguments Ken is making here about all the needs that must be served.

    The province has been run as a petro-state where no trade-offs are thought to be required, unlike a normal jurisdiction where there is long experience dealing with fiscal constraints. We are now at point where the reality of constraints is becoming somewhat more obvious to those who have historically been rationalizing the spending. The thesis that the province has hit a cyclical low is really besides the point, which is that finances have to be managed on a sustainable basis and if a "cyclical" change can send the province into multi-billion dollar asset eroding deficits, the sustainability criterion is not being satisfied.

    Continued scoffing to the effect of "well what would you cut?" suggests that the same tune that has been played for years continues to ring out and no learning at all is occurring.

    In fact governing is the easy part; - the current government has just said "yes" to everyone and everything. A union wants billions while the private sector underclass has no retirement security at all? No problem, because the unions are asking and the truly impoverished, non-union workers do not constitute a political lobby. "Making money" is the hard part, since it involves creating value instead of consuming it or redistributing it.

  10. What is a "social conservative? I am not trying to be coy but unless you really watch the political scene the different labels are almost greek. Is social conservative different than fiscal conservative? Are all the different labels neated posted somewhere?

  11. A response to Brian8:52 pm

    Brian I disagree with your post in so much that that you don't rationalize what is unsustainable for government, is likely even more unsustainable for single people and families. In my mind what is lacking in Alberta is a common vision that unites us in common purpose. When our Premier says wait and see, change is comming and it will me on my timeline, I translate that as I am going to get screwed but the Government does not want me to know about it before they actually do it but first suck everything out of me that they can. If we really want to build sustainability let's get away from the boom/bust mentality. B.T.W. What do unions have to do with anything?

  12. Hah, Ken - you caught a tiger by the tail this time - if that's the right metaphor. As an Albertan borne and bred, I get supremely ticked off by the preachy comments about "Alberta values", etc., etc., etc. What a bunch of crap. We Albertans are just a bunch of greedy, paranoid people, who have no sense of the value of working together - which is all that government in principle is. It's each to his own, look out for number one.

  13. Thanks for your insight Ken. I think the Fiscal Four, and their comparison to the Deep-Six , is just strategy to position Stelmach as a fiscal conservative who is capable of "doing what needs to be done". Paul Stanway's careful response about Stelmach's view of the Fiscal Four says it all. He (Stelmach) welcomes their view and has been there himself as one of the Deep Six. It's a way to appeal to the disgruntled fiscal conservatives and take the wind out of the Wildrose Alliance sail.

  14. Anonymous6:04 pm

    I think of the four (five?) only Rob Anderson has true conservative credentials. Anyone who doesn't have children and isn't married can't possible be a true conservative.

  15. Ken,

    I have to say that I think Dave is on to something re: the 'fiscal four' being an authorized internal position lobby. Not to say that the MLAs involved are not sincere in their stated position, but it certainly looks like a return to an old Alberta tactic of trumpeting your 'internal opposition' to draw the teeth of the real opposition.

    I agree with Mr. Dell that Alberta has been run like one of the gulf states, with the caveat that they are all planning for a post-oil economy and there isn't much evidence that our government is. I happen to agree with Ken that government is an essential element of society - it has, after all, a fundamentally different mandate than private businesses & corporations. That said the issue is whether or not government is done well, and how much of it is needed to provide the services required by the population without intruding into their private lives any more than absolutely necessary.

    A social conservative is shorthand for a set of beliefs usually including: insistance on the 'traditional' definition of marriage, opposition to abortion etc. etc. Fiscal conservativism is commonly understood as an interest in efficient government, not running deficits and minimal taxation.

  16. Ths for the comment Alex. I agree that Daveberta is on to something but I am not confident that the PC party or the Stelmach governing strategists are that "artful." If it happens the way Dave sees it I am pretty sure it will be due to surendipity not design.


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