Jim Prentice David Dorward Moe Amery Selfie Alberta

A PC Party selfie with MLAs David Dorward, Moe Amery and leadership candidate Jim Prentice. (photo from @DavidDorward on Twitter)

Whoever leads Alberta’s long-governing Progressive Conservatives into the next election (probably Jim Prentice) will have some serious challenges to deal with.

After more than forty years in office, Alberta’s natural governing party has become accustomed to getting its way, regardless of who stands in their way.

Perhaps realizing how much damage this has caused his party, interim PC leader Premier Dave Hancock apologized to attendees at high-priced party fundraising dinners in Calgary and Edmonton.

“I’m sorry we damaged Albertans’ confidence in our party,” Mr. Hancock said. “I apologize for losing touch with our grassroots, for not listening to you the way we should have. This behaviour is just not acceptable.”

Delivering this type of apology is a big step for any PC leader, even an interim one. After years of public controversy and internal turmoil under previous leaders, the PCs hope that Albertans will forget their misdeeds and elect them to office for a fourteenth term.

But apologies need to be followed up with action.

Last week, more than 400 representatives of the Alberta Teachers’ Association unanimously stood in a non-confidence vote against Education Minister Jeff Johnson. The Tories have slowed down their drastic reforms to public sector pensions and backed down on legislative threats to impose a contract on public sector workers, but Mr. Johnson’s recent attack on front-line educators appears to be off-script.

Even the secret Skypalace in the Federal Building, which Albertans had been told was cancelled, is still being built (albeit without the bedrooms). A strong case can be made for an official residence for the Premier, and especially official meeting spaces to hold functions and host dignitaries. But for some reason, even when they claim to be upfront and transparent, the Tories still do not feel they need to justify these expenses to the public. They continue to operate in secret.

The leadership vacuum is only one of the problems facing the big-tent PC Party. Their next leader will inherit a party with a severe cultural problem that becomes prevalent in any long-governing party – an entitlement problem. And this cannot be fixed simply by changing who is sitting in the premier’s office and it will certainly not be changed with platitudes and soundbites.

Albertans deserve better than what the Tories are offering. The Tories need to prove Albertans can have confidence in their party. They need to prove that Albertans can trust them to govern in the interest of the province, not in the interests of preserving their own political dynasty.

As the PC Party and the Alberta New Democrats begin their leadership races, I will be taking a short break from political punditry to enjoy the salty breeze and down-home hospitality of Canada’s Maritime Provinces. In my absence, I recommend you follow my colleague David Climenhaga at his excellent AlbertaDiary.ca blog.