The strength of any long-ruling political party is the ability to reinvent itself under new leaders and changing circumstances. After 43-years in power, Alberta’s Progressive Conservative Association has successfully rebranded itself under five leaders, in many cases by attacking the political record of its previous leadership.
Alberta’s seventh PC Party Premier, Jim Prentice, set about this week distancing himself from some of the more unpopular decisions made by the government when it was led by his predecessor, Alison Redford.
The process of de-Redfordization started with a cabinet shuffle that purged PC MLAs seen as being too closely tied to the previous leader. Finance minister Doug Horner, former deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk, Health minister Fred Horne, Service Alberta minister Doug Griffiths, former Energy minister Ken Hughes and anti-bullying minister Sandra Jansen all found themselves sitting in the backbenches.
Former Premier Dave Hancock resigned from the Legislature, instead risk spending his final years in office without a seat at the cabinet tables.
Selling the fleet of government planes, a symbol of the entitlement of the previous regime, was a political no-brainer. Use of the government planes by the former Premier to fly from a vacation home Palm Springs and to long-weekends in Jasper, as well as ‘false passengers,’ shocked even the most cynical Albertans.
Forcing MLAs and government staff to use commercial airlines frees the government of reporting its own public flight logs, but does not solve the root problems of political entitlement inside the current government.
Cancelling the botched license plate redesign was an easy win. An obvious political ploy to remove the long-standing ‘Wild Rose Country‘ slogan from the back of every vehicle in Alberta, the great license plate debate was a strange distraction from the summer’s MLA travel and Skypalace scandals.
On the international front, Redford appointee Gary Mar, who was named Alberta’s envoy to Hong Kong after losing the 2011 PC leadership contest, is being replaced when his contract expires next year. Career diplomat Ron Hoffman will replace him.
But despite campaigning to “end entitlements”, Mr. Prentice has chosen former Ottawa colleagues Rob Merrifield and Jay Hill as Alberta envoys abroad. Mr. Merrifield will soon be Alberta’s representative in Washington D.C. and Mr. Hill, a Calgary-based lobbyist and co-chair of Mr. Prentice’s leadership campaign, will be Alberta’s “Senior Representative in Saskatchewan, British Columbia, the North and to the New West Partnership.”
Proroguing the Legislature for a new fall session of the Legislature allows for a new Speech from the Throne and provided an opportunity for the government to ditch the unpopular Bill 9 and Bill 10.
The two bills, introduced by Mr. Horner, would have imposed without consultation, an overhaul Alberta’s public sector pensions. Thousands of public sector workers rallied against the bills, making backbench Tories nervous about the next election.
Next on the list, Mr. Prentice is expected to make an announcement about the status of Red Deer’s Michener Centre today. Given the theme of this week’s announcements, it would not be surprising to hear the new leader reverse, or slow down, the facility’s closure.
Undoing some of the previous leader’s unpopular policies will steal away some of Wildrose opposition leader Danielle Smith‘s key talking points, but it will not be enough. CBC reported yesterday that Alberta’s chief medical examiner, Anny Sauvageau, is alleging political and bureaucratic interference in the independence of her office. And questions remains about irregularities in the PC leadership vote that selected Mr. Prentice on September 6.
And, despite the attempts to distance himself from the previous leader, the main thrust of Mr. Prentice’s government – promoting pipelines and the oil sands abroad – remains the same.
White-washing Ms. Redford’s time in office might be enough to help the Tories win the next election, but, like other world parties that have held near uncontested power for decades, many of the serious problems facing the PC Party and its government are deeper than any one leader.