Category Archives: Ed Stelmach

video: premier ed stelmach at the university of alberta.

Premier Ed Stelmach spoke to an audience of over 300 staff and students at the University of Alberta this afternoon at an event hosted by the Campus Conservative Club. I have seen Premier Stelmach speak on a number of occasions, and though public speaking is not his gift, this afternoon was not his best performance. I have to admit that even as I was video recording the Premier’s speech, my mind wandered to other things like, what should I eat for lunch this afternoon?

It was a fairly unremarkable twenty minute speech and Premier Stelmach used most of his time justifying decisions that his party has made in government over the past three years. He did make some interesting comments, including criticizing the Province of Quebec for the amount of transfer payments that they collect and their low university tuition (see the third video). The Premier also made an interesting comment made about “the previous Premier” when referring to former Premier and gameshow host Ralph Klein.

Feel free to watch the videos, and if you are able to get through the entire twenty minutes, let me know what you think.

“nearing the precipice of moral insolvency to govern.”

I bet there are some people who were wishing this letter would have just been a cruel April Fools joke:

In a blistering, unprecedented letter to Premier Ed Stelmach, a key Progressive Conservative riding association says the party is “nearing the precipice of moral insolvency to govern.”

The Highwood riding board charged that the Tory party “is bereft of policy, planning, execution, follow-through and communication to the members of the party, and, most importantly, to the citizens of Alberta.”

Without a rebirth of grassroots participation, the letter says, “this party can expect no mercy from the electorate on the election day, which is just two short years away.”

Highwood PC MLA George Groeneveld was dropped from cabinet in January 2010 after serving as Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development since December 2006. After his departure from cabinet, Mr. Groeneveld told the High River Times:

“I was a little surprised to be removed,” he told the Times. “I was hoping for another year. But at the same time I was there three years, which is about par for a minister.”
He said he is getting a “little long in the tooth” (a term his wife hates), he said with a laugh, and he thought that may have been a factor as well. The premier might have been trying to bring in new blood.

foster care fiasco.

For many reasons, so much about politics in Alberta’s Legislative Assembly reminds me of the above scene from The West Wing.

I used to believe that the toughest job in the Alberta cabinet was held by Health & Wellness Gene Zwozdesky, but lately I am starting to believe that it is actually held by Children and Youth Services Minister Yvonne Fritz. Following this week’s shenanigans and resignation over foster care funding, it is clear that something is not functioning properly in our government.

On Monday morning, NDP leader Rachel Notley held a media conference leaking a public document that outlined changes to foster care funding in the Edmonton region. Ms. Notley claimed that the plan was to cut foster funding, and called on Minister Fritz to rescuing the new funding formula. She did and insisted that she told department officials not to cut support. Paula Simons raised the issue in her Tuesday column: Was Minister Fritz sabotaged? Does the Minister actually have a handle on the decisions being made inside the Minister of Children & Youth Services?

Minister Fritz was appointed to the portfolio in January 2010, replacing Banff-Cochrane MLA Janis Tarchuk, who had not excelled when faced with challenges in that Department.

Yesterday, Premier Ed Stelmach undoubtably breathed new life into the foster care issue by accusing the NDP of playing politics with the issue. While he may have been trying to save face, his point is somewhat well taken. Should Ms. Notley have brought the issue directly to Minister Fritz? Ms. Notley claims that if she had brought the issue directly to the Minister, it would have been buried (not an unjust assumption). At what point does this kind of political gamesmanship become irresponsible? Like so many issues raised in the Assembly, what was really accomplished when they devolve into this kind of weekly round-robin?

the rural alberta advantage.

While speaking to the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties this week, Premier Ed Stelmach confirmed the obvious when defending his government’s decision to increase the number of constituencies in the next election: it was in order to preserve the existing number of rural constituencies in the Legislative Assembly. This decision continued the over-represention of rural Alberta ridings in the Assembly, despite rapid growth in the urban centres.

With a few exceptions, the PCs have been able to rely on non-competitive electoral districts in rural Alberta since wiping out the Social Credit rump in 1975. Over the past 39-years, the PCs have relied heavily on rural politicians as a “farm team” to replenish their ranks of rural MLAs (some now include Premier Stelmach, and Ministers Jack HaydenIris EvansRay DanylukLloyd SnelgroveMel Knight, and MLAs Wayne DrysdaleBroyce JacobsRichard Marz, and Len Mitzel).

The PCs have dealt with competitive elections in the two major urban areas (Edmonton and Calgary), but the threat of a Wildrose insurgency across Alberta would be cause for great concern and is likely the reason behind Premier Stelmach’s posturing over rural over-representation.

electoral boundaries mashup.

Earlier this week, I posted the poll-by-poll results from the 2008 provincial election for Calgary and Edmonton, and (once again thanks to reader Alan Hall) posted below are the 2008 results superimposed over the proposed boundaries from the interim report of the Electoral Boundaries Commission. A listing of the interim ridings with the 2008 results and margins are also posted below. If the political environment continues to change before the expected 2012 election, the past electoral results could mean very little, but until that time, these maps provide an interesting view of the previous election and what could be in 2012:

alberta politics notes 3/15/2010

– New polls from Angus-Reid (Wildrose: 42%, PC: 27%, Liberal: 19%, NDP 9%, Other 3%) and Environics (PC: 34%, Wildrose: 30%, Liberal: 23%, NDP 10%). Calgary Grit has more on these polls.
– According to the PC Party website, Patricia Godkin has replaced Jim Campbell as Executive Director (Mr. Campbell recently joined Cenovus Energy as their Vice-President Government Relations and Corporate Accountability). Ms. Godkin previously served as Director of Finance and was the acting Executive Director in 2007 after the resignation of Peter Elzinga. While holding the interim position in 2007, Ms. Godkin faced a challenge from outgoing PC Youth President David McColl, who published an op-ed in the Calgary Herald predicting that “PC Alberta will continue its slow death march, to the beat of a rural drum and tired, stale policies.”
Vitor Marciano is expected to become the new Executive Director of the Wildrose Alliance. Mr. Marciano recently stepped down from his position on the National Council of the Conservative Party of Canada and served as Campaign Manager for Edmonton-Centre MP Laurie Hawn in 2004 and 2006, and for Nunavut MP Leona Aglukkaq in 2008. In 2006, he supported former Edmonton-McClung PC MLA Mark Norris‘ bid for the PC leadership. This is the second prominent Edmonton conservative to join Danielle Smith‘s staff in recent months. In February, former PC Party VP Outreach and 2004 Edmonton-Strathcona candidate Shannon Stubbs became Executive Assistant to Ms. Smith.
– Former Edmonton-Meadowlark Liberal MLA Maurice Tougas has written a piece in this month’s Alberta Views Magazine that focuses on Danielle Smith’s time on the Calgary Board of Education from 1998 to 1999. Mr. Tougas’ reliance on comments from former Trustee Jennifer Pollock provided a fairly one-sided perspective of the issue. You can read my four part series Smith v. Board of Education part 1part 2part 3, and part 4.
– The Alberta Party has posted an update on The Big Listen.
Tyler Shandro has raised some interesting questions about the interim report of Alberta’s Electoral Boundaries Commission.
– Three years after the a committee of top-tier economic experts recommended increasing the royalty rates collected by the provincial government, Premier Ed Stelmach has cut back the amount of resource royalties that are collected. The Pembina Institute responded by pointing out that “Albertans, the owners of the province’s oil and gas resources, were completely left out of the process of reviewing Alberta’s royalty rates.”

alberta politics notes 3/09/2010

– Jokes about politicians ducking responsibility usually aren’t literal. Premier Ed Stelmach first denied seeing the widely covered photos of the now infamous oil-covered Syncrude ducks. His communications armada then changed the story, claiming that the Premier misunderstood the question and has seen the photos. Next question: How do you feel?
– Edmonton City Councillor Don Iveson shot back at Minister Luke Ouellette over the neutered Green Trip Fund. Premier Stelmach originally promised $2 billion for the fund in 2008, but it was later cut back to $520 million over three years. Since 2007, the City of Edmonton has made major investments into improving and expanding the capital city’s transportation infrastructure.
– The United Nurses of Alberta have opened negotiations with Alberta Health Services. UNA entered negotiations with a reasonable short list of proposals addressing key issues for nursing in Alberta. Alberta Health Services responded with a full proposal document that included an unprecedented number and scale of rollbacks (Transparency Alert! I am employed by UNA).
– AHS CEO Stephen Duckett versus Minister Gene Zwozdesky and Premier Stelmach on “pay for performance” and the Tom Baker Cancer Centre? Is Dr. Duckett trying to get fired? Who is steering the ship? It has certainly put Don Braid in a tizzy.
– With Calgary Mayor Dave Bronconnier on his way out of the Mayor’s Office, can Calgarians expect a Ric McIverNaheed Nenshi showdown? Will former Calgary-Nose Creek MLA Gary Mar return from Washington DC to take a run for the job?
 – Liberal MLA Kent Hehr running for Mayor might be an inside joke, but how about his counterpart Dave Taylor? Word on the street is that the Calgary-Currie MLA and former radio star is growing tired of playing second fiddle to Liberal leader David Swann. Taylor was thrown a bone when he was tapped to launch the new Liberal energy policy in January, but rumor has it that Taylor’s organization has been constantly challenging Swann and that the situations is tense inside the Liberal caucus. Confrontation may come to a head at the May 2010 Liberal Party convention.
– A battle is shaping up for the federal Conservative Party nomination in Lethbridge. Nomination candidates include Jim Hillyer and Mark Switzer are seeking their party’s nod. Conservative MP Rick Casson has represented the riding since 1997 and was re-elected in 2008 with 67% of the vote.
 – Former Edmonton-Strathcona MP Rahim Jaffer
pleaded guilty to careless driving in an Ontario court, but charges of cocaine possession magically disappeared. Mr. Jaffer was sentenced to a $500 fine.
 – I was interviewed by Edmonton Journal editor
Sheila Pratt for a feature article that was published this part weekend on Reboot Alberta. The article also features comments from Ken Chapman, Shannon Sortland, David Maclean, NDP MLA Brian Mason, and Liberal MLA Hugh MacDonald – who accused to the group’s participants of being “elitist.” Andrew McIntyre rebutted Archie McLean‘s suggestions that Reboot Alberta could become a debate society. I ask: would a real debate society be a bad thing?

does downtown edmonton need a katz arena district?

The Katz Group launched a new website last week reframing their campaign for a new downtown arena as the centrepiece of a new “Arena District” north of Edmonton’s downtown core. The new website features a video interview with Katz Group President Daryl Katz. In the video, billionaire businessman Mr. Katz spoke emotionally about the potential for downtown Edmonton and the need for a conversation about the future of a revitalized downtown Edmonton. The website provides different types of social media, like Twitter and Facebook, to start this conversation.

I expect that this website is the beginning of a larger political campaign that will unfold before the 2010 Edmonton City Council elections. In October 2009, the Katz Group retained the services of Peter Elzinga, former MP, MLA, and Chief of Staff to Premier Ralph Klein from 1998 to 2004, for activities related to a “downtown Edmonton redevelopment project.” Until December 2009, the Katz Group had also acquired the services of lobbyist Joan Forge, who served as Premier Ed Stelmach‘s communications shop during the 2006 PC leadership race.

While I liked the video, Mr. Katz avoided the most important question of the exercise: money. It is no secret that the Katz Group would like the City of Edmonton to loan upwards of $400 million towards a new downtown arena, likely making it the largest non-transportation-related one-time investment that our municipality will have ever made (Councillor Don Iveson recently explained the funding request issue more articulately than I ever could here and here).

Aside from the political spin, I welcome a wider public conversation and am excited about the potential for a real debate about downtown. There are those people who are stuck in the 1980s and 1990s mentality that downtown Edmonton is a barren wasteland of warehouses and closed down rail yards, and then there are those Edmontonians who have moved on and seen the evolving character of our downtown core. The Katz Group campaign could generate competing ideas and a real discussion about what kind of face Edmontonians want our downtown to wear.

Downtown Edmonton (what I describe as the area between 100 Street and 124 Street) is a drastically different place than it was ten years ago. From the time when I first lived downtown in 2003 to when I moved back in 2009, I am excited by the changes that I have witnessed. New condo developments in the Oliver and Grandin have created a new identity in those neighbourhoods. People are moving into the core of the city and enhancing its diversity. Walk down Jasper Avenue west of 109th Street on a summer night and you will bump into many people coming in from the restaurants, bars, and coffee shops. The 104th Street Farmers’ Market is a perfect example of the vibrant new identity of Edmonton’s downtown core.

The business district of downtown Edmonton is like many other commercial business districts: employees leave work and it closes down at 6pm. This is the purpose of a commercial district dominated by office towers. An arena is not going to change this. An arena district north of downtown developed on clear urban development concepts could help revitalize a rougher part of the downtown core.

I have heard many arguments about how a downtown arena could revitalize the area, but I have not been convinced that our current arena, Rexall Place, is as bad as its detractors would characterize it. Admittedly, I have only been inside Rexall Place about a dozen times over the past ten years (mostly during the Canadian Finals Rodeo). While this is the case, I don’t fully understand why it needs to be replaced so badly. As a friend pointed out to me yesterday, ‘because it is old’ isn’t a very good argument.

Although the idea of a downtown “arena district” intrigues me, any new development must be based in solid urban development concepts, and not in emotional appeals from politically and financially motivated individuals.

I welcome a real conservation about downtown Edmonton. Let’s start it!

alberta politics notes 2/16/2010

– As Anarchist Day Camp showed up in Vancouver, opponents of the Winter Olympic Games have claimed victory against Alberta’s tarsands by forcing Premier Ed Stelmach to postpone his opening speech at the Alberta Pavillion.
– Energy Minister Ron Liepert wants your children to learn more about Alberta’s energy beach.
Ken Chapman has some words for Quebec Premier Jean Charest on the oilsands.
Can Alberta redesign its economy?, asks Todd Hirsch, senior economist with the ATB Financial.
– Speaking of redesign, the Left needs to define itself beyond the bottom line, according to Parkland Institute Executive Director Ricardo Acuna.
– Missed by most media outlets, Wildrose Alliance leader Danielle Smith hired a new Executive Assistant. Shannon Stubbs, former Progressive Conservative Party VP Outreach and 2004 candidate in Edmonton-Strathcona, joined Smith’s staff two weeks ago.
– The Liberals took exception to CBCs The House ignoring them in their Alberta-focused show on February 6. They have since posted an interview with David Swann on their website.
Calgary-Buffalo MLA Kent Hehr wants to know what exactly Justice Minister Alison Redford‘s new role as “political minister for Calgary” means for Albertans.

all aboard the alberta winter olympic train.

As far as international events go, it is hard to beat the size of the Olympic Games. Over 80 countries from across the world will be participating in the Winter sports event that kicked off in Vancouver last night.

With hundreds of millions of dollars likely being spent on wining and dining, it might feel like a drop in the bucket for the Province of Alberta to spend nearly $15 million dollars to promote the province to attendees, including the sponsorship of six Rocky Mountaineer train cars and the Alberta Pavilion.

Unparalleled comfort in the premier business networking venue at the Games.

The Rocky Mountaineer expense is billed by the Government of Alberta website as an opportunity to “provide the premier business networking venue at the Games” for only $499 for a round-trip ticket from Vancouver to Whistler. Who will be networking with the elite business Olympians of the world? Premier Ed Stelmach and eleven cabinet ministers will be there to wine, dine, and “offer guests unparalleled comfort” during their stay on the Alberta train! While experiencing this luxury, most passengers on the Alberta train this week would probably have a hard time believing that Alberta is in the midst of “tough economic times” and that just four short days ago, these 12 elected officials tabled a provincial budget that included the largest deficit in Alberta’s history.

Alberta Train - Vancouver 2010 OlympicsAlberta Train

Sending Premier Stelmach, Tourism Minister Cindy Ady, and Culture Minister Lindsay Blackett makes sense, but what of the other nine cabinet ministers? Are Albertans well served by covering the costs of sending eleven cabinet ministers to the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games? What business could Agriculture Minister Jack Hayden, Justice Minister Alison Redford, Housing Minister Jonathan Denis, or Finance Minster Ted Morton have at the Winter Olympic Games? I am sure the “unparalleled comfort” of the posh train cars will live up to its reputation, but is it really necessary to have half of Premier Stelmach’s cabinet on site?

As Graham Thomson pointed out in his Edmonton Journal column this morning, other PC MLAs will joining them, but “nobody in government seems to know exactly how many backbenchers are going.” I do not oppose Alberta having a presence at these games, but modesty is virtue our elected officials should not forget.

Alberta Train - Vancouver 2010 OlympicsAlberta Train

Time and money well spent?

Would Alberta’s cabinet ministers travel time be better spent flying elsewhere? Perhaps Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Iris Evans first mission to Washington DC in her new role this week would be more effective if she had some backup from her colleagues? Alas, no one wants to fly to DC during a winter blizzard!

Other Provinces?

When compared to our provincial neighbours, Alberta’s elected officials look like the rich kids whose parents picked up the annual tab for their spring break in Mexico. The Province of Saskatchewan is spending $4.1 million on their pavilion and Premier Brad Wall has committed to keep their political presence low at the Winter Games. Premier Wall will be joined by Tourism Minister Dustin Duncan and Enterprise Minister Ken Cheveldayoff. The Province of Manitoba is spending $6.4 million and sending a two-person team of Premier Greg Selinger and Aboriginal Affairs Minister Eric Robinson.

What about the real Alberta train?

Wildrose Alliance leader Danielle Smith raised an interesting point this week while criticizing the expense:

“I would rather have seen any kind of travel budget being spent in Alberta,” Smith said. “They’re communicating to the wrong people.”

When was the last time Alberta had a Premier who spent this kind of money to sincerely communicate with Albertans? I am not talking about fancy videos commercials, visits to the Rutherford Show, or hiring expensive advertising companies to brand new messages. I am talking about actually travelling across this province and holding open town hall meetings outside of a highly managed and artificial election environment.

This feeds the perception that our elected officials are only accessible to those with political power or business interests. When was the last time Alberta had a Premier who allowed himself to be publicly accessible to any Albertan, regardless of political persuasion or income-bracket? When was the last time a Premier of Alberta hopped aboard a train filled with ordinary people of Alberta?

alberta budget 2010: striking a balance?

Alberta’s 2010 provincial budget, set to be released in 2 hours, is already making headlines. While Finance Minister Ted Morton has framed it as a “give up a little” budget, an Edmonton blogger almost caught a sneak peak of the budget documents:

Low security gives blogger sneak peek at Alberta budget website (see Mack’s blog for more).

Alberta Budget 2010 (updated at 9:50 p.m.)

For the second year in a row, Premier Ed Stelmach‘s government will run a budget deficit, this time estimated at $4.7 billion and total spending is estimated to be a record $38.7 billion. The PCs are counting on increased oilsands production to boost them out of the cycle of deficits before the 2012 election (I am sure they hope it will boost their party in the polls as well). Compared to the intense cut throat budget that many Albertans expected, this budget dealt a mixture of increases and decreases across the government. Overall, fourteen departments will be on the bitter end of cuts and eight departments will be seeing increases to their budgets in 2010.

Ted Morton Budget 2010Mayor Stephen Mandel & Minister Doug Horner Budget 2010

With a 17% increase to its operating budget, Alberta’s health care system is the biggest beneficiary of this budget. Alberta Health Services will also receive a one-time infusion of $759 million for debt repayment (perhaps to the Royal Bank…). Since the 2008 election, health care has been one of the toughest files for the PCs, who have felt public pressure from across the province after the dissolution of the regional health authorities and bottom-line based system reforms. If replacing the blunt and controversial Minister Ron Liepert with the more gentler Minister Gene Zwozdesky was a first major step in the government’s health care public relations shift, this budget increase and debt repayment could be the second most substantial. The challenge will be to turn these budget increases into positive changes on the ground level.

The Municipal Affairs and Infrastructure budgets were also substantially increased, due to what I imagine to be the result of strong lobbying efforts by the AUMA and AAMDC.

Perhaps a statement on the level of political capital that Culture & Community Spirit Minister Lindsay Blackett has left after the Bill 44 controversy, that Ministry will reduce operating expenses by 15%. Among other cuts, Advanced Education & Technology will face a 6% budget decrease to program expenses after being on the better end of budget increases over the past five years. Changes to the student finance section of the Advanced Education budget include decreases to student scholarships by $3 million and grants by $51 million, and increases to student loans by (ie: increased student debt).

Individual department business plans give more detail on income and expenses across the government ministries.

Lindsay Blackett Budget 2010Mary Anne Jablonski Budget 2010

When Liberal leader David Swann criticized the budget and the PCs for not “responsibly managing the public purse,” it may have sounded like a predictable opposition response, but it raises some important points about recent government budgets and the provincial government’s large dependance on natural resource revenues for income. Alberta is a resource-based economy, but the budget turbulence in recent years highlights why Albertans should be concerned about the lack of economic diversification in our province.

Wildrose Alliance leader Danielle Smith (who will be releasing her party’s alternative budget tomorrow) criticized the budget and Finance & Enterprise Minister Ted Morton‘s credentials as a true fiscal conservative, but this budget is just another step in Minister Morton’s public moderation. Since the 2006 PC leadership race, Minister Morton has transformed his public image as the great right-wing fire-wall lighter to a competent and softer governor. This budget includes both cuts and increases, striking a kind of political balance. This was Minister Morton’s first budget and if he is able to survive his tenure in the Finance portfolio, he could be well positioned to be the leading candidate in the next PC leadership race.

upside-down week.

Shuffling the deck.

Long-time Government spokesperson Jerry Bellikka replaces Tom Olsen as spokesman for Premier Ed Stelmach (Olsen now becomes Alberta’s Olympic Spokesperson in Vancouver). Former MLA Jim Gurnett replaces Jerry Toews as Chief of Staff at the NDP caucus. Instead of laughing at satire, PAB blogger David Sands leaves Twitter altogether. Taking a more open approach to the media than his predecessor, Health & Wellness Minister Gene Zwozdeskys cell phone number is now showing up on Government media releases.

Not your father’s NEP

With new Energy Minister Ron Liepert‘s mandate to reclaim PC dominance over energy sector support from Danielle Smith‘s Wildrose Alliance, the Liberals do not want to be left out. Calgary-Currie MLA Dave Taylor is leading his party’s 180-degree policy change from their previous position that resource royalties are too low. On the policy change, Mount Royal University Professor Bruce Foster told FFWD:

“It seems as if the Liberals didn’t take the lead on this or didn’t distinguish themselves and now they’re playing catch-up,” he says.

Calgary Grit has more.

Alberta Party of Alberta

Former deputy leader of the now-defunct Alberta Green Party Edwin Erickson is now leader of the Alberta Party. In the last election, Erickson placed second with 19% of the vote against Tory Diana McQueen in Drayton Valley-Calmar. Erickson and Joe Anglin led the fight against Bill 50 and Erickson had publicly mused about creating the Progress Party of Alberta. The Alberta Party has existed in a number of forms since 1986, but has never been competitive (highest support: leader Mark Waters earned 1,200 votes in Calgary-Currie in 1993).

Ralph University

Olds College has re-named their Community Learning Centre after former Premier Ralph Klein and not everyone in Olds is enamoured with the decision.

does policy matter?

Last week’s posts “Danielle Smith’s Free-ride” and “PC Policy Veep defects to the Wildrose Alliance” generated a lot of heated discussion and responses from at least three other bloggers either supporting (Alberta Altruist and Brian Dell) or criticizing (David Climenhaga) the policy positions of the Wildrose Alliance. These posts and the debate that followed in the comment sections has led me to ask the question: how much does party policy really matter?

The defection of Progressive Conservative Party Vice-President Policy and Resolution Shayne Saskiw to the Wildrose Alliance has raised questions about how much influence do PC Party members have on the actual policy that a government implements? According to Saskiw, not much.

“I was able to give their opinions on policy to the government, but the government was not acting on their advice.”

This is not a surprise, nor a new criticism of how responsive governments are to ordinary citizens – engaged or otherwise. Does anyone remember Premier Ed Stelmach campaigning on the PC Party platform of dissolving the regional health authorities and centralizing control into the largest employer in the province? It was not mentioned in the “Change that Works for Albertans” (PDF) document, nor do know of any PC candidates who campaigned on this policy position. Perhaps after nearly 40 years in government, the upper echelons of power at the Legislature feel that the election process is simply a formality. Perhaps the PC Party interpreted the 52% support they received in the election that recorded the lowest voter turnout in Alberta history equal a blank check mandate?

It would be wrong to suggest that policy does not matter, because it does. It is important to recognize that in many cases, the majority of challenges that a government will deal with during a term in office will be reactive. In these cases, it is important to recognize leadership and which elected official or officials will offer the kind of leadership that will be best suited to dealing with reactive situations. For example, mainstream business and economic forecasters were predicting smooth sailing ahead during the 2008 election when politicians were practically promising a jet-pack for every citizen. In 2010, the economic outlook is quite a bit more modest (though we are fairing better than our American neighbors).

During my time working with the Liberal Party until 2007, I remember it being normal for policies to be generated from the Official Opposition Caucus offices, rather than the party policy committees. Perhaps this is one of the problems with the traditional political parties in Alberta. They do consult with stakeholders and rely on well-educated researchers and analyst, but in the end, new policies became more about marketing and messaging instead of listening and generating a party membership driven policy apparatus.

This leads me back to Ms. Smith and a statement she made about Wildrose Alliance policy:

“Our party does not take a position on divisive social issues. We prefer to focus on those areas where we agree.”

This statement reflects a smart (and so far successful) strategy of positioning the Wildrose Alliance as the moderate conservative/conservatively moderate anti-establishment party in Alberta politics. I have been told that many of Ms. Smith’s financial backers in Calgary’s oil and gas sector would like to turn the page on the more hard social conservative views that the party has advocated in the past. Refusing to talk about divisive social issues is a smart political tactic, given the positions that her party has taken in the past.

During the 2004 election, the Alliance led by Randy Thorsteinson called for province-wide votes on abortion and same-sex marriage. There have also been questions about the influence that conservative members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have had on the development of Alliance policies.

This said, an elected official’s personal or religious views on social issues do not necessarily result in major government policy changes. During the 2001 election, Vegreville-Viking MLA Ed Stelmach responded to a questionnaire from LifeSiteNews in which he declared his opposition to abortion under any circumstances (his response to the 2004 election questionnaire is not published online). This was his position nine years ago and may continue to be his position today, but since becoming Premier three years ago, Stelmach has hardly been a champion in the fight against allowing women the choice to access abortions. Like Premier Stelmach’s, it would be extremely difficult for Ms. Smith’s party to enter a divisive debate on social issues and continue to hold their current mainstream support in the polls.

Tempering the more extreme elements in her party is going to be one of Ms. Smith’s largest challenges. In 2009, nearly 2,000 Wildrose Alliance members voted for social conservative candidate Mark Dyrholm. What happens if these “grassroots” dispute Ms. Smith’s position? Is Ms. Smith willing to cut them loose in order to avoid the damage of being labeled as the “scary conservative party?” If it reaches the point where push comes to shove, maybe policy will matter.

danielle smith’s free-ride.

Since stepping into her new role as leader of the Wildrose Alliance, Danielle Smith has taken on more of a celebrity role than that of the leader of a party with 3 seats in a 83 seat Legislative Assembly. Ms. Smith is impressively politically savvy, and judging by the attention she has been receiving from the media, you would have a hard time believing that she is not the elected leader of Alberta’s Official Opposition.

Wildrose Alliance leader Danielle SmithLet's Make it Happen

Little of the incredible media attention received by Ms. Smith has focused on her party’s policy or even her political stances. I do not believe that I have read any reporter or columnist seriously dig into Ms. Smith’s only past-experience as an elected official on the Calgary Board of Education which began in 1998 and ended when the Minister of Learning dissolved the board in 1999 (which I covered in part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4). The by-election victory in Calgary-Glenmore, the floor-crossings of PC MLAs Heather Forsyth and Rob Anderson, and rise in the polls are convincing (and exciting) political coups in the context of an otherwise boring political environment. At least in the short-term, Ms. Smith has definitely changed the game.

Ms. Smith has faced some criticism for her confusing views on climate change and her former Chief of Staff felt the repercussions of an uneasy Twitter finger, but she has easily deflected questions about hard policy questions by telling the media to wait until her party’s upcoming policy conference or hiding behind the label of libertarianism.

Premier Ed Stelmach has labelled Wildrose Alliance policies as “draconian,” but in the context of his falling popularity, the Premier’s reaction smacked of desperation and political spin (however accurate his comments may have been). Even the recent cabinet shuffle was framed as a reaction to the increasing popularity of Ms. Smith’s party. The reaction of the Official Opposition Liberal Party was to launch of a YouTube video comparing Premier Stelmach and Ms. Smith to Ronald Reagan and Brian Mulroney (a strategy that top minds are still attempting to decrypt).

An American conservative blogger recently held Ms. Smith up as “a guiding northern star for the building anti-establishment movement in the GOP” and suggested that her “delivery reminds me of Sarah Palin when she’s at her best.” I recognize that these are the words of one individual with a website, but it is not the first time that I have heard conservatives speak of Ms. Smith in that manner.

The Ontario media appears to have warmly embraced Ms. Smith by lobbing softball questions and accepting vague answers. During a stint as a guest panelist on CTVs Question Period, Smith was asked questions about Social Credit leader Harry Strom and almost accepted as the next leader of Alberta. Her coverage on Peter Mansbridge’s One-on-One and upcoming on Rick Mercer’s Report is also unprecedented for an opposition leader in Alberta.

Amidst this flurry of media attention, nearly no additional attention is paid to the actual opposition leaders elected by Albertans in the 2008 election as David Swann and Brian Mason continue to linger stalled in the polls in the unconvincing ranks of the opposition benches. I tend to believe this is symptomatic of the antipathy felt towards to traditional political parties in Alberta. This antipathy is likely why non-traditional groups like the Wildrose Alliance, Renew Alberta, and Reboot Alberta are attracting a growing number of Albertans into their ranks, while the traditional opposition parties are barricading their gates without taking stock of the decreasing value of their guarded treasures. While some people are holding out for change within the two traditional opposition parties (or simply asking them to get their acts together!), I tend to believe that it is likely too late.

With Premier Stelmach appearing politically weak and a provincial election expected in 2012, will the guardians of establishment conservatism in Alberta sit idly while their movement is fractured between the Wildrose Alliance and the Progressive Conservative Party? With this scenario in mind, is it too far fetched to foresee a scenario in the not too distant future where Premier Ted Morton welcomes Danielle Smith as the Finance Minister in a government formed by the newly merged Conservative Party of Alberta?

UPDATE: David Climenhaga has written a response to this blog post listing the top 11 reasons he feels Albertans should not support the Wildrose Alliance . Climenhaga’s list prompted the Alberta Altruist blog to pen a response.