Tag Archives: Lindsay Blackett

alberta election candidate update – january 2012.

With an election fast approaching, Alberta’s political parties are busy nominating candidates across the province. Here is a regional breakdown showing where candidates have been nominated and some of the recent updates.

Nominated Alberta Election candidates by region (January 16, 2012)

Nominated Alberta Election candidates by region (January 16, 2012)

Airdrie: Former Airdrie Mayor Linda Bruce and current Alderman Kelly Hegg are seeking the Progressive Conservative nomination.

Banff-Cochrane: Real Estate broker Jon Bjorgum, Canmore Mayor Ron Casey have Rob Seeley have joined businessman John Fitzsimmons and Cochrane Mayor Truper McBride in the contest for the PC nomination on January 28, 2012. The Liberal Party nomination is scheduled to take place on January 26, 2012.

Bonnyville-Cold Lake: The Wildrose Party is searching for a candidate to replace Chuck Farrer, who has withdrawn his candidacy. Mr. Farrer was nominated in October 2010.

Norm Kelly Alberta Party candidate Calgary-Currie

Norm Kelly

Calgary-Currie: Lawyer Norm Kelly has been acclaimed as the Alberta Party candidate.

Calgary-GlenmoreLinda Johnson will face lawyer Byron Nelson for the PC nomination. The constituency is currently represented by Wildrose MLA Paul Hinman, who was elected in a 2010 by-election.

Calgary-Hawkwood: Sumita Anand has joined declared candidates Farouk AdatiaJason Luan, Chris Roberts, Kumar Sharma, and Doug Stevens in the PC nomination contest.

Calgary-McCall: It is a full house in the PC nomination contest on January 21, 2012 with 10 candidates having entered the race. Candidates include Khandaker Alam, Deepshikha Brar, Afzal Hanid, Amtul Khan, Jamie Lall, Aslam Malik, Ravi Prasad, Muhammad Rasheed, Jagdeep Sahota, and Jangbahadur Sidhu.

Calgary-Mountain View: Lawyer Cecilia Low was acclaimed as the PC candidate. This constituency has been represented by Liberal MLA David Swann since 2004.

Calgary-Northwest: First reported on this blog, former cabinet minster Lindsay Blackett will not be seeking re-election. Sandra Jansen announced yesterday that she will be seeking the PC nomination. Ms. Jansen is a former news anchor for Global Television and has served as Communications Manager for Premier Alison Redford‘s Southern Alberta Office since late last year.

Calgary-Shaw: The Alberta Party will be holding a nomination meeting on January 30, 2012. At this time, Brandon Beasley is the only declared candidate.

Calgary-West: Allan Ryan and former Calgary-McCall MLA Shiraz Shariff have joined Calgary Police Sergeant Mike Ellis and Ken Hughes.

Nicole Martel Edmonton-Centre PC nomination candidate

Nicole Martel

Edmonton-Centre: Urban Development Institute executive director Nicole Martel is seeking the PC nomination scheduled for January 24, 2012. Ms. Martel was the federal Liberal candidate in Edmonton-East in the 2006 election and a candidate for the Liberal nomination in Edmonton-Centre in 2008.

Edmonton-Ellerlise: Past Public School Board candidate Tina Jardine has withdrawn her name as the NDP candidate for personal reasons.

Edmonton-Gold Bar: Dennis O’Neill was acclaimed as the Alberta Party candidate.

Edmonton-Mill Woods: Despite bizarre nomination shenanigans, the PCs will hold their nomination meeting on January 28, 2012. Candidates include Ron Randhawa, Sohail Qadri, and controversy-prone MLA Carl Benito.

Edmonton-Riverview: Taleb Choucair, Edmonton Police Officer Steve Young, and former Public School Trustee Bev Esslinger are seeking the PC nomination on January 27, 2012.

Edmonton-South WestAllan Hunsperger is the nominated Wildrose candidate. Matt Jeneroux and Tofael Chowdhury are competing in the PC nomination scheduled for January 30, 2012. Mr. Choudhury was a candidate for the federal Liberal nomination in Edmonton-Strathcona in 2008.

Doug Faulkner Fort McMurray-Conklin Wildrose

Doug Faulkner

Fort McMurray-Conklin: Former Wood Buffalo Mayor Doug Faulkner was acclaimed as the Wildrose candidate. Mr. Faulkner was a federal PC candidate in the 2000 election and federal Liberal candidate in the 2004 election. Councillor Don Scott was acclaimed as the PC candidate.

Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo: Andrew Highfield has joined declared candidates Mike Allen, Nick Sanders, and Jeff Thompson in competing for the PC nomination scheduled for January 28, 2012.

Lethbridge-East: Lethbridge County Reeve Lorne Hickey is challenging Liberal-turned-Tory MLA Bridget Pastoor for the PC nomination scheduled for January 26, 2012.

Medicine Hat: Darren Hirsch and Linda Rossler are seeking the PC nomination. The constituency is currently represented by 17-year MLA Rob Renner, who is not seeking re-election.

Red Deer-North: Well-known local historian Michael Dawe is seeking the Liberal nomination scheduled to be held on January 19, 2012.

Sherwood Park: Six candidates are vying for the PC nomination on January 21, 2012 to replace outgoing MLA Iris Evans. Declared candidates include Matthew Bissett, County Councillor Brian Botterill, Helen Calahasen, Murray Hutchinson, former Mayor Cathy Oleson, and local PC organizer Susan Timanson. Ms. Calahasen is the sister of long-time Lesser Slave Lake MLA Pearl Calahasen.

Vermilion-Lloydminster: Dr. Richard Starke was acclaimed as the PC candidate to replace outgoing MLA Lloyd Snelgrove.

Senator-in-Waiting Election 
Former PC Member of Parliament Douglas Fee has joined the PC nomination contest, to be held on February 10 and 11. Mr. Fee served as the MP for Red Deer from 1988 to 1993.

former culture minister lindsay blackett not seeking re-election.

Lindsay Blackett

Lindsay Blackett

First-term Calgary-North West Progressive Conservative MLA and former cabinet minister Lindsay Blackett has announced on his website that he will not be seeking re-election. Mr. Blackett served as Minister of Culture & Community Spirit from 2008 until 2010, when Premier Alison Redford appointed her first cabinet. During his time in cabinet, Mr. Blackett was known for his controversial support of controversial reforms to Alberta’s human rights legislation (Bill 44), his review of Canadian television, and pioneering our new provincial slogan.

He supported Deputy Premier Doug Horner in the 2011 PC leadership contest.

Here is the letter that was posted on Mr. Blackett’s website today:

DEAR FRIENDS,

It is with mixed emotions that I send this message to you. I have decided that in the best interests of my family and myself I will not run as the candidate for Calgary Northwest.

I have truly enjoyed the work that we have done together “To Make A Difference” in the seven communities of Calgary North West. I made the promise to many constituents, that I would not be a career politician, I would be a strong and effective voice for them and would not let them down.

My family has supported me wholeheartedly over the last four years and have made many sacrifices, so that I could do my job. However that has meant that I have been away from home a lot and realize my children are now 13 and 11 and need me to be around more.

This is a decision that has taken about six months to arrive at and is not taken lightly. I am proud of our accomplishments and would like thank our Premier, The Honourable Alison Redford and Ed Stelmach for the opportunities they have given me to serve Albertans.

I know this may come as a shock to many of you and for that I am indeed sorry.

Thank you for all of you.

Sincerely,

Lindsay Blackett

cabinet building and the game of politics in alberta.

“When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.”
Cersei Lannister, Game of Thrones

With the coming of a new Premier, the great game of cabinet building is underway and the politicians are jockeying for their positions. As reported by the Edmonton Journal, the competition to woo the new Queen of Alberta politics took the form of hugs and cheers at today’s Tory caucus meeting, the first since Premier-designate Alison Redford won the Progressive Conservative leadership on October 1.

Geography, gender, experience, competency, and political loyalty are a few of the many factors that are taken into account when building a cabinet. The need to put a new face on the cabinet will certainly leave some veteran MLAs mispleased with the appointments, which are expected to take place next week. Two position are already assured to Doug Horner as Deputy Premier and Dave Hancock as House leader.

Idle speculation over coffee (or mead and meat if we were in King’s Landing) with David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, led to the creation of three speculative lists of “who’s in” the cabinet, “too soon to tell” what their future is, and “who’s out” the next provincial cabinet.

The first two of the three groups are listed below and are our contribution to what is sure to be at the centre of debate among members of Premier Redford’s transition team. The third group, which I will not list on this blog, we hope will be chaired by the always affable and cheery hopefully-soon-to-be-former cabinet minister Ron Liepert.

Who’s in?

Doug Horner – Spruce Grove-Sturgeon-St. Albert (Already announced Deputy Premier, could be appointed Finance Minister)
Dave Hancock – Edmonton-Whitemud (Already appointed as House Leader)
Ted Morton – Foothills-Rockyview (lock the gun cabinet, keep your friends close, and your enemies even closer)
Ray Danyluk – Lac La Biche-St. Paul (Flexed his political muscle by drawing largest vote in his constituency in the PC leadership contest)
Robin Campbell – West Yellowhead
Dave Rodney – Calgary-Lougheed
Cal Dallas – Red Deer-South (from Red Deer and not Mary Ann Jablonski)
Kyle Fawcett – Calgary-North Hill (Supported Doug Griffiths on the first ballot and Redford on the second ballot)
Yvonne Fritz – Calgary-Cross (competent cabinet minister)
Jack Hayden – Drumheller-Stettler (to satisfy the rural vote)
Cindy Ady – Calgary-Shaw (to satisfy the Mormon vote)
Jeff Johnson – Athabasca-Redwater (New blood)
Art Johnston – Calgary-Hays (rewarded for being the only MLA to support Redford on the first ballot)
Diana McQueen – Drayton Valley-Calmar (Supported Horner and is a rising star in the PC caucus)
Frank Oberle – Peace River (Stays in Solicitor General)
Verlyn Olsen – Wetaskiwin-Camrose (Justice Minister)
Luke Ouellette – Innisfail-Sylvan Lake (hugged Redford at today’s caucus meeting)
Janice Sarich – Edmonton-Decore (Education Minister)

Too soon to tell

Thomas Lukaszuk – Edmonton-Castle Downs
Lloyd Snelgrove – Vermilion-Lloydminster
Doug Elniski – Edmonton-Calder (supported Redford, but has made questionable comments on women’s rights)
Greg Weadick – Lethbridge-West
Len Webber – Calgary-Foothills
Manmeet Bhullar – Calgary-Montrose
Genia Leskiw – Bonnyville-Cold Lake
Lindsay Blackett – Calgary-North West
Gene Zwozdesky – Edmonton-Mill Creek (the fixer)

Will all these MLAs make into the provincial cabinet next week? Perhaps not, but it is always fun to speculate what might come next in the increasingly interesting the game of politics in Alberta…

peter sandhu endorses ted morton, lindsay blackett endorses doug horner.

I have updated the list and map of MLAs endorsing candidates in Alberta’s Progressive Conservative leadership contest. Edmonton-Manning MLA Peter Sandhu has endorsed Ted Morton‘s candidacy and Calgary-North West MLA and Culture Minister Lindsay Blackett has endorsed Doug Horner.

Gary Mar still has the most MLA endorsements with the support of 17 MLAs, Mr. Horner has the support of 13 MLAs and Mr. Morton has the support of 10 MLAs. Alison Redford and Doug Griffiths remain having the support of of their fellow MLAs each. Rick Orman has no MLA support.

quotes in response to ed stelmach’s resignation.

On his decision to not run in the next election:

Premier Ed Stelmach told the Fort Saskatchewan Record: “I got to thinking when I was interviewing the MLAs coming in and asking them for a five year commitment,” he said. “Another five years would put me close to 65 and I know there’s many politicians older than that and doing well, but that would have been 30 years of public service.

“Having served the constituency for many years. I feel good in terms of what we’ve been able to accomplish, in terms of improved infrastructure, whether it be Fort Saskatchewan, Vegreville or the communities in between.

“I know it’s time for a change and politics is demanding, and will be increasingly demanding, and that’s why I made the decision.”

Party insiders on the next leadership contest:

PC Party Executive Director Pat Godkin told Sun Media that “there is no timeline whatsoever” in place for a leadership contest.

PC Party President Bill Smith told iNews880 that “I think more along the lines we’re looking at spring and summer.”

Ralph Klein’s former Chief of Staff Rod Love told Global News: “You know there’s 68 members in the caucus, a lot of the names are well known about who might be in, who might be out.”

Potential candidates::

Deputy Premier Doug Horner told the St. Albert Gazette: “I was asked the question whether or not I would consider it and my response honestly is, well yeah, you’re going to consider it but it doesn’t mean I’m going to do it just yet.”

Former Finance Minister and current University of Calgary Chancellor Jim Dinning on CKNW Radio in Vancouver: “While I still have the passion and the interest, I do not want to run for that job.”

Finance Minister Ted Morton told the Calgary Herald: I have not made that decision. It is still, as I said (Tuesday), inappropriate for you guys to ask those questions and inappropriate for me to answer.”

Justice Minister Alison Redford told the Calgary Herald: “It might be something in the future that I’ll consider. Whether that is imminent or not I just don’t know at this time. That’s my honest answer.”

Culture and Community Spirit Minister Lindsay Blackett told the Calgary Herald: You always have to consider it,” he said shortly after hearing of Stelmach’s decision, “and see what level of support there is for you to try to do something like that. But I’m also mindful I’ve only been on the game for three years.”

Alberta Mayors:

Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel told CTV Edmonton: “I was a huge fan of the premier. He was a fine, fine man who was I think a great representative of the Province of Alberta. I wish him and his wife the best.”

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi told the Calgary Herald: “Right now I think it’s not time to think about politics. It is time to think about Premier Stelmach’s legacy as a really decent human being and a really dedicated public servant.”

Red Deer Mayor Morris Flewwelling told the Red Deer Advocate: “This government and Mr. Stelmach have done a good job of recognizing that municipalities are the engines of the economy. Stelmach came from municipal politics so he understood the revenue sharing and imbalance of revenue for municipalities.”

Opposition Parties comment:

Wildrose Alliance leader Danielle Smith told the Edmonton Journal: “Make no mistake, the reason I ran for leadership of the Wildrose party was to replace Ed Stelmach as premier of this province… “I think it’s too late at this point for the PCs to recover any of their former glory. … We think the next election will be a time for Albertans to turn the page on this Tory dynasty. It’s been in power for 40 years and it’s a new chapter.”

Liberal leader David Swann told the Edmonton Journal: “Everything will be on a holding pattern in the ministries to wait until direction comes from the party leader. Without clear leadership — in fact, division at the top — for what really needs to happen in terms of fixing health care, there will be a polarizing from those who want to see more private services provided to pick up the gap and those who feel that the primary problem is in leadership and management.”

Alberta Party acting leader Sue Huff told the Edmonton Journal: “I think it’s time for Albertans to really decide what it is they want for the future, for their children, for their grandchildren, and decide if we really want extreme right-wing politics to decide the day.”

NDP leader Brian Mason told the Edmonton Journal: “The Alberta Tories can’t be trusted to protect public health care. They have repeatedly sought to bring in more private care under various leaders, and leaked documents show they are planning it again. They run the least competent government in Canada. That’s the real problem.”

lindsay blackett and canadian television.


Despite what Culture & Community Spirit Minister Lindsay Blackett may have said at the recent Banff World Television Festival, it is hard to dispute the quality of the classic Canadian-filmed televison like Viper (filmed in Calgary and Vancouver from 1996 to 1999).

In all seriousness, I do not necessarily disagree with Minister Blackett’s comments when taken in context. There are some good Canadian television programs that have been produced and there are many of less than stellar productions. I expect that we will soon hear the protectors of haute-cutur poo-poo Minister Blackett’s comments as un-Canadian or those of a backwards Albertan, but as rude as it may have been at the time, the comments might be what Canadians needed to hear. And the sentiment is probably shared by a wide swath of Canadians.

I love the CBC (and listen to CBC Radio each day), but as a western Canadian, I have a gag reflex each time I hear about another cheesy CBC television program about life in Prince Edward Island in the 1890s or a characterization of what a person in Toronto thinks life in the West is like. Other than the occasional episode of Mantracker and the clever and quirky jPod (which is now cancelled), Canadian television has not given me much to get hooked on.

alberta politics notes 6/17/2010

This descriptive photo of Finance Minister Ted Morton was taken from the Alberta Chamber of Commerce website.

– Premier-in-Waiting Ted Morton was joined by Quebec Finance Minister Raymond Bachand this week while rallying against a National Securities registry. According to a recent Angus Reid survey, 48% of Albertans are open to a National Securities Regulator, 23% supported the current model (and I am betting that close to 100% did not know the difference between the two).
– Liberal leader David Swann has joined Minister Morton and Wildrose Alliance leader Danielle Smith in opposing the National Securities Regulator.
– Former Premier-in-Waiting Jim Dinning is now the Chancellor of the University of Calgary.
– Alberta’s representative in Washington DC Gary Mar is spending his time promoting the oilsands in the wake of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
– Culture & Community Spirit Minister Lindsay Blackett has apologized for describing Canadian television as “shit” and “crap.” It was rude and condescending for Minister Blackett to say those things during a panel discussion at the Banff World Television Festival, but there was a certain refreshing quality to his honesty.
– I was saddened to hear of the passing of my former MLA Dave Broda. Mr. Broda served as the MLA for Redwater from 1997 to 2004.
– Federal Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff is in Edmonton on June 19. Dan Arnold has written a good article about why the federal Liberals should focus on the West.
Equal Voice Alberta is hosting a workshop on June 23 for women considering running for municipal council or school board trustee. Panelists include Councillor Janice Melnychuk, retiring Edmonton Public School Board Trustee Sue Huff, former Ward 4 campaign manager Sarah Crummy.
– Independent Calgary-Currie MLA Dave Taylor is hosting a town hall forum with Calgary Sun columnist Rick Bell and QR77 radio host Dave Rutherford on June 22. Topic: Do Alberta’s Political Parties represent you?
– The United Nurses of Alberta has recommended the ratification of a new provincial contract. The new three-year agreement would provide a commitment to hire at least 70% of new nursing graduates, no rollbacks from the previous agreement, and a six percent pay increase over three years (two percent productivity increase in the second year and a four percent increase in the third year).

Read more in the Alberta Politics Notes archive.

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.

premier stelmach’s problems are bigger than a cabinet shuffle.

There has been a lot of chatter about what Premier Ed Stelmach can do to reverse the Progressive Conservatives downward spiral in recent polls. According to these recent polls, the PCs now sit at 25% province-wide and in third place behind Danielle Smith‘s Wildrose Alliance and David Swann‘s Liberals in Edmonton and Calgary. Another recent poll framed Premier Stelmach as the least popular Premier in Canada with a 14% approval rating.

Sheila Pratt has written an interesting article in today’s Edmonton Journal about the PCs current misfortune and the new groups of Albertans like Reboot Alberta and Renew Alberta that have emerged. Even Preston Manning is interested in starting something new. Luckily for Premier Stelmach, he still has two years before he has to face the electorate for a second time, but what does the Premier need to do to turn his fortunes around?

Will finally ending the disastrous reigns of Children & Youth Services Minister Janis Tarchuk and Health & Wellness Minister Ron Liepert change Premier Stelmach’s position in the polls? Will moving Education Minister Dave Hancock in the midst of the School Act Review boost their numbers? Will moving Energy Minister Mel Knight to another portfolio halt the Calgary energy sector support that is flowing towards the Wildrose Alliance? Will promoting Advanced Education Minister Doug Horner to Finance Minister improve their image? Will relocating Culture & Community Spirit Minister Lindsay Blackett bring back the PC supporters who were offended over the embarrassment of Bill 44?

Will rearranging the deck chairs change the course of the ship? It is going to take something much more meaningful than a cabinet shuffle to change PC Party fortunes. As I said during an interview with Calgary Today’s Mike Blanchard this week, one of Premier Stelmach’s greatest challenges is that his government doesn’t have a defining purpose beyond governing for governing sake, and it shows.

In his recent book, Rich Vivone accurately pointed out that when Premier Ralph Klein declared Alberta to be debt free in 2004, the PCs began to drift. Aiming to defeat the deficit and debt saved the PCs from being unseated by Laurence Decore‘s Liberals in the 1993 election and it was the defining theme in Alberta politics in the 1990s and early 2000s. In many ways, Premier Klein’s 55.4% approval in 2006 reflected the drift.

Premier Stelmach is far from an amazing orator or political strategist, but one of his greatest strengths is that he is constantly underestimated by his opponents and the media. No one expected him to defeat Jim Dinning and Ted Morton in the PC leadership race or lead his party to win a 72-seat majority in the March 2008 election. The recent polls may spell demise for the near 40-year governing PCs, but with at least another two years to create a defining purpose for governing, their political and electoral opponents would be foolish to write them off just yet.