On October 7, 2011, Alison Merrilla Redford stood in front of a large crowd of her peers and power-brokers in the Legislature Rotunda as she was sworn-in as Alberta’s 14th Premier.
Having won the October 1, 2011 Progressive Conservative leadership contest with 37,101 votes to 35,491 for second-place Gary Mar, Ms. Redford became Alberta’s first woman Premier and fifth consecutive PC Party Premier. Leadership candidate Doug Horner, who would serve as her Finance Minister, played a large role in directing his supporters to vote for Ms. Redford on the final ballot vote.
There is little doubt that October 7, 2011 was a proud day for Alberta and one that, for many Albertans, represented hope for positive change in our province’s politics. We were told to expect immediate action on critical and a new style of government from the long-governing PC Party.
What a difference 2 years and 167 days can make.
Amid scandal, broken promises and a caucus revolt, Ms. Redford resigned as Premier and leader of the PC Party on March 23, 2014 and as the MLA for Calgary-Elbow on August 6, 2014. She was replaced by Deputy Premier Dave Hancock, who served until Jim Prentice was selected as PC Party leader on September 6, 2014.
Liberals announce by-election candidates
In more recent news, the Liberal Party announced its candidates in two Alberta by-elections. Robert Prcic will be that party’s candidate in the Calgary-Foothills by-election and David Khan in the Calgary-West by-election. Mr. Prcic was his party’s 2012 election candidate in Calgary-North West, where he earned 6% of the total vote.
A recent email from the Liberal Party revealed the party was prioritizing their resources behind candidates in two other by-elections – Susan Wright in Calgary-Elbow and Donna Wilson in Edmonton-Whitemud.
As the Progressive Conservatives brandish their new slogan, “A new era for Alberta,” many Albertans might be confused about which political party has been in power for the past 43 years.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines an era as “a long and distinct period of history.”
If we were to apply the geological time scale of the Earth to Alberta politics, we would now find ourselves in the Honeymoon Period of the Prentice Era of the Progressive Conservative Eon (I will resist the temptation to name any political dinosaurs).
And despite the PC Party Eon having stretched more than four decades, PC Party candidates in four Alberta by-elections being held on October 27 are not running on their party’s record as the government since 1971. They are running on their party’s record since Jim Prentice became leader of the PC Party on September 6, 2014.
And it is too early to tell whether Mr. Prentice will oversee “a long and distinct period.” His two most recent predecessors each lasted less than five years in office.
The PC Party’s “new era” slogan is somewhat reminiscent of another slogan used by Harry Strom‘s Social Credit Party as the 36 year old governing party tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to win re-election in 1971. But, unlike the Socreds in the 1970s, the PC Party has become masterful at reinvention, consistently rebranding their party since Peter Lougheed retired in 1984.
Unlike Mr. Strom, who was overshadowed by his popular and larger than life predecessor, Ernest Manning, Mr. Prentice would never be caught in public uttering the words “Alison” or “Redford.” But while the PC Party tries to put their recently departed leader’s legacy behind them, the opposition parties and candidates will eagerly remind voters about the past two years of PC government.
Just two years ago, the PC Party led by Alison Redford were re-elected in a hotly contested campaign under the slogan “Real life leadership” (see the campaign advertisement above). This slogan was a reference to both Ms. Redford’s time spent overseas as a United Nations lawyer and provided contrast with her predecessor, Ed Stelmach, and the perceived inexperience of Wildrose leader Danielle Smith.
During the 2012 election campaign, a controversial advertisement published in some urban newspapers featured the slogan “Not your father’s PC Party,” which suggested to younger and more liberal-minded Albertans that the PC Party had entered a new era (and again provided a contrast to the perceived social conservative values of the Wildrose Party).
Six years ago, borrowing from the success of Barack Obama‘s “Change we can believe in” slogan, the PC Party led by Mr. Stelmach chose “Change that works for Albertans” as their slogan in the 2008 election. The slogan suggested that Mr. Stelmach’s main opposition, the Liberals, would provide change that would not work for Albertans.
Like his successors, the PC Party under Mr. Stelmach worked hard to distance itself from the legacy of his predecessor, Ralph Klein.
In the four by-elections being held at the end of October 2014, the opposition parties are also using new slogans to help brand their campaigns. “Send the PCs a message” is a slogan being used by the Wildrose Party, and it is meant to remind Albertans that by-elections are an opportunity to show dissatisfaction with the PC Party’s past two years of scandal and misdeeds.
The NDP are using the slogan “Albertans deserve better,” which is a true statement, but it seems unlikely that most Albertans outside Edmonton city limits are about to look to the NDP as a better choice.
While slogans alone will not win or lose an election campaign, they can cleverly help define the narrative each party or candidate is advancing and can serve as a rallying cry for or against voters choosing change at the ballot box.
If you have a few moments after reading this post, I encourage you to take a glance at the extensive ‘List of Political Slogans‘ page on Wikipedia.
BANFF – Stepping onto the national stage for the first time since he was appointed as Alberta’s Minister of Health, Stephen Mandel met with his provincial and federal counterparts this week in Banff for the annual Health Ministers meeting. Mr. Mandel co-chaired the meeting, a role his predecessor, Fred Horne, had planned to fill.
The ministers are said to have discussed a wide-range of topics, perhaps most dramatically, a strategy for pharmacare, a plan that could decrease the cost of prescription drugs by billions of dollars each year. This sort of national plan would require the involvement of a federal Conservative Government that has, unfortunately for Canadians, taken a hands-off approach to health care.
Mr. Mandel began on the long road of rebuilding relationships with federal government by meeting with federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose. Despite being represented by federal Conservative MPs in Ottawa, relations between the City and federal government soured in recent years. In November 2010, an angry Mr. Mandel publicly blamed Ms.Ambrose for the failure of the City’s unarticulated plans to host Expo 2017.
CALGARY – The Wildrose Party announced two of its by-election candidates this week. Former Calgary police officer Kathy Macdonald is running against Jim Prentice in Calgary-Foothills and Calgary public school board trustee Sheila Taylor will run in Calgary-West.
A savvy move, Mr. Prentice announced the appointment of Emma May as the executive director of the Premier’s Southern Alberta Office at the McDougall Centre. A well-respected community advocate, Ms. May leads the Calgary River Communities Action Group, which represents residents whose homes were damaged by the 2013 floods.
Ms. May’s appointment may also have an impact on the by-election in Calgary-Elbow, a constituency which includes many flood impacted neighbourhoods. Running as the PC candidate, appointed Education Minister Gordon Dirksis facing strong challengers in Wildrose candidates John Fletcher, Alberta Party leader Greg Clark and Liberal Susan Wright.
The Green Party is expected to announce its candidate in Edmonton-Whitemud shortly. The Social Credit Party will not run candidates in any of the by-elections.
TROUBLED WATERS – CBC reports that the Auditor General Merwan Saher found that sole-source contracts of up to $274,000 were awarded to Navigtor Ltd. during the 2013 southern Alberta floods. The firm has close connections to Mr. Prentice and former Premier Alison Redford.
FLOOR CROSSING? – Rumours are stirring in political circles this week that Mr. Prentice and PC Caucus Whip George VanderBurg have reached out to a handful of Wildrose MLAs in an attempt to convince them to cross the floor. Any opposition floor crossings could be seen as a significant political win for the long-governing PC Party.
Albertans in four provincial constituencies will go to the polls on October 27, 2014. Half-way through the PC Government’s current four year term in office, the by-elections will be our own version of the mid-term elections.
Yesterday morning three anticipated provincial by-elections turned into four when first-term Ken Hughesannounced his resignation as the Progressive Conservative MLA for Calgary-West. Earlier in the morning, Independent MLA Len Webber, fresh from securing the federal Conservative nomination in Calgary-Confederation, declared that he would vacate his Calgary-Foothills seat.
Combined with vacancies in Calgary-Elbow and Edmonton-Whitemud, Alberta’s political parties will face off in four constituencies in 28 days.
Premier Jim Prentice wants these by-elections to be a referendum on the past two weeks, during which time he has made daily announcements trying to undo unpopular decisions made by the Alison Redford-led PC Government. The opposition wants to make sure these by-elections are a referendum on the past two years of broken promises and misdeeds by the PC Government.
Despite the unpopularity of the PC Party in recent polls, the four by-elections are not taking place in constituencies that were decided by small margins of victory in the last election. These four are some of the stronger PC-voting constituencies in Alberta. In the 2012 election, the PCs earned 60.4% in Edmonton-Whitemud, 58% in Calgary-Elbow, 53.5% in Calgary-Foothills and 49.9% in Calgary-West.
After 43-years in power, will Albertans buy Mr. Prentice’s argument that the PC Party is “under new management” and has entered “a new era?” The PC Party prides itself with the ability to rebrand itself under pressure. Long-time Tories boast of the “Miracle on the Prairies,” the tale of Ralph Klein’s reinvention of the PC Party before its expected defeat in the 1993 election.
But fresh in the minds of many Albertans is the hope and opportunity that seemed real when Ms. Redford became Premier in 2011. We were promised a new era reminiscent of the days when Peter Lougheed led our province. Instead, we received two years of arrogance, broken promises, budget cuts and endless political spending scandals. And despite attempts to blame it all on Ms. Redford, it is hard to forget the 60 PC MLAs who stood behind her during those two years.
The appointment of two cabinet ministers from outside of the Legislature certainly helps the argument that the PC Government is “under new management.” But however credible the two men are, and despite their records as successful politicians, their age and notable careers in politics certainly undermines the argument that we have entered “a new era” in Alberta politics (Gordon Dirks is 67-years old and Stephen Mandel is 69-years old).
The four PC candidates in these by-elections could easily all be elected, but some of them could just as easily be defeated. By-elections are risky for incumbent parties because they give voters an opportunity to voice their disapproval without changing a government.
Running in Calgary-Foothills, Mr. Prentice will soon face voters for the first time since he was selected as PC Party leader on September 6, 2014. Wildrose leader Danielle Smith is expected to announce her party’s challenger in Foothills today.
The lack of interest in the recent PC Party leadership race suggests that many Albertans have put our Natural Governing Party on probation. It will be a test of Mr. Prentice, Mr. Dirks, Mr. Mandel and Calgary-West candidate Mike Ellis, to prove themselves worthy. And it will be a test of the opposition parties to remind Albertans why the PCs do not deserve another chance.