Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Replace Ralph Race

I've more or less ignored the Alberta PC leadership race for a couple of reasons. First of all, I'm not a member of the party, and I really have a problem with the "Instant Tory ... just add $5 bucks" model of doing things. However, a few conversations I've had in the last few days have given me cause to sit back and look more closely at the race, and in particular the way that the PC party has framed it.

I find the apparent switch to a "grassroots" style of "one member, one vote" rather interesting - especially when one considers the amazingly top-down approach of leadership favored by Ralph Klein and his cronies. One thing that has to be painfully clear is that the party power structure is very much focused on concentrating power in the party hierarchy - centralized heavily around the Premier's office. This is a party which has long ago lost touch with the individual voter (back around the time that Don Getty was in office), and today seems to think of itself as a power in its own right.

So, the first question to all of the "Instant Tories" that have been voting this weekend is "Just how much do you think this party will listen to you?". My guess is that once the leadership campaign is over, the silence from Edmonton will be deafening.

The second issue that I have is with the marketing of this. The message has been in the media for weeks now - "buy a membership so you can vote for the next premier!" - sounds a little like a carnival huckster to me. More cynically, it puts forth messages that reinforce the bogus notion that Alberta is a "one party state". While the PC party certainly has reason to perpetuate the myth that they are the "natural governing party", to portray the leadership selection process as something that is somehow inherently "democratic", and therefore you should participate in it, is disingenuous in the extreme.

First of all, while the winner of this race will be Alberta's next Premier, that doesn't mean that the resulting government actually has a mandate from the people. Whoever replaces Ralph Klein will no doubt present a different government to us than Ralph did, and since the party has been very much "The Cult of Ralph" for the last 15 years, one has to assert that the party was elected on the strength of Ralph's personality. None of the contenders remaining has that kind of personal draw.

Second, in a party system like we have in Canada, the party goes off and selects their leader as an internal process. Once their leadership is selected, they attempt to improve the party's fortunes by presenting their "renewed" organization and policies to the public. Generally, this process is done by engaging the membership of the party. While one might argue that the Conservatives are doing this, there are some fairly deep problems with the approach being used.

First, how many of the "Instant Tories" are in fact reasonably aligned with the party and its stated goals? (Which of late, are decidedly ambiguous - other than holding onto power as long as possible)

Second, while the campaign has been aimed at "party members", the fact that one can purchase a membership at the polls is deeply troubling. Most reasonable processes have cut offs so that the membership rolls can be verified. The system that the PC's have implemented is rife with opportunities for fraudulent voting. I could easily run around to half a dozen different voting centers and vote and there's really no way to verify that I haven't already voted elsewhere. People could easily hold multiple memberships. Goodness knows what else is slightly off-kilter, with no real way to tell.

While I accept the notion that any leadership campaign is an opportunity for a party to sign up new members, I have serious concerns about the blocks of memberships that various organizations have been selling. Whether it is the ATA, trade unions or churches, this starts to look like a way to make significant "donations" to the party without having to declare them as such. No sizable donation is ever made without a tacit understanding that it brings with it a degree of influence later. ("Say, remember that $50,000 I donated last year...") While the process that the PC's have adopted has no doubt fattened their coffers considerably, I am suspicious of the consequences later.

Lastly, I find the whole idea of "pay to vote" downright insulting. If the Party wishes to claim that they are truly democratic, then they should commit to calling an election some fairly short time after selecting their leader. As a citizen in a (theoretically) democratic society, it is my right to select the leadership from all of the parties, not merely those who have a "vested interest" within a single party's power structure.

Looking at the race today, I'm somewhat (but not entirely) surprised by the amount of apparent support that Ted Morton has. I'm somewhat worried by this, especially as PCs spend the next week "picking their second choice". The real danger is that Morton could win by "running up the middle" with a split vote between Dinning and Stelmach. (It's not clear just where Oberg's supporters will go now, and I suspect a split between Dinning / Stelmach and Morton).

Personally, I think that Morton would be absolutely disastrous for Alberta. The man is far too focused on fighting old battles with Ottawa and protecting religious bigotry. On the other hand, the ties between Morton and Harper (via the so-called "Calgary School" are sufficiently strong that Morton could be quite damaging to Stephen Harper (and much harder to muzzle than Harper's caucus - which is well cowed right now)

Of the other two, Stelmach strikes me as "quietly competent", and could actually be a positive force in the province. I doubt that he has enough pull to draw much vote from the southern half of the province though.

Dinning has never impressed me overmuch. He's a bit too cavalier about some things, and has a very limited understanding of how policy affects individual voters. However, I'll take him over Morton any day.


Anonymous said...

The race for the leadership of the Alberta PCs is now just that, a sprint to the finish. And after Saturday's vote, the choices have solidified somewhat.
We can either choose the candidate of the status quo, the candidate who surrounded himself with the usual well-heeled, backroom and corporate insiders who will stay the current course.
Or we can opt for the candidate of the past we never had, the candidate who curries favour only with those who thinks as he does that we should become narrow-minded, inward and isolated from the any influences he deems are dangerous or troublesome.
But there is clearly now a third option.
Ed Stelmach represents all that is good about all of Alberta and all Albertans -- rural and urban; newcomers to Wild Rose Country and those descendants of our proud pioneer heritage; those enjoying the benefits of the Alberta Advantage and those still struggling to take their place.
Ed has taken the time to look at all the issues -- economic, social and political. He knows Alberta's future promise rides not on defining winners and losers, insiders and outsiders, who's for us or against us, but rather on what unites us all in a diverse, modern province and what makes us stronger.

Grog said...

Unfortunately for Ed Stelmach, he's basically unknown in southern Alberta. (I've heard his name a handful of times over the years, but that doesn't tell me much about him)

I agree that Stelmach is by far the most promising of the three remaining candidates, but since the party has turned this race into a broad based popularity contest, rather than a more focused evaluation of the candidate's strengths, it makes it unlikely that Ed will be able to close the distance between him and Morton or Dinning. {Short of a mass exodus to his camp in the next six days}

Anonymous said...

Seeing as how we in Alberta are consigned the never ending hell of a conservative government, I can only say _Anyone BUT Ted Morton_ (Ed Stelmach is definitly the best of the top three, but as Grog has said.......)