Where do we go from here?
“They are just happy with the way life is, most of them.”
-Ed Stelmach, on low voter turn-out
Ed likes to go around saying "I'm a very humble guy" and I have no doubt he'll keep saying that. But if he starts buying into all the Emperor Ed and invincible talk, he could be in for a rude awakening. The fact is, Albertans did want change and were unhappy with him - the low turn-out does not mean that 8 in 10 Albertans endorsed him. Stelmach is going to have to treat Calgary and Edmonton better than he has in the past and he's going to need to develop a real plan for Alberta's future. He's got political capital coming out of the wazoo now - hopefully he does something productive with it. There's really not much else I can add because, when you've been in power for 37 years and have won 72 of 83 seats, you obviously know what you're doing and don't need much advice.
"I don't feel like I let the party down."
First of all, there's no use in making excuses. I said my fair share of nasty things about Alberta voters on Monday night but the fact is the voters are always right. When only 1 in 10 people vote for your party, that's a failure. If they couldn't do better against a man who is, let's be honest, the worst communicator to lead a major party in Canada over the last twenty years, then major changes are needed. Name change? Leader change? I'm sure those discussions will happen in time. But a fresh coat of paint isn't going to change anything. The Liberals are fighting a perception that "PC = Alberta = wealth" to the point where every attack on the PC government was portrayed as an attack on Alberta and the impression that the Liberals would bankrupt the province hung over the election:
People finally woke up and said, 'Hey, maybe this isn't such a bad province to live in,' " said veteran Calgary Conservative strategist Alan Hallman.
"Maybe once we look at these guys over here, they scare us." Hallman said, referring to opposition parties such as the Alberta Liberals and the Wildrose Alliance.
"Fear is a great motivator."
I think the only way to break out of this equation is to re brand as a fiscally conservative pro-business party. The ALP's case study in this should be another Albertan, Stephen Harper. Harper recognized that you can't move the mountain to you - you need to move to the mountain. So he moderated his party in an effort to win votes in Ontario and Quebec, while still keeping a few key Reform principles in place. And the Liberals need to do that in reverse now. Either that, or just accept their fate as a glorified version of the NDP. I fully intend to expand on these ideas in the coming weeks but I think Step 1 is just admitting there's a problem.
"It's the party's call. It's not like the Liberals or the Conservatives where people are really ambitious and try to displace leaders. It's often the person who draws the short straw that has to be the leader."
In all likelihood, Brian Mason is the happiest of the four opposition leaders just because seeing the Liberals lose 7 seats probably gave him more joy than the pain caused by his party losing 2. But the NDP have lost official party status and were the fifth place party in most Calgary ridings. The bright spot for them may be rising star Rachel Notley who will be taking over as party leader at some time before the next campaign. If she is as good as hyped (and I've never heard her speak so I can't comment on that), they should promote her as much as they can. Policy wise, I think they're on the right track so they probably don't need to do as much soul searching as the Grits or Alliance.
"The thing people don't understand is, I'm not a politician and I wasn't in love with the job."
And the moral of the story is: don't wait until two weeks before the election to create a new party. The right wing in Alberta is a threat if they ever get their act together. They just can't seem to ever get their act together. The party is still divided and now they don't even have a seat in the ledge (pending recount).
This party is really going to sink or swim on the strength of their next leader (Link?). Despite having a seat, no one knew a thing about Paul Hinman until debate night. The next leader is going to have to get known and they're going to have to accomplish that from outside the legislature. That means being creative and it means stalking reporters to make sure they write about you and treat you with the credibility they give the NDP, rather than the credibility they give the Greens. Equally important is going to be the behind the scenes stuff the public never sees - growing the party, raking in the donations from corporate Calgary, and finding quality candidates to run in the next campaign.
It's a daunting task, but the potential payoff is huge, if done right. I think Alberta would be better off with a viable right wing opposition party so I hope they do it right.