Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Alberta 2011 in Review

One of my favourite sayings is "If you don't like the weather in Alberta, wait 30 minutes. If you don't like the politicians, wait 30 years." However, the sleepy world of Alberta politics has come alive in recent years and 2011 was no exception.

A year ago, Ed Stelmach was Premier, Ted Morton was his Finance Minister and heir apparent, and David Swann was the leader of the opposition. Today, "feminist lawyer" Alison Redford is Premier and former Conservative MLA Raj Sherman leads the Liberals. Perhaps most shockingly of all, NDP leader Brian Mason shaved his stache.

So for those who haven't been paying attention to Alberta politics, here's what you missed in 2011.

Ed Stelmach and his wife share a lighter moment at his resignation press conference.

The PCs 2011 Year in Review

At the start of 2011, the PCs were leading the polls and nearing their 40th consecutive year in power. Ed Stelmach had won 72 seats in his first election as leader, a 10-seat improvement over Ralph Klein. So, of course, he had to go.

On January 25th, admid rumours of internal dissention, Ed Stelmach resigned as Premier.

Two days later, Ted Morton resigned as Finance Minister, refusing to bring in a deficit budget. Well, another deficit budget - Ted had run a $5 billion deficit as Finance Minister in 2010. Oh, and during the 2011 leadership race he promised to balance the books in 2013 - the exact same pledge as in the budget he refused to deliver.

Despite high expectations, Morton's leadership campaign lumbered along to a disappointing fourth place finish. Some chalk this off to Morton's supporters having already left for the Wildrose Alliance, but I see it as voters punishing Morton for his inability to follow up his 2006 hit, Ted Morton is the man, with a new theme song.

Instead, Gary Mar emerged as the frontrunner, scoring endorsement after endorsement, and leading Alison Redford 41% to 19% after the first ballot. Mar had it in the bag, but then women, teachers, and other left wing pinkos stormed the ballot box for the second round of voting. When the dust settled, Redford was Premier and Gary Mar was lamenting the cruelty of the PC leadership rules over a beer with Jim Dinning.

After her victory, Redford named a Cabinet, cancelled then un-cancelled the fall sitting of the legislature, and kind of kept her fixed election date promise. That may not sound like a lot, but Redford spent a great deal of time "being awesome".

As 2012 begins, Redford is still very much in the honeymoon phase. Liberals are happy that Alberta has its first liberal Premier in 90 years. Conservatives are happy that they're at 51% in the polls. Yes, everyone is happy - except for...

Get with the media narrative people! Danielle Smith is, like, so 2010.

Wildrose Party 2011 in Review

For Danielle Smith, 2011 was a harsh dose of reality. She started the year as a media darling both inside and outside Alberta. Newspapers would routinely profile her under headlines like "Danielle Smith doesn't walk on water - she runs on it!" or "Danielle Smith: Great politician or the greatest politician?". Yes, she led a party which had received 7% of the vote last election, had changed it's name 3 times in as many years, and had 4 castoff MLAs. But her midichlorian count was off the charts - she was universally seen as the chosen one who would bring balance to Alberta politics.

Politics is often compared to High School and from 2009 to 2010, Danielle was the most popular girl in school. Why was she popular? Because she was cool. Why was she cool? If you're asking, that's a sign you're not cool.

But then the new girl showed up and Danielle was, like, so 2010. So how did Danielle respond? She started spreading rumours about Alison. Not cool.

So the Wildrose doesn't smell quite as sweet as it did in 2010. Still, it could be worse. Which brings us to...

Possible election slogan: Raj Against the PC Machine

The Liberal Party 2011 in Review

I usually describe David Swann to non-Albertans as "a less charismatic version of Stephane Dion". That's likely mean but, as the federal grits learned this spring, they could do a lot worse than Stephane Dion. The provincial Liberals may learn the same lesson in 2012.

After dumping Swann, the Liberals went out a replaced him with former Conservative MLA Raj Sherman - presumably on the assumption that what Albertans are looking for is a PC leader...only with NEP baggage.

Sherman is a colourful character. The former medical doctor was elected to the PCs in 2008, then was quit/fired in 2010 after sending off a late night angry e-mail to Ed Stelmach and 40 of his closest friends, where he railed against Stelmach's health care record. (Possible PC commercial in next campaign - "When the phone rings at 3 am...it's probably Raj Sherman calling")

Since then, Sherman has raised the spectre of scandal, bribery, and coverups in Alberta's Health Care system. At times, he sounds like a Health Care crusader. At times, he sounds like Oscar Fech. Sherman is very much a wild card.

It's hard to say how he'll play with the public, but after a string of dull-as-paint leaders, no one will accuse the Liberals of being boring next election. Which is more than can be said for...

Unlike "mainstream" parties who try to "get votes", the Alberta Party is "doing politics differently".

The Alberta Party 2011 in Review

Much like Rebecca Black, the Alberta Party burst onto the scene early in 2011 as an Internet sensation.

Like most internet memes, this one appears to have been mostly fleeting. Sure, there were highlights in 2011 - Dave Taylor, frustrated with the Liberals' policy of not electing him Liberal Leader, become the first Alberta Party MLA in January. And there was the day in March they got 47 re-tweets. But despite those bright moments, the only media attention on the Alberta Party of late has been "what happened to the Alberta Party" stories.

So how did it all go wrong? Many blame Glenn Taylor, who was named leader in May, after a lackluster leadership campaign. (fun fact: the Alberta Party has 3,169 followers on Twitter, but just 1,200 voted in its leadership race)

I see the Alberta Party problem more as one of "supply and demand" than anything else. Alberta politics needs a third party left of the PCs about as much as federal politics needs a third communist party. Yeah, neither the Marxist-Leninists nor the Communist Party have been very effective, but would a tech savvy, well branded "Workers Revolution Party" do much better? Likely not.

PS. Technically speaking, the NDP are also a political party in Alberta.

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  • Haha, that was all awesome!

    By Blogger Robert Vollman, at 4:31 p.m.  

  • Actually, it was rather sub-par rubbish.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:50 p.m.  

  • I enjoyed this post; it was funny. I can even take the jokes aimed at my party!

    But I will only note that the Alberta Party is NOT a 'third party to the left of the PCs'. The Alberta Party is not a party of the left. We're not a party of right, either. 'Centrist' is a bit too mushy but we'll wear it if we have to. We're about being pragmatic and solution oriented, not dogmatic. We want to be a big tent party where great ideas are paramount. We've just begun, and we're still small. And we've been gaining ground in the grassroots, as seen in a recent poll where we doubled (or more, depending on which poll you looked at) our numbers.

    I think we'll surprise people in the 2012 election.

    By Blogger Brandon E. Beasley, at 5:36 p.m.  

  • Great post, once again, Dan.

    One point though, Rob Anderson, Heather Forsyth, and Guy Boutilier crossed from the Tories to the Wildrose in 2010.

    Also, I would be willing to bet that there is a good chance that the NDP could become the Official Opposition after the next election (with a mighty 5-6 MLA caucus).

    By Anonymous daveberta, at 6:19 p.m.  

  • This comment has been removed by the author.

    By Blogger Robert Vollman, at 8:11 p.m.  

  • I'm not sure if the NDP will be official opposition, but I am sure they will win more seats than the Liberals.

    By Anonymous Dennis, at 8:56 p.m.  

  • Funny stuff!

    By Anonymous MPAVictoria, at 11:03 p.m.  

  • I would agree with Daveberta that the NDP will actually be the opposition party to watch in this election. They have been doing pretty well in recent polls and seem to be quite organized. They have done pretty well in past elections, it could be a return to form for them and become the official opposition. Though, hopefully with more then 5-6 seats. Maybe 8?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:13 a.m.  

  • I agree the NDP will grow their totals, and will likely have more seats than the Liberals, but I can't see the NDP doing better than the Wildrose; even with their poll numbers going down, the WRP still poll the second-heighest after the PCs, and I think they have the popularity to get about 8 or 9 seats; I'd say the NDP has a ceiling of ~6. How badly the Liberals fall and how many MLAs the Alberta Party can elect will be the wildcards.

    By Blogger Brandon E. Beasley, at 1:45 a.m.  

  • Agreed - the NDP certainly seem to be in a good position. I suppose they COULD form official opposition if Redford steamrolls everyone, but the Wildrose would really have to collapse for that to happen (not impossible).

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 10:24 a.m.  

  • I've said it before and I'll say it yet again: the Wildrose party are nothing.

    They will not win a bunch of seats, they will not form the opposition, and they'll be lucky to win a couple seats before going away completely.

    They were a temporary vessel for a few disgruntled Tories, much like the DRC was federally when Stockwell Day was leader of the Alliance.

    Even if the media continues its love-in (not likely), they will be a non-factor, except that they might pull away enough votes to swing a few seats here and there (either splitting the anti-government vote and helping the Tories, or splitting the right-wing vote and helping the Liberals/NDP).

    By Blogger Robert Vollman, at 10:44 a.m.  

  • I discount no possibilities yet have very little faith Wildrose will ever win.

    On/Off topic, Quebec politics are increasingly irrelevant and boring while Alberta politics are increasingly relevant and intriguing. The West is absolutely rising (inevitable) and it's too bad a once-vital part of the East is fading; it might have been Great to have both at once.

    By Anonymous Jacques Beau Verte, at 12:40 p.m.  

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