The Alberta chatterati – the chatterers about Alberta and politics – seem to have three key convictions.
The first that Premier Alison Redford is a dead Premier walking. She has lost confidence of caucus, the story goes, and is in the death throes of her administration.
The second part of this gripping narrative is that, so as to position herself for a graceful exit, she is moving to the right to establish her national credentials as a fiscal and real conservative rather than the liberal lawyer with a funny hair do.
Finally, in this three part story, Doug Horner has been anointed her natural heir and successor - having secured the backing of the monied elite in Calgary and the support of caucus.
That is the story. Whether we believe any of it is another question, but there is good evidence that key elements have some credibility.
First, the Premier has never been able to manage her caucus and is clearly not a street-wise politician. Smart, highly articulate, very intelligent and capable, she has never endeared herself to the rural dominated, predominantly male caucus. She does not come from the same place, is “too clever for her own high heels” and is not one to suffer fools gladly. This latter problem is serious, There are several real fools in caucus and some in cabinet. Her own staff, as is shown by some key resignations, has also found her brittle and awkward. It is a shame – she is by far the smartest Premier since Peter Laugheed and has an ability to see beyond the current game and take a long view. But if she can’t bring her own team with her, she is toast. The first rule of leadership is to have people following you. If they are not, de facto, you are no longer the leader.
The second element of the story – that she is moving to the right - is clearly the case. Key election promises lay in tatters, Her fiscal position rules out new revenues and her solution to our budget challenge is austerity – a failed policy of the right the globe over. Rather than seeking to stimulate growth and increase revenues, she has fallen for the right wing agenda and is about to announce a min-Klein agenda.
Whether this is to boost her future position as a national conservative or not, she is moving away from the more liberal Premier that stood for election just a few months ago. Fighting with doctors and teachers, cutting or freezing budgets, cutting school budgets and giving up on flagship educational programs and sending in the Deputy Premier to rationalize post-secondary education (a system which Doug Horner complicated and made less comprehensible) are all signs that she has moved to the right. We will see more signs on March 7th when the Provincial budget arrives (if it not leaked before).
But whether this is about positioning her for her conservative future I doubt. It just reflects the paucity of imagination in her caucus, the lack of sophistication in their understanding of politics, power and economics and their lack of vision.
If she is gone as Premier by this time next year – a confident prediction of the chatterati – then she will not be eligible as a national conservative leader until a significant period of detoxification and rehabilitation. When Stephen Harper steps down as Prime Minister (something he shows no signs of doing), a Premier of Alberta who lived a brief life in power will not be an attractive proposition.
As for Doug Horner, he is clearly seen by many to be running the Government of Alberta in all but name right now. Whether he can secure the leadership after the demise of the Premier we will have to wait and see. But we can be sure of a fight. Ted Morton is alive and well and starting to appear on screen and stage and others who left the party stand by to return once the Redford regime enters history. It will not be a cake walk.
One reason for this is the presence of Danielle Smith. The leader of the Wild Rose must think she has died and gone to heaven. She watches the progressive (sic) conservative party implode in front of her and simply draws attention to their failures, smiles, and observes. Her loss at the last election has enabled her to regroup and refocus in a way that positions her as Redford’s natural successor as Premier. Assuming she can detox her party of the wild elements and make it more rose like, she will more likely win than lose.
What we are not witnessing is a serious and substantial conversation about economics, public policy and evidence based decisions. Take education, for example. Will laying off some 1,500 to 2,000 teachers, cancelling investments in innovation (e.g. the Alberta Initiative for School Improvement), moving to merit pay (which has no merit) and asking teachers without a contract to do more with less will really improve educational outcomes and increase student engagement? Who in their right mind thinks that seeing teachers “as the problem” rather than excessive management spending (over seven hundred people in the Department of Education and significant numbers in central office staffing in Edmonton and Calgary Public Schools), over control and reporting requirements by Government, bureaucratic accountability systems and a curriculum that is no longer fit for purpose shows imaginative leadership for our world-class school system?
Its time to rethink Alberta and to have an imagination conversation not just about economics, but about the kind of Alberta the worlds need to see, I don’t see this Government as interested in such a conversation. Closed minds don’t open to challenge.