So, Ralph has decided to step down as Premier in the fall. There will be a leadership process and he will go in September.
Good thing too. A skilled street smart politician, it was clear that the time has come for him to move on. The question now we should ask is not who will succeed, now what are the key characteristics of the leadership that Alberta now needs to see. Here are my thoughts.
First, the leader has to have a strong, compelling and challenging vision for Alberta’s future. They cannot simply look at revenues and wonder how to best distribute wealth – they need to recognize the need to diversify the economy, to support development and challenge Albertans to think of the future in a positive but more realistic way.
Second, they need to understand the power of democratic institutions, effective government and public: private partnerships for the work that Alberta needs to do. They need to understand the balance between these different kinds of organizing forces and push for productive, effective and accountable government. There is much to do under this heading.
Third, they need to understand that less but focused government is better than more government. They need to get spending back under control – we have been spending more than the growth of the population and inflation requires and we need to cut again while we have a chance to do so. Spending avoids responsibility. They need to make focused investments and think long term about funding, rather than short term.
Fourth, they need to understand that Alberta needs to build a capacity for innovation and support focused efforts to do so. Innovation is about companies, supports for commercialization, market development and the flow of skilled people. We need to do much more here. We have done much to support basic research in the Universities – we now need to focus on strengthening the flow of new products from Alberta into the world’s economy.
Sixth, they will have to stop talking about health care and the “third way”, and face up to the fact that health care spending is a major challenge and needs a long term solution. Smart, brave rethinking focused on management, productivity, skills and prevention are key to the thinking needed here. This will mean that the new Premier will have to face down critics and challenge the system to do much more with less cash than the system wishes to see. The fundamental problem is not money, but imagination and courage.
Seventh, they need to have a clear and believable strategy for sustaining our natural resources – balancing development with stewardship, extraction with renewal. Albertan’s are strongly committed to sustainable natural resources and to prosperity – they look to leadership to balance these competing forces.
Finally, Albertans expect to be engaged and informed. They expect their Premier to be a world-class communicator, a team player as well as a leader and consummate politician. They will look for new ways of public participation, not bogus consultations or gimmicky surveys. They will look for a twenty first century leader to use twenty first century technologies to intelligently involve Albertans in policy formulation, deployment and execution.
Whoever ends up in this role has a lot going for them – a thirst for a new kind of politics, adequate resources to manage change and a growing acceptance that the resource revenues will not last for ever. There is also a tiredness in government which will readily respond to an injection of new blood, new thinking, new energy.
Political honeymoons are short – ask Stephen Harper. It is more important to have a clear, focused plan which the new Premier will act on than to have “spin”, “slogans” and marketing gimmicks. The next leader will need a plan to lead our future, not just “build on the past”.