Liberals: new politics, or desperation?

Well, it was an interesting weekend in Alberta politics. The Alberta Party held a leadership convention, and the Alberta Liberals held a policy convention. Of the two, I’d venture that the Alberta Party came out ahead, in that they actually have a leader for their party. So, maybe they’re a little short on policy, but really, does anyone care about policy?

I’ll answer that: no.

Meanwhile, my friends in the good ol’ ALP were busy “reimagining” themselves down in soggy Calgary. The Alberta Liberals are, as always, looking for ways to boost interest in their party. This has always been difficult, because it has little to offer compared to the other parties.

Joining the PCs means jumping on the bandwagon of a winning team, not unlike the thousands of new “fans” of the Vancouver Canucks. And if you join the PCs, you could brush shoulders with Ted Morton — now THAT’s worth the five bucks. Joining the NDP gives you the right to tell everyone else how to run the province, without ever having to worry about actually doing anything about it. Sanctimony is free with every membership. Joining the Wildrose gets you on the ground floor of the Cranky Old Man movement that might sweep the province. And joining the Alberta Party is cool because it still has that new party smell.

Joining the Liberals gives you a membership in an elite organization with a nearly unblemished record of abject failure. But it also marks you as a rebel, someone who isn’t afraid to use the “L” word in public. I always thought that was one of the benefits of being a Liberal, but apparently not. The young bucks in charge of the ALP these days (and it’s good news that there are young bucks in the party) have convinced the rest of the membership that actual paid membership in the ALP is so tainted that nobody wants to actually buy a membership.

The solution, as approved by the membership — give it away.

That’s right, folks. The party has opened up voting in its current leadership race, and even constituency nominations, to anyone. You don’t have to pay your five bucks; all they want is your interest, however fleeting, and your email and home addresses. As party president Erick Ambtman put is: “You’re not saying you want to marry us, but you’re saying you’re willing to date. It’s allowing people to engage with us without having to say we’re going to go all the way.”

There is no truth to the rumour that the new slogan for the Alberta Liberals will be: “We’re easy.”

Personally, I’m worried about abuse of the system. It wouldn’t take may mischievous PCs or NDPs to band together to support terrible candidates, or plant a candidate to run against a major opponent like Hugh MacDonald or Laurie Blakeman. And don’t think for a moment that they wouldn’t try to do something underhanded like that.

I am also baffled as to why the always cash-strapped party would go to this system during a leadership vote, which brings in members and money. Now, they’ll bring in members… but no money.

I’m sure all of this was discussed at length (Liberals do love to debate). The young turks say the party system in Canada is dying … except for the federal PCs, the provincial PCs, the Wildrose Alliance, etc. The move to an open membership is either a bold, visionary move, or a sign of desperation. We shall see…

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How to ask a question, government MLA edition.

Legislature, day 4:

Hello, would-be politicos. Today, for those of you considering becoming a Progressive Conservative MLA, I present two examples of PC MLAs in “action” from the Leg on Wednesday. One is the right way to be a government MLA, the other is the wrong way.

First, the right way. This happens so rarely, I thought it should go first.

George VanderBurg is the long-time MLA for Whitecourt-Ste. Anne. VanderBurg sets an example for his spineless seatmates in how to ask your own government worthwhile questions. Here are parts of an exchange between VanderBurg and Advanced Education Minister Doug Horner.

“Within Whitecourt-Ste. Anne my constituents are concerned about the challenges facing home-schooled students as they seek admittance to Alberta’s postsecondary institutions. While government approves and even regulates home-schooling, my constituents find that postsecondary institutions are less open to the idea and lack consistent policies for accepting home-schooled students. My questions are to the Minister of Advanced Education and Technology. Minister, it’s easy for every foreign student across the world to come to Alberta; there are policies. When are you going to create a policy for our own Alberta students, for our own home-schooled students?”

See how it’s done, future MLAs? Raise a legitimate issue of concern to your constituents, and ask with some authority.

After Horner’s typical non-answer, VanderBurg came back with this zinger:

“Well, I think, Minister, that you’ve missed my point. You’re the big wheel here, and the home-schooled students are watching you. What are you going to do to help them prepare for postsecondary institutions?”

Good one, George. After Horner again tap danced around the answer, VanderBurg redirected his last question to the Minister of Education, because he said Horner was “passing the buck”.

See, future MLAs? That’s the way it’s done. Now, here’s how you don’t do it.

The MLA for Calgary-Montrose, Manmeet Bhullar, participated in a shameless display of ass-kissing with buffoonish Infrastructure Minister Luc Ouelette.

After praising himself for “two years of lobbying”, Bhullar asked when an access road from 84th Street to 100th Street  in Calgary would be completed.

Ouellette lumbered to his feet, and said: “I’ve got to say that those constituents in that area should be very, very thankful for having an MLA that just gets out there. I still have the scars from all the lobbying he does. I have to tell you that I have very good news for this member. The road is under construction as we speak …”

Bhullar, who of course knew the road was under construction, called it  “wonderful news, Mr. Speaker. Wonderful news.” He later referred to Ouellette as a “wonderful minister”.

Sheesh, boys. Get a room.

See what I mean, future MLAs? VanderBurg asked a real question, going to bat for his constituents, and refused to accept a non-answer. Bhullar asked a non-question designed only to promote himself as a great hero to his constituents, someone who almost single-handedly got a road built. Basically, he wasted the Legislature’s time, and wasted an opportunity to ask a real question.

That’s how it’s not done.

And finally, once again the amazing Wildrose Alliance MLA Guy Boutilier caught my attention with a truly Donald Rumsfeldesque question. Rumsfeld, you may recall, was the former Secretary of Defence for George W. Bush, who once said:  “Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

Here’s Boutilier’s Rumsfeld moment from Wednesday. He was asking Stelmach about a letter sent two years ago warning about the emergency room crisis. Stelmach was trying to say that it didn’t go to the current minister, or something like that. It all got very confusing, resulting in Boutilier asking this poser:

“He refers to the minister. Is that the minister who really wasn’t the minister or the minister who wasn’t the minister then? We need to know. Given that and the non-answer that he just provided – and all the folks in emergency rooms watching Access television are watching for the answer – do you know, do you not know, or do you not know what you don’t know?”

Does anybody know what this means?

Did Smith blow it with her airport stand?

Public opinion polls taken when an election is about 18 months away are more fun than informative.  As John Diefenbaker said, “Dogs know what best to do with polls.” And, just like dogs, it’s best to just sniff around for a minute, then do on to something more important.

But what they heck; let’s look at the most recent poll on political preferences, from the Citizen Society Research Lab at Lethbridge College. A telephone survey of 1,067 Alberta voters, held Oct. 2-3, found the PCs still out in front with 30 per cent of the vote, with Danielle Smith and the Wildrose Party (that should be their official name; without her, they’re like the Heartbreakers without Tom Petty) at 20 per cent, the Alberta Liberals at 17 per cent, and NDs at nine. A healthy 18 per cent was undecided. .

While the PCs and Danielle Smith are duking it out in Calgary, Edmonton is a much different story. Here, the PCs still lead with 33 per cent support of decided voters, with the Liberals second at 24, NDP at 20 and Wildrose at 16.

Whoa. The supposedly surging Wildrose at a puny 16 per cent in Edmonton? And behind the Few Democrats? Those are the kind of numbers that must give the supremely confident Smith pause.

I’ve been saying for a long time (mostly to myself) that the Wildrose is much more of a southern and rural Alberta party. Their MLAs are all from well outside Edmonton, and unless they’ve got somebody hiding out somewhere, they haven’t come up with any high profile (or even mid-high profile) Edmonton candidates.  As far as I can tell, they have two candidates  so far in Edmonton. Of course, there’s no election on the horizon (Stelmach again reiterated the March 2012 date earlier this week), so you might think that there was no rush. But when you’re a new party, with no presence in the community, you can’t have enough candidates too early.

Here’s another thought. The poll was taken Oct. 2-3, well after Smith stuck her nose in Edmonton’s business by signing the Envision Edmonton petition to keep the airport open. Could it be that Edmonton voters reacted negatively to Smith’s ill-advised grandstand play? Smith hasn’t done much wrong so far, but choosing a side in an entirely local issue may have cost her dearly.

But of course, the election is a long ways away. Voters will have forgotten Smith’s gaffe by the time March 2012 rolls around. But the Danielle Smith party, if it wants to make any inroads in Edmonton, should probably start paying attention to the capital they want so badly to take over.