One Week Later….
After the Orange Chinook Made Landfall
What a difference a week can make. Seven days ago we were just waking up to what had been an almost unthinkable reality for most of us: the end of the 44 year old Progressive Conservative dynasty, 12 successive majority governments in a row.
The pollsters (and Eric Grenier) were all saying the Alberta New Democratic Party and leader Rachel Notley were in Majority Government territory.
But after the polling industry’s recent hiccups, (Alberta 2012, BC 2013 and Ontario 2014) that had produced unexpected results, no one was willing to trust such an outlandish notion as an NDP Majority in Alberta.
Until they saw it with there very own eyes. An hour after the polls had closed though, the media was calling it an NDP government. The newscasters looked as shocked as everyone in my household did. The flurry of texting and tweeting turned into a blizzard as everyone began to digest the idea:
The Orange Chinook was real. Alberta is now an NDP province.
The transition from one government to another is always a challenge, even amongst advanced democracies that have normalized the idea that every once in a while the ordinary people get to non-violently overthrow their leaders and try someone new.
Even under the best of circumstances there are a million things on the To Do List:
- Orientations and seminars for the rookies.
- Selection of cabinet that represents a broad spectrum of the public, particularly unique regions, as well as parceling out responsibilities to the most capable and also creating growth opportunities.
- Get the complete picture of your government’s overall operating health from the bureaucrats.
- Clean up after the last election (guys there are still stray signs around).
- Of course, the ceremonial aspects of formally swearing in a new Legislature, cabinet and Premier, to usher in the new era.
It’s a huge undertaking under normal circumstances.
For Alberta’s NDP though the task is much more complicated. The NDP was the smallest recognized party in the Legislature with just four MLAs.
All four MLAs have been re-elected, all of them are effectively guaranteed cabinet posts because they are literally the only senior people the NDP has in the legislature right now.
There’s talent among the rookie Members too, but it’s going to take a while for all of them to figure out the ropes. They’ll have lots of company though.
70 out of 87 members of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta are new members this term.
My personal predictions: Brian Mason, a former party leader himself will get Finance and probably also get named Deputy Premier as well. Given the business jitters, I think Notley may decide to take on the Energy portfolio herself. While undeniably a heavy additional burden for the person who’s also Premier, it may also do a lot to reassure the sector that she takes it very seriously. As for the job of Speaker, they may just get creative and find a way to get someone from the opposition bench to take the job.
There’s also the added complication of finding a new Speaker of the House to manage the affairs of the Legislature, preside over Question Period, debates, serve a neutral referee (theoretically) and manage the administration of an institution that by it’s very nature is completely unique in it’s place in the surrounding area it is governing.
When a new government comes in with a clear and commanding majority, such as what the NDP have clearly won, customarily they appoint a broadly well-respected senior Member from their own ranks.
It’s not mandatory however that a Speaker come from the governing party by any stretch (deputies are often brought in from the party forming the Official Opposition) and in minority government situations, a Speaker from the opposition benches is not unheard of.
However, the NDP have only 4 senior members, one of whom is Premier-designate Notley herself and they also have a lot more than 4 senior cabinet posts that they have to fill.
I seriously doubt that they can fill the post of Speaker from their 4 senior members. A rookie Member cannot take this job, that’s simply not going to work and even asking the previous Speaker, Gene Zwozdesky, to stay on is not an option. He was defeated by an NDP candidate in the election. When the new members are sworn in, he will be leaving his post.
Somehow, they’re going to have to raid the opposition benches for a Speaker, someone who can be reasonably trusted to be fair and impartial.
There are 13 re-elected Members to choose from, most of them in the surviving Progressive Conservative caucus, which has been deposed to third party status.
A transition from one government to another is always a big deal, even when it’s a more frequent event than once every four decades.
Even for a lifetime spent in the civil service, in most jurisdictions, how many changes of government may they see over a lifetime civil service career? 5 or 6 perhaps? Senior civil servants may only oversee one or two by the time they reach the upper echelons.
This will be Alberta’s fourth transition in it’s entire history.
When a Government has been in power for 44 years non-stop, even continually being re-elected in (supposedly) free and fair elections there’s always a considerable blurring of lines between the partisan Governing Party and the supposedly non-partisan civil service.
Inevitably, virtually all of the current senior civil servants have been promoted time and time again because they delivered what the PCs wanted, either in terms of accomplishments or telling them what they wanted to hear but providing a veneer of non-partisanship to the message.
Where do the Progressive Conservatives end and the bureaucracy begin?
A line is going to have to be drawn between the now defeated PCs and the non-partisan bureaucrats. Certainly some people working in the civil service are going to be on the wrong side of it. Can they adjust? Will they opt not to and move on to other careers?
That is a process though that is going to take time to shake out. In the process, hopefully Albertans will get an object lesson in some of the consequences of neglecting our democracy.
During the election we learned from Jim Prentice that ‘Math is Hard.’ Ending a dynasty like this one is teaching us all that the Aftermath is hard as well.
Where The Wildhorses Roam:
Congratulations are definitely in order for Brian Jean, Leader of Her Majesty’s Official Opposition of Alberta.
Jean, late of the Federal Conservatives’ back-back-back bench achieved the goal that he set for himself at the beginning of the Alberta election. Well done, attainable goals are reachable!
His most recent announcement, a pledge to be “Mr Sunshine” (his words) and to not base their opposition on fear-mongering, is definitely welcome. I personally hope he lives up to it.
Alberta needs an effective and strong Official Opposition. It’s a key component of keeping a governing party accountable and effective.
Whether they actually do live up to Jean’s promise and provide Alberta with an Opposition as effective as they were against former Premier Alison Redford is very much an open question.
Starting off by calling the new NDP Government an “ideological government” doesn’t exactly fill me with optimism.
Your conservatism, Wildhorses, is also an ideology.
Last Liberal Standing:
If someone had told me back in 2006, when I was a volunteer in their doomed campaign against the then Ed Stelmach led-Tories, that less than 10 years later there would only be one Liberal MLA left in the Alberta Legislature, Dr David Swann would have been my first guess.
Full disclosure: I have met him, although just long enough to shake his hand. Other people I know have had opportunities to get to know him slightly better and by all reports he is a deeply committed advocate for patients in Alberta’s healthcare system.
More than that he’s fought to sustain several patients who were all struggling to survive: the Alberta Liberal Party, the idea of a Parliamentary Opposition, the idea of a progressive alternative, the hope of change someday (maybe).
The reasons why that eventual change didn’t manifest under the Liberal brand are legion and I won’t go into them here.
The question now remains, what to do with their sole remaining MLA?
If I had my way, I’d make him Minister of Health with broad remit to reform Alberta’s healthcare system from top to bottom.
I’d let him keep his Alberta Liberal designation but still bring him into the government nonetheless, something that usually doesn’t happen in our parliamentary tradition when there is a majority government.
But traditions are just that, traditions. They can change and the new government needs whatever extra experience it can get on its bench.
Given his surprisingly enthusiastic speech about how glad he was to see the PCs out of power and that change had come to Alberta (despite it literally wiping out all of his party except for him) I think getting him onboard is possible. And he’s almost certainly the best possible person for the job of Health Minister of the 87 Members.
Another suggestion I’ve heard is that he may be offered the Speaker’s chair, another post I believe he would excel in, but definitely my second choice for where to place him.
If any Alberta Liberal party members, executives, or backroom boys, happen to read this: do Alberta a huge favour, and release Dr Swann from his obligations to you if he is offered a position by Premier Notley.
Party of One
Congratulations are also in order to Greg Clark, the first elected Member of the Legislative Assembly from the Alberta Party.
Full disclosure: six months ago when I didn’t believe in miracles, I very strongly believed that the Alberta Party represented one of the best chances for a progressive breakthrough in Alberta.
That doesn’t mean that I didn’t believe in the NDP or was any less of a firm social democrat. I just didn’t think they had a chance here.
I didn’t believe that Alberta and Albertans were capable of jumping to even a moderate NDP. I was wrong on that one and I am grateful I was wrong and sorry I didn’t have more faith in my home province.
Anyhow, at the time it did seem reasonable (and under that mindset it still would be) to support the development of a moderate, small ‘l’ liberal party without the baggage of the current Alberta Liberals.
But like the Liberals, the Alberta Party seems to have been jumped over as Albertans went looking for their first progressive government in a 40 years.
While Greg Clark’s win is an important personal victory and I believe he is one of those individuals who will be an asset in any legislature (even if in the furthest back row) regardless, the Alberta Party faces tough choices.
For a progressive government to survive in Alberta, progressives are going to have to broadly unite behind it and support it, provided it doesn’t screw up massively. Regardless of that’s government’s particular party label.
Only unity will have a chance against a likely resurgence of conservative forces in the next election.
The Alberta Party, sitting in the middle of the political spectrum, its growth opportunities lie in both directions.
But for a party that was basically taken from shrivelled up husks of its former incarnation as a separatist party and turned into a party designed to break the logjam of Alberta politics, I have to ask: do they really want to help hand Alberta back to the conservatives?
Fortunately, that question can wait for a little bit, while they assess what they have achieved and where the political landscape currently is.
No matter what, Greg Clark is an asset to Alberta and to the Legislature even if he is stuck in the last row of the opposition benches. Let’s hope he’s used to the maximum benefit of our province.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch:
Premier Jim Prentice (and yes, sadly as of this writing, he is still technically premier) continues to remind all Albertans of the depth of his commitment to our province, his professionalism and administrative talent.
In the week since Albertans (ingrates that we are) rejected him, Prentice has vanished into the ether.
Generally, a good CEO helps ensure a smooth transition. Even when fired.
In one of those fun oddities of parliamentary government, Rachel Notley, may find herself sworn in as Premier ahead of her NDP cabinet.
Hopefully this would stop (or slowdown) the rampant document shredding currently taking place in ministerial offices around Edmonton. And prevent the PCs from leaving only empty offices, like the SoCreds did to them.
With Prentice MIA, Notley may end up being not just the first NDP Premier but also the last PC one as well!
Update: Shortly before posting this, I came across the item that today (finally) Premier Prentice met with Premier-designate Notley to help smooth the transition. So, happily no longer missing in action. Still doesn’t excuse his vanishing act up until today.
As to what happens to the Progressive Conservatives here on out? Who knows? I give the Alberta Liberals a better chance of still having a sitting MLA in the legislature when the next election in 2019 is called.
Ric McIver, who basically gets the job by default of being the last semi-credible PC holding an elected office, has been named Interim Leader.
Will they go for a permanent leader sooner or later? If sooner, have they effectively already given McIver the job? If later, will there even be a party left to lead?
Already the unite the right chatter has started but a good chunk of the PCs current voters won’t be migrating to the inevitably Wildrose dominated united conservative party should it happen. Where will they land?
And perhaps, who cares? Stephen Carter (infamous for running both Naheed Nenshi’s and Allison Redford’s campaigns) has dismissed the PCs as a dead party that will fall apart.
Power was the only ideology holding the party together and in the absence of power, it’s nothing but bits to be picked up by others.
I think he’s almost certainly correct on this one.
File Under: Old Media Yells at Cloud
Finally, for reasons that elude everyone with a pulse, Global Television decided to give has-been politician and noted non-candidate in 2015 an interview on her thoughts.
But you know what, every time they put Danielle Smith on the air they’re just taking away airtime from more valuable uses. Like running the equivalent amount of time as static.
Or following the doings of a professional bocce ball league.
While I will undoubtedly be writing more about Danielle Smith’s actions in a future post, for now, anything that she has left to say is entirely self-serving attempts to try to redeem herself.
And just like the PCs, she’s past the point of saving.
Twitter: where everyone knows your name but are kinda “meh” you came. You should follow me @jackshope. Or get notified when new items are posted to Alberta Revolts @albertarevolts.
A quick note that going forward there won’t be quite the same frenetic pace of postings as there as has been right now. I do plan to set a reasonable schedule and stick to it as best I can given the inevitable vagaries of life. As I’m still sorting and setting this up, right now I’m posting a lot of background info, as much for my benefit as anyone else’s. Your patience is appreciated.
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