The future of Alberta’s Progressive Conservative Party

Anyone within the cabinet ranks right now has too many bodies buried and too many debts to pay to become leader

EDMONTON, AB, Mar 20, 2014/ Troy Media/ – Alberta Premier Alison Redford’s decision to resign showed uncommon common sense. There was no way she could survive the coming onslaught from the Progressive Conservative Party’s own leadership – the rank and file and the constituency associations. The Presidents of these associations were about to meet as she resigned to ask her to do just that.

While she was a flawed leader (Read A premier on probation), the real issue facing the Progressive Conservative Party is not leadership, but purpose. Why does it exist and why should it expect the people of Alberta to continue to support it after 43 years in power?

The Premier gave emphasis to the word “progressive” in her resignation speech. She did so for a reason. Alberta is a very liberal and progressive province and becoming more so. It values equality of opportunity, fairness, transparency and outcome-based investment by government. It does not value elites, favouritism, privilege and policies which ensure that the rich get richer, the middle class get poorer and the poor remain poor. If anything, Alberta is the engine of progressive thinking in Canada, despite the views of the young Trudeau.

A true progressive conservative party would now increase taxes and revenues to pay for better education, better healthcare and more support for those in need. It would systematically attack poverty, homelessness and growing youth unemployment. It would focus on enhancing access to skills development and opportunities for lifelong learning and would invest in the province’s infrastructure. If this takes managed debt, so be it. If this takes increase royalty payments from oil and gas, so be it. Changing the mindset about taxes so as to achieve social benefits which increase the opportunities for wealth creation should be the cornerstone of progressive politics.

Another critical component of such a progressive approach would be to seek genuine and meaningful partnerships with those who can make public services work and perform – public servants, doctors, nurses, teachers, teaching assistants, social workers. The present government has systematically and deliberately alienated exactly these workers – the very people who ensured their election two years ago. It has attacked them, their rights and their pensions. It’s time to stop and to look for a re-engagement of civic leadership and public sector employers in the work of building the Alberta the world needs to see.

I know that this sounds like a liberal agenda, but few in Alberta will vote Liberal while Raj Sherman is leading. Even fewer will vote NDP while Brian Mason leads – his “use by” date is long past. Sadly, the Alberta Party is yet to make headway, though if ever there was a time for it to start to step up to the plate it is now.

What happens next for the PC Party will tell us everything we need to know. Clearly, there will be some interim arrangements while the party discovers its next leader. Pay some, but not much, attention to this. If all of the leadership candidates are from the existing front bench, then the party is dead at the next election. What it truly needs is a fresh leadership face – someone who will be a “game changer”. Anyone within the cabinet ranks right now has too many bodies buried and too many debts to pay. A new broom can truly sweep clean.

Stephen Mandel, former Mayor of Edmonton, is the kind of person we may need. Some tell me he is a liberal – so was Ralph Klein. Some tell me he is too old. He is younger than Ronald Reagan was when he won the Presidency of the United States. He is a skilled, collaborative politician with a record of getting things done. He knows how to engage and broker alliances and he has the patience to see the long-game.

Rona Ambrose, Federal Minister of Health and Vice Chair of Treasury Board and MP for Edmonton-Spruce Grove, is another possibility. True, she is a tried and tested and familiar politician. But she would be a fresh face to Alberta provincial politics and brings a wealth of experience to local politics from surviving goodness knows how many shuffles, debacles and midnight coups in the federal domain. A smart, articulate and skilled politician, she would bring new blood to the game.

The last person the party needs is one of the current front bench. The leadership of the party should be systematically looking outside the party elite to change the game and wrong-foot the Wildrose Party. It should rethink its policy positions and not fall back on mantras that were appropriate for the 80’s and 90’s of the last century. A 21st century Progressive Conservative Party with new leadership and fresh thinking could do very well.

But I’ll make a small bet: none of what needs to happen will happen. We will get more of the same and have a wild ride election sooner rather than later.

There is gaping hole the PC Party could leap across and show its imaginative side or it could ensure that the hole becomes a sink hole.

Eye on Alberta columnist Stephen Murgatroyd is a consultant in innovative business and education practices with a PHd in psychology.

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