Questioning a Jim Prentice coronation

Danielle Smith Leader of the Opposition

Danielle Smith
Leader of the Opposition

I have met Danielle Smith. I like her. She is forthright and a great communicator; fun, authentic and passionate for her ideals.

I’ve known Greg Clark for some time. I really like him. Greg is the perfect example of the new Alberta in my opinion. Young family, entrepreneur who started and built a fast growing knowledge economy business, passionate about a social safety net and innovation in politics, but still fiscally pragmatic and experienced. He is also leading a movement of young, idealistic, and innovative Albertans.

Greg Clark Alberta Party Leader

Greg Clark
Alberta Party Leader

I’ve even met Brian Mason and Raj Sherman, who both interest me. Mason, has been perhaps the most passionate supporter of his beliefs of any MLA I have watched. A great public servant who wears every one of his ideals on his sleeve. I’d suggest most Albertans admire his work ethic, even if his political beliefs are often in conflict with our business-loving ethos.

Sherman, who in my opinion, has troubles containing his hubris, still busts his ass for his struggling party and brand. He is an animated character, and I think a pretty good guy. Even if I wouldn’t trust him to good governance.

But, for every one of these party leaders, I have an idea of their character. They have made mistakes and they have made impassioned pleas about a future Alberta. Love them or hate them, I at least understand them.

So, let’s shift to Jim Prentice, the heir apparent to the PC Party of Alberta. What do we really know about him? Sure, It could be as simple as me not knowing him personally; maybe he is the finest character known to politics. I just don’t know. I hope we will learn more about him. He has certainly been very quiet when it comes to Albertan issues.

But, let me share with you how I FEEL.

Two weeks ago at at the Edmonton PC Premier’s Dinner, I was lucky to be the guest of some great Albertans. Two past Premier’s Chief of Staffs (to Klein & Lougheed), a First Nation’s Chief, and an Edmonton business Legend, all at my table. We were treated fairly quickly by a visit from Jim Prentice, for obvious reasons.

Jim Prentice PCAA Leader Candidate

Jim Prentice
PCAA Leader Candidate

Mr. Prentice was surrounded by a throng of party insiders. I did feel like I was witnessing the chosen one. I don’t begrudge Mr. Prentice for this, what a great position to be in. But I did pass two judgments in that moment:

  1. What has this man yet done to connect with the party machine, to prove that he has a plan to give it the reinvigoration is most desperately needs? The tribulations of the party are not entirely due to the bad leadership of Alison Redford. Much of their problems are a result of desperation in clinging to power over a genuine interest in reinventing a politic commitment to service for Albertans.
  2. Why does this party get so excited about a messiah figure, and not realize that it needs to rebuild its relationship with regular Albertans? Does the party desire to rebuild its infrastructure to serve the citizen and party member, as opposed to just their elected official. Finally, why does it pretend that things are A-OK as long as a popular new leader is found?

 

I can be convinced that Jim Prentice is a great potential Premier of the Province, but ONLY through his actions. He has chosen an old-school approach to his early leadership campaign, which relies on the typical PCAA maneuvers, and is ignoring what I think is important in any political movement in 2014. Show Albertan’s, the general public, your authentic self.

This is why I am actually more interested in seeing a PCAA race, which includes other interesting PCAA candidates. Ric McIver has been a lesser known, but certainly more authentic candidate from the start. As a Calgarian, I simply don’t know him as well, or understand his style. I have read that he is trying to tackle the “everyman” narrative, and that’s a good thing, but I am still unconvinced he has the “Royal Jelly” to transcend the party past with a renewed vision for Alberta. In a different set of words, he strikes me as a “Ralph Klein Light”. Not bad, necessarily, but not NEW, and not INSPIRING… In my opinion, certainly not enough of a character to beat Danielle Smith and the Wildrose Party, who are the best version of old politics in Alberta right now.

 

Thomas Lukaszuk Minister of Jobs, Skills, Training & Labour.

Thomas Lukaszuk
Minister of Jobs, Skills, Training & Labour.

Thomas Lukaszuk however, has an interesting potential. We know him quite well. He acts with authentic impulse on almost every issue. His social media presence in the last three years as a cabinet minister, has been polarizing to say the least. But, assuming he was playing the “bad-cop” role for Premier Redford on the Advanced Education file, we can describe him during that time as an “aggressive loyalist,” at best. Many, and I wouldn’t disagree, feel that his handling of the post-secondary (especially U of A) funding crisis was an abomination. Interfering with the Board of Governors in full public, was poorly handled and not consistent with the way the government in Edmonton has typically dealt with its appointees and normal supporters.

BUT, I have to give some credit where credit is due. Lukaszuk has been 100% authentic with us. And as much as he may have offended some Albertans, he has also made up for it by being one of the most tireless political workers I have witnessed. As past PC MLA Doug Elniski has suggested, none of the potential leadership candidates understand the grassroots public service as well as Minister Lukaszuk.

A leadership race can be a fickle and interesting thing. Day by day challenges from the opposition (outside the party) and the opposition (within the party) can make a hero transform to zero very quickly. Jim Prentice is the most accomplished individual in the race. Hands down. But he is also the most vulnerable, and deserves a tough analysis of his vision for the province.

I don’t know if I like the man or not, mostly because he is still an unknown local personality. I do wonder this:

How much can he connect with regular Albertans? How much does he value economic diversification or democratic transformation? And how much is he committed to changing the way the PC Party serves the average party member and citizen?

If these are a few of the ways we evaluate a successful Leadership candidate in Alberta right now (It’s how I do), I like Thomas Lukaszuk, Greg Clark, Danielle Smith, Brian Mason and Raj Sherman… at least right now, until we hear from the polished and old school Jim Prentice.

I like them better, because I feel I know them. I FEEL I have seen into their heart, if only a little bit. Not just their expansive wallets.

I like authentic, servant leaders. Even if they are not perfect.

“…what Alison Redford taketh away….. Alison Redford giveth back?”

Well… you might say… here we go again.

Since the 2012 election, I have been somewhat of a political agnostic. My experience helping build the Alberta Party into a new moderate option for Albertans was an experience I would never give back, yet one that opened my eyes to the difficulties and challenges of partisan politics.

Let’s not go into the story on why it didn’t find greater success, as it would take a book to do it justice; but I can summarize pretty much where I feel the movement Peaked: Just prior to The selection of Alison Redford as PC Party leader. It made sense really. On paper, the Premier was the perfect blend of potential. Our first woman Premier, young, a human rights lawyer with international experience, and yet a reputation for sternness when needed.

But perhaps what Alison Redford taketh away….. Alison Redford giveth back?

After a couple years of an Alison Redford PC Government, it’s possible the conditions are emerging for the Alberta Party to be considered again as an option in the provincial political landscape? What are some of those things?

  1.  The likelihood of a Wildrose government. Danielle Smith is leading the only real organized opposition to the government, and on many issues, is looking more like a Premier than the Premier. They are beating the PC’s at their own game, raising piles of money from a very broad base of support, and they have very much softened their policy positions. The Wildrose will not make the same mistakes the next election, they did the last one.
  2.  The Alberta Liberals seem to be struggling with sustainability. Under the highly polarizing and some might say damaging ego leader Raj Sherman, it seems almost all large donors have left and so too much of the new blood needed to backfill this vacuum.
  3.  The PC Government under Alison Redford has acted erratically on many huge issues, and less than ever, we really don’t know their vision. They have tried to be everything along the political spectrum, and seemingly are beating themselves in the process. Even some bright lights in the party (yes they are there), have been dulled by the overbearing control from a Madame Premier who calls all the shots. These are the last couple years:

 

But… back to my point. The Alberta Party. What to do with this table scrap of the past election?

Firstly, I am happily surprised the experiment from 2009, 2010 and 2011 has somehow persisted. The retail support of the party has virtually disappeared, but as I revisited it over the last month, what I saw surprised me. Several new faces among their support and a fresh commitment to stay the course; build it responsibly, and maintain commitment for a fresh political palate. A new home for moderately minded political Albertans.

** Special shout-out to current Alberta Party President Will Munsey, who seems to personally embody almost every example of the Province. A rural farmer, who also works as a unionized train engineer; an entrepreneur who fits perfectly selling his fresh foods and plants to Urban local-food enthusiasts. Will holds a masters degree and has lived for two-decades abroad. He speaks fluent Japanese and knows a thing or two about the colourful language of hardworking Albertans as well. This man has been instrumental in holding the party up, even if just above the waterline, saving it from possibly drowning.

Candidate Greg Clark, Party President Will Munsey, Candidate Troy Millington

Candidate Greg Clark, Party President Will Munsey, Candidate Troy Millington

That said, the Alberta Party will not form the next government of Alberta and it would be a twice in a century story for them to form government in even two elections. But when I spent some time talking to each of the candidates currently running for leader of this boutique movement, I found a whole new extreme practicality. The two Calgary based candidates are similar in professional background, as computer and technology service consultants, yet they are also unique in their own approach. Yet again, as they are diverse, they also seem to typify the party in several ways. Fresh, young, new to the scene and VERY gosh-shucks idealistic.

So where am I going with this? Well I am asking myself once again, is it time to give the next chapter of this young book, another look? As I said, can the Alberta Party form the next Government, of course not. The real questions, which I WILL be asking at the only Edmonton leadership forum event, will be around how each of these men will lead the party over the next couple years to continue it’s growth?

How will they make it more sustainable, perhaps more applicable to all Albertans? When will Albertans understand the policy of the party in practical terms? How will that be developed? Finally, how will they afford to keep the lights on, or better said, how will the Party get better at the Business of Politics. Something it has prided itself on shunning… clearly a mistake if it wants to bridge itself to the mainstream.

So… I invite you to join me as I ask those tough questions of each candidate.   On Wednesday September 4th, (The Facebook event link for more information) – Edmonton will have it’s only opportunity to meet the candidates, ask them some tough questions, before you decide if you want to buy a membership, which is required to vote in this race.

A race that by many will be considered irrelevant… unless you love the challenge and risk of building something new… and some of us Albertans certainly do.