A fundamental concern for the PCs, and a concern for all parties, is that their popularity is at stake with the general public. Ed Stelmach, being quiet and “steady” politician, has found himself down in the polls and the PC’s popularity has only just in the last few months settled down to the mid to high 30%s. The swings of the polling of the PC party in the last year has swung to the mid 20%s to the higher 50%s, with each story in the news about their drops being obituaries and each upswing a dramatic resurgence. From the leveling out in the last few months we can reasonably assume that the PCs have gotten over the changes they made and then changed back to the royalty structures, along with some other political mistakes.
Policy thorns still reside in the PC thigh, specifically around health care. Two main issues arise with the PC’s health care initiatives: the perceived to be failing Alberta Health Services and the leaked threat of privatization of Alberta’s health care system.
While I could focus on the negatives of Stelmach’s government he has had some successes that do require some admiration. First of all, he and his post secondary minister (Mr. Horner) have locked down the creation of new programs for university, have adequately given additional resources to the universities, and placed in restrictions so that the numbers of seats that are to be increased for institutions are only in Calgary and Edmonton, creating efficiencies in teaching rather than a hodgepodge of over-utilized and under-serving universities all over the province. Secondly, the new protocols for Emergency Rooms across the province seem to be getting good press and positive attention by the public. The threat of privatizing Alberta’s health services has also be fully denied by the Stelmach government, with a rehashed version of their previous plan being reformatted and showcased as their ‘new’ plan–all without any reference to private delivery of health care.
Really, in the new year things seem to be mostly on the up and up for the PCs. With the royalties issue behind them, and the seemingly positive stances on health care issues, Stelmach and his crew seem situated to coast through 2011 and walk into a 2012 election with an opposition with nothing to fling at him other than insults or partisan/ideological attacks from the extremes of the political spectrum.
Two long terms threats have appeared before Stelmach, however: (a) the federal Conservatives are essentially backing the new Wildrose and (b) traditional lines of support / volunteers are drying up. With the media mantras of the PCs goofing natural resources royalty reforms and the two health care issues, the PCs seem slated to, for the first time in a very long time, be forced to actively engage with the public and defend their choices. So while 2011 may have Stelmach riding easy, after 2012 there will likely be more issues brought to the fore against the Conservatives from within his ranks.
Judging from the polls (and this one blogger’s breakdown of them), if an election was held today the PCs would win a decent majority.
Alberta politics has always tended to be a bland, simple landscape with one obvious winner, year after year and decade after decade. The political scene was, for the most part, uninteresting and unchanging. That is until several changes began to happen in Alberta.
Three major trends in Albertan politics are beginning to take root:
- Changes in the PC Party: The brokerage party of the Progressive Conservatives have been unable to attract enough talented MLAs and staff to assist their war machine. Their traditional sources of people have been shifting to the federal Conservative or the Wildrose Alliance. This break down is understandable seeing the changes in how people view the leadership of Ed Stelmach and the political fortunes of the Progressive Conservatives.
- Regionalism is becoming key again. Rather than the PCs dominating the entirety of the province excluding Edmonton, they’re now is three-way races in Calgary, four-way races in much of Edmonton, and two-way races in rural Alberta. There is now electoral math that allows for substantive changes in the make up of the Alberta legislature that could create a change in government.
- Political opportunities are opening up to different, long ignored groups. Just examining the Calgary municipal election there is a noticeable new method in how campaigns can be wages and electoral fates changed. What before tended to be essentially dumb-downed races between self-stereotyped candidates (“Dr. No” and “big hearted fiscal conservative” were the major two in the race) meant for the 30-second sound bite-centric news media can be circumvented by social media, a solid strategy, and a consistent, targeted communications effort. A two man campaign in June can turn into a electoral landslide if a group can showcase their candidate(s) having the know-how and the leadership to do things.
All three of these points showcase a change from regular Albertan politics to a heightened level of political competition. In the new year I’m really ecstatic to see how the many parties will move their chess pieces hoping for an electoral windfall sometime in 2012 (or 2011 if the Premier so choses).
Also, the media this year have written two major themes to Alberta’s politics: with the Progressive Conservatives being an old, tired party with failing policies, and that there is a insurgent ____ Party taking more and more popular support from the PCs (insert party of choice). Fundamentally, the air war being waged against the PCs has little bearing on the ground other than getting soft voters (voters that vote for the PCs because of the media telling them to) to look for new options, if they’re looking at all. Additionally, Canadians are looking less and less to news papers and traditional media in favor of (a) their friends / associates (through social media, their networks, etcetera), (b) direct communication between people and parties, and (c) essentially skipping the traditional media to get the stories from non-traditional forms (blogs, etcetera).
While the media narrative can have an impact the impact is curtailed quite heavily by the rise of social media and changes in how Albertans access the news.
Anyways, over the next few days I’ll write up a post about each of the parties highlighting their success and their challenges for the new year.
Other People’s Year End Reviews
- CalgaryGrit has three photo essays and a solid piece of satire
- Daveberta sticks to his anti-Liberal shtick and heralds the Alberta Party as Alberta’s savior
- The Calgary Herald does their thing