How do Alberta voters get beyond the apparent equilibrium of election options to tip the scales to a personal choice?
Beyond the visions offered by the leaders of the two principal parties — Alison Redford of the Progressive Conservatives and Danielle Smith of the Wildrose — there is another layer that must be examined.
Beyond the leadership potential of Smith and Redford, voters need to be comfortable with the team they put in place for the premier, whomever that may be.
It’s not enough to be a strong, committed leader.
It’s not enough to know where you want the province to go and how to get it there.
You need, as a leader, a solid group of MLAs surrounding you to get the job done.
If the polls are to be believed — and they have consistently shown this to be a two-horse race — then Redford and Smith are running neck and neck in the final week before Monday’s provincial election.
But the published polls reflect overall support for the leader, not how voters will behave when it comes time to mark their ballot for the candidates in their ridings. (The parties, of course, are polling in the ridings as well, although that information is not public.)
More so now than in any of the previous provincial elections since the Conservatives came to power in 1971, Albertans need to examine the candidates in their ridings. We need to be sure that the team members we select are capable of both representing their constituents and being true to the perspective their parties have trumpeted on the election trail.
Part of Redford’s challenge is that she carries the baggage of previous governments. A number of incumbent Tories sat in the legislature with Ralph Klein and Ed Stelmach. And as much as she has been careful about how she expresses it, all Albertans should know that Redford wants to distance herself from the legacies of those two premiers, going forward.
Many of those Tory MLAs, of course, have proven themselves. They are capable, committed and loyal to their communities. But many of them are disaffected, uninspired and ill-equipped to serve a province that seems to be evolving ever faster.
Part of Smith’s challenge is that she has a large group of untried candidates, many of whom had very little community profile before stepping forward to run this spring. In some cases, they have ventured personal views that are disturbing (Alan Hunsperger’s anti-gay diatribe in a blog posting being the most recent example).
The $1,000 good conduct bond held against failed Wildrose nomination candidates until after the election suggests a potential lack of solidarity. It also seems to fly in the face of the kind of freedom of perspective that is professed by the party when it touts free votes in the legislature.
Certainly, the Wildrose contingent includes battle-tested members (for the most part, candidates who earned their stripes with the Tories before jumping ship).
And certainly it is better to have a committed, unified but inexperienced group than a veteran caucus that is tired, bitter or filled with a sense of entitlement.
And be certain that there are other candidates, representing other parties, who offer far more than many of the representatives of the front-running parties. And it just may be that those candidates, if successful and in the midst of a minority government situation, will wind up with uncommon leverage.
We can each judge for ourselves how the candidates in our communities rate. Whether they will represent their ridings with passion and commitment. Whether their personal perspectives are truly consistent with party policy. Whether their goals are focused on social good rather than personal gain.
And then we must go to the polls and cast our votes for those candidates.
Unless you live in Calgary Elbow (Redford’s riding) or Highwood (the riding south of Calgary that Smith is contesting), you won’t be voting for the leaders.
But you can and should cast a vote for quality, committed representation in your community.
John Stewart is the Advocate’s managing editor.