Stelmach Tories’ future?

An Alberta without Progressive Conservative leadership is not unthinkable, but it is untenable until there is a legitimate alternative.

An Alberta without Progressive Conservative leadership is not unthinkable, but it is untenable until there is a legitimate alternative.

That word of caution is directed as much at Conservative party members hankering for a new leader on Nov. 7 in Red Deer as it is at Wildrose Alliance members (and would-be members) jumping on the Danielle Smith bandwagon.

Those other Albertans whose political leanings tend left of Conservative and Wildrose doctrine already know the limits of their aspirations for power. It is a long, arduous road to elect Liberal, New Democrat or Green members of the legislature in this province, let alone elect a government. That won’t change in any significant way without a colossal failure by the more conservative elements in provincial politics.

Albertans have been voting overwhelmingly Tory blue since 1971 without interruption (and before that, the latter years of Social Credit dynasty were marked by similarly conservative management).

We have enjoyed robust economic growth under the careful guidance of Peter Lougheed.

We have suffered well-meaning incompetence at the hands of Don Getty.

We have been badgered and bullied by Ralph Klein.

And now we have the cautious, unimaginative stewardship of Ed Stelmach.

But still Alberta chooses Progressive Conservative leadership.

Why? Progressive Conservatives were well aware of Stelmach’s limitations when they selected him at the leadership convention in the fall of 2006 — but he was the least offensive candidate to the most voters. He wasn’t Jim Dinning. He wasn’t Lyle Oberg. He wasn’t Ted Morton.

And so he became premier, rising from 15 per cent of the vote on the first ballot at the convention to a majority on the final ballot.

In the spring of 2008, Stelmach won a strong mandate in his first general election (72 of 83 seats in the legislature, 10 more than Klein won in his last election), but he did it by attracting just 41 per cent of eligible Albertans to the polls (a record low).

Albertans — and Conservatives — seemed content with his well-meaning manner and his promises of change. So content that they didn’t even bother to vote.

That one key component of the change (oil royalty hikes) coincided with a global economic retreat could hardly have been foreseen.

That another significant component of the change (health reform) is widely accepted as necessary is moot: his means of achieving that change is under a microscope; and because the renovations to the system are being conducted behind closed doors, the motivation is suspect.

Stelmach, in conversation with the Advocate’s editorial board last week, clearly believes he can deliver on any number of fronts.

He is earnest, informed, committed and ready to do battle.

He is well aware that uncertainty lurks in his party, although he is unwilling to discuss what kind of mandate he is likely to receive, or need, at the party leadership review in Red Deer on Nov. 7.

But Stelmach should also be confident that the choices for his party, and for Albertans, are limited. Are Conservatives going to refuse him the necessary vote of confidence in order to look again at Dinning, Morton and Oberg? Are there other leadership hopefuls waiting in the weeds who have the skill, imagination and muscle that Stelmach lacks?

Certainly Albertans should not expect that a Conservative implosion next month will propel the Wildrose forward. Months — and perhaps years — of work must be done in terms of policy formation and the recruitment of credible candidates before the Wildrose Alliance becomes a legitimate alternative for right-tending voters.

Staying the course has risks for the Tories, but Stelmach’s blemishes are obvious and not fatal. Opting for a more dynamic, and more uncertain, future right now could be disastrous for the party and the province.

It would be far better if the Conservatives focused their energies on helping Stelmach understand what Albertans truly want out of government and getting it done.

Put the knives away, get out the shovels and get to work solving Alberta’s problems.

John Stewart is the Advocate’s managing editor.

Just Posted

Men posing as repo men attempt to steal vehicle in Red Deer County

Two men attempted to steal a utility vehicle from a Red Deer… Continue reading

Red Deerian spreads kindness with one card at a time

One Red Deerian wants to combat bullying by spreading kindness in the… Continue reading

Bowden baby in need of surgery

“Help for Alexis” Go Fund Me account

PHOTO: First Rider bus safety in Red Deer

Central Alberta students learned bus safety in the Notre Dame High School… Continue reading

WATCH: Annual Family Picnic at Central Spray and Play

Blue Grass Sod Farms Ltd. held the Annual Family Picnic at the… Continue reading

Woman has finger ripped off at West Edmonton Mall waterslide

SASKATOON — A Saskatchewan woman says she lost a finger after her… Continue reading

Uncertainty looms over Canada’s cannabis tourism, but ambitions are high

TORONTO — Longtime marijuana advocate Neev Tapiero is ready for the cannabis-driven… Continue reading

Feds mulling safeguards to prevent ‘surge’ of cheap steel imports into Canada

OTTAWA — The federal government extended an olive branch of sorts to… Continue reading

Ontario govt caps off summer session by passing bill to cut Toronto council size

TORONTO — The Ontario government passed a controversial bill to slash the… Continue reading

Updated:Italian bridge collapse sends cars plunging, killing 26

MILAN — A 51-year-old highway bridge in the Italian port city of… Continue reading

Saudi Arabia spat affecting Canadians embarking on hajj, community members say

TORONTO — Members of Canada’s Muslim community say recent tensions between Ottawa… Continue reading

Tug carrying up to 22,000 litres of fuel capsizes in Fraser River off Vancouver

VANCOUVER — The smell of diesel filled the air as crews worked… Continue reading

Nebraska executes first inmate using fentanyl

LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska carried out its first execution in more than… Continue reading

Most Read

Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month