2011 Alberta PC Leadership Race

What Saturday’s Win by Red Tory Redford Means in Alberta

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Alison Redford was Saturday’s surprise winner of the Alberta PC leadership race. As stunned as frontrunner Gary Mar was, the most surprised may have been Alberta’s opposition parties, who had no doubt begun positioning themselves against Mar.

So how does this shocker change Alberta’s already rocky political landscape?

Progressive Conservatives

Redford’s first task will be assembling a new Cabinet – expect that announcement in about a week. Her second will be deciding when to go to the polls.

There had been speculation Mar would call a snap election this fall, but Redford’s victory has ended talk of this, with the Premier-designate saying she will not call an election before June. Although Redford campaigned on fixed election dates, it’s unclear whether this was a real promise, or one of those silly things one says to get elected. So the exact timing of the next election is still up in the air.

Redford will use the time until the next election (whenever it is) to earn the trust of a caucus she had only a handful of supporters in, and to introduce herself to voters. Redford ran a policy-heavy campaign, and enacting some of these policies into law would be the perfect way to define herself to the electorate.

Alberta Liberals

After Gary Mar, the biggest loser on Saturday may have been the Alberta Liberal Party. Running a single issue Health Care campaign against Gary “two tier” Mar must have been a tantalizing prospect for newly elected Liberal leader Raj Sherman. Now Sherman finds himself up against a red Tory who is popular among women and lists education and Health Care as her top two priorities.

Redford looks like a Liberal and sounds like a Liberal – she likely would have run as a Liberal if Liberals stood a chance of being elected in Alberta. That makes her a very formidable opponent for Liberals. Hell, even Margaret Atwood is excited.

The Danielle Smith Party

For the same reasons Redford’s victory is trouble for the Liberals, it should help the Wildrose Alliance. They can now portray themselves as the only “true” conservatives, and might be able to poach a few disgruntled PC MLAs or organizers.

At the same time, the Wildrosers should be careful about toasting Redford’s win. After all, much of Danielle Smith’s appeal transcends the political spectrum. To many, Smith isn’t a conservative ideologue – she’s a strong female candidate willing to take on the establishment. That was very much Redford’s M.O. during the leadership contest, so if the choice boils down to Redford or Smith…well, maybe voters will opt for the leader whose party has been tested and whose candidates aren’t as extreme.

The short of this is to say Redford adds another wild card to an already unpredictable political game in Alberta. The challenge for all parties becomes shifting strategies and defining this largely unknown leader.

Gary Mar is the Man

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After Saturday’s first round of voting, it seems all but certain that Gary Mar will be the next Premier of Alberta:

Gary Mar: 24195 (41%)
Alison Redford: 11129 (19%)
Doug Horner: 8635 (15%)
Ted Morton: 6962 (12%)
Rick Orman: 6005 (10%)
Doug Griffiths: 2435 (4%)

Yes, Ed Stelmach turned 15% on the first ballot into a win in 2006, but those were very different times. The frontrunner had received just 30% after a lackluster campaign. Voters were looking for a third way in what had become a polarized Dinning-Morton feud. The 4th, 5th, and 6th place candidates all threw their support behind Stelmach.

Sure, Mar’s supporters could become complacent. But the also-rans have all seen which way the wind is blowing, and Alison Redford would need to triple her vote to take it. Only something truly remarkable can prevent Mar from becoming the 5th Premier in Alberta’s Tory dynasty.

So how did this come about?

The most surprising number in round one is not Mar’s total, but Morton’s. Morton received 26,000 votes in the first round in 2006 and 41,000 in the final. Since then, Morton beefed up his resume with a stint as Finance Minister. Yet there he was, unable to rally even a third of his former supporters.

Morton blamed the harvest, but the reality is most people who were supportin’ Morton in 2006 have long since migrated to the Wildrose Alliance. I don’t think Morton will follow them, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see the 62 year old professor hang up his spurs before the next election. Maybe him and Tom Flanagan can do a weekly podcast together, or something.

ROUND 1 BY THE NUMBERS

For pretty maps, mosey over to labradore or Daveberta. It was interesting to see Mar sweep Edmonton, given he’s a Calgary boy.

Some will no doubt chalk up Mar’s win to his edge in establishment support – after all, he had endorsements from 26 MLAs and some guy named Ralph Klein. There’s some indication this paid off – Mar received 54% of the vote in ridings where he was backed by the local MLA, compared to 35% elsewhere.

Which sounds impressive until you consider that Ted Morton’s support was 14-points higher in ridings where he was endorsed (24% vs. 10%) and Doug Horner’s was 38-points higher (46% vs. 8%)! Yes, in a lot of cases, MLAs endorsed candidates they knew were popular, but Mar’s team still delivered in ridings where the local establishment was working against him.

For those curious, here are the MLAs who were most effective at boosting the support for their candidate of choice (based on how much the candidate exceeded their province-wide support in the riding):

1. Ray Danyluk (Horner) +67%
2. Frank Oberle (Horner) +54%
3. Ken Kowalski (Horner) + 50%
4. Hector Goudreau (Horner) + 48%
5. Doug Horner (duh) +48%

All are Horner backers, unsurprising given his concentrated support in the rural north. On the Mar campaign, Thomas Lukaszuk (+30), Dave Hancock (+26), and Naresh Bhardwaj (+24) delivered the most, while George Groeneveld (+27) and Evan Berger (+21) were both more effective at delivering for Ted Morton than Ted Morton was.

And for those curious, the “thanks, but no thanks” award for the least effective endorsements is shared by Lindsay Blackett, Yvonne Fritz, Len Mitzel, Barry McFarland, Richard Marz, and Ken Allred. For these 6 MLAs, their candidate of choice did worse in their home riding than elsewhere.

Hat Tip to Tim Duncan for the endorsement numbers.

This Week in Alberta – the PCs pick a leader

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Given that general elections only matter in Alberta every 30 or 40 years, the PC leadership race is really the one chance Albertans get to have their say in who becomes Premier. Not surprisingly, over 140,000 Albertans voted in 2006, and we could see close to that number casting their ballot tomorrow.

Assuming no candidate nets 50% + 1 on the first ballot, the field would be narrowed to three for a showdown in two weeks time. The fun thing about this race is that you can keep selling memberships right up to the final vote, adding an element on unpredictability. That’s how Ralph Klein beat establishment darling Nancy Betkowski in 1992 and how Ed Stelmach came from nowhere to win in 2006.

While it’s difficult to know what to expect, we were treated to a poll of PC members this week. Unlike previous polls of the general public, this one is somewhat meaningful in that it was of card carrying conservatives. Of course, there’s obviously the question of how Environics acquired a party member list, so the numbers should be interpreted with some caution:

Gary Mar: 31%
Alison Redford: 20%
Doug Horner: 12%
Ted Morton: 10%
Rick Orman: 5%
Doug Griffiths: 4%
Undecided/Won’t vote: 17%

If these numbers are to be believed, we’re looking at a final ballot of Mar, Redford, and either Horner or Morton.

With the undecideds factored out, Mar would be in a better position than Jim Dinning was in 2006 when Jim was held to 30% on the first ballot. But remember, Ed Stelmach came from 15% and third place to take it, so a Redford or Horton win isn’t unfathomable, depending on what we see tomorrow.

The more polarizing Morton will have his work cut out of him – even if he comes in at 20% on the first ballot, I don’t see him having the growth potential he’d need to pull it out. With many of his supporters having already jumped to the Wildrose Alliance, Ted Morton does not appear to be the man this time around.

Today in Totally Useless Polling

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The Edmonton Journal and Calgary Herald have released polling information on the Alberta PC and Alberta Liberal leadership races, giving us valuable information about who is winning…among people who will not vote in the contest.

First, the numbers:

PCs

Mar 12%
Morton 8%
Redford 6%
Orman 4.7%
Horner 4.7%
Griffiths 1.5%

Liberals

Sherman 9%
Blakeman 6.5%
MacDonald 5.4%
Harvey 2.6%
Payne 2.1%

While this is all very interesting, the reality is only 3% of Albertans voted in the last PC leadership race (which, in fairness, isn’t much below the province’s voter turnout rate in recent elections). For the Liberals? The number is 0.2%, and that’s only because I rounded it up.

So, of the 900 people who took part in this survey, there are probably under 30 who will vote in the PC race…and maybe 1 who will take the time to vote for a new Grit boss.

That’s not to say we should completely ignore what the general public thinks. After all, despite what some recent decisions might lead you to believe, most parties try to pick leaders who will appeal to the public at large. So a survey measuring how familiar voters are with the candidates and what they think of them isn’t a complete waste of space.

But there’s absolutely zero benefit in using something like this to try and figure out who is leading.

This Week in Alberta – Looking for a Leader

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All eyes are on the PC and Liberal leadership races this summer in Alberta. Well, all eyes are on the PC leadership race, and a few eyes are glancing over at the Liberal one every now and then.

Still, the five Liberal candidates held a lively debate in Edmonton on Wednesday – you can read recaps of it here and here. Monday’s debate in Calgary appears to have been a bit tamer, but Laurie Blakeman grabbed some headlines by suggesting the party should only run candidates in the seats it can win.

The ALP also earned some (rare) positive media this week, courtesy of the Globe & Mail.

On the PC leadership front, Doug Horner, Gary Mar, and Ted Morton lead the way in terms of caucus support. Mind you, given the increasing number of pot shots the candidates have been taking at their own government, it’s unclear whether or not establishment support is actually a good thing.

Finally, for those of you who missed my Stampede Fashion Round-Up, here are some bonus pictures:

All photos save the Rae one, courtesy of Jenn Turcott.

Sixth Annual Politicians in Cowboy Hats

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For a brief history of Stampede fashion, you can read the 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010 round-ups.

Although Rick Hansen served as Stampede Parade Grand Marshal, all eyes were on Will and Kate this year. I do find it somewhat perplexing how many of the same people who lambasted Ignatieff for his time outside of the country went absolutely ga-ga over our future head of state visiting us for the first time in years. If a 6-day cross-country tour isn’t the definition of “Just Visiting“, I don’t know what is. That said…

OH MY GOD! Will and Kate looked absolutely dashing!!! So young! So thin! So beautiful! And they pulled off Western wear more perfectly than most people who have lived in Calgary their entire lives! Their outfits were, like, so simple, and yet so perfectly perfect. I hereby crown them “best dressed” of the 2011 Stampede – the king and queen of fashion.

This was Naheed Nenshi’s first stampede as mayor, and I know many were worried how the man would look in western wear. After all, Dave Bronconnier left big cowboy boots to fill – the man looked the part of the Mayor of Calgary every Stampede, riding ‘ol leroy down 9th Avenue. Nenshi meanwhile, went to Harvard, is a University Professor, and spends his spare time blogging about population density rates in new housing developments. And let’s be honest, the man doesn’t really look like John Wayne (neither the actor nor the serial killer).

However, Naheed hit it out of the park this year. His outfit is irrelevant – the man rode a horse in the parade, thereby making him a Stampede All-Star.

With Stampede a success, the big question now turns to what he’ll wear for pride.

FEDERAL POLITICIANS

Usually it’s the federal politicians who make the biggest splash at the Stampede – for better or worse. After all, Liberal academics, socialists from Toronto, and environmental crusaders don’t tend to have a large collection of denim in their closets. Heck, even the “Alberta boy” himself, Stephen Harper, committed the biggest gaffe in Stampede history.

But this year? Everyone’s tired out from the election. Jack Layton needs to spend time with Quebec. The Liberal leadership contest hasn’t reached the point where candidates need to parade in cowboy hats to court Calgary Liberals.

Stephen Harper did give a speech about how invincible he is (which always ends well in westerns...), but his stylist really earns her money come the second week of July every year, so the PM once again looked fine.

Here’s a pancake. You’ll get your eggs once Canada is out of deficit in 2015.”

PROVINCIAL POLITICS

In comparison, provincial politics are rockin’ this summer with an election on the horizon, and the PCs and Liberals both in the midst of leadership contests. As always, the media was all abuzz about the chosen one, Wildrose Alliance leader Danielle Smith.

And 5,000 came to the Stampede breakfast, but there were only 5 pancakes and 2 sausages. So Danielle Smith said “bring them to me” and she placed her hands over them. She broke the pancakes and gave them to Prime Minister Harper, telling him to distribute them to the multitudes. Lo and behold, they were all fed, with stacks of pancakes left over. And so the legend of Danielle Smith grew.
PC LEADERSHIP CANDIDATES

The Stampede may be the most important event of the entire PC leadership race. After all, it gives candidates a dozen socials a day to press the flesh in Alberta’s largest city. As such, the contenders have all no doubt held countless strategy meetings and focus groups to find that outfit that says “I’m an Albertan, I enjoy a good rodeo, but I don’t look like a member of the Village People when wearing a cowboy hat“.

So as a public service, I’ve taken it upon myself to rank the PC leadership contenders choice of western wear.

1. Rick Orman

Winning the “Calgary Grit Best Dressed” trophy will likely be the highlight of the leadership race for Orman, so I hope he savours this. While Orman’s outfit isn’t Jim Prentice-good by any means, it’s the best of a rather uninspiring field. And he gets bonus marks for the 3 cute children in western wear. After all, in politics, nothing beats cute children.

2. Alison Redford

Redford has a bit of a “female Harry Chase” look going on. I know that doesn’t sound like a compliment, but it really is, since I consider Chase a stampede fashion superstar.

3. Ted “The Man” Morton

Here’s what I said about Ted when I voted him “worst dressed” last year:

Once again, Ted is just trying to hard. When he ran for leadership, he drafted a catchy little country music jingle. He holds “golf and gun” fundraisers. But, really, he’s just a university professor from the big city trying to pass himself off as a good ‘ol country boy. And, in this case, it shows.

Morton has improved this year, though I’d probably only give the prof a “C-” grade, and the vest above leaves a lot to be desired. However, in browsing the 7 Stampede Breakfast photo-albums on his Facebook page, I did notice he mixed it up and owns at least 2 different cowboy hats, so I’ll give him marks for effort.

4. Gary Mar

Here, PC leadership candidate Gary Mar poses with the winner of the Gary Mar lookalike contest.

While I recognize orange is a hot colour politically these days, I’m just not feeling it. I mean, seriously, have you ever seen Clint Eastwood wearing orange?

5. Doug Griffiths

Mercifully, Ed Stelmach no longer wears suit jackets to the Alberta Stampede, but his habit appears to have rubbed off on a few of his MLAs. Quite simply, it’s just something you don’t do.

6. Doug Horner

Like Griffiths, Horner dons the suit. What knocks him down to the “worst dressed” spot on this list is the cup of Starbucks in his left hand. Quite simply, cowboys do not drink Starbucks.

It appears Yvonne Fritz is equally aghast.

This Week in Alberta: A Quick Glance at the PC Leadership Race

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With Stelmach’s announcement that he will stay on as Premier until this fall, there’s plenty of time for his would-be-successors to put together campaign teams and sign up Albertans. Still, the field is starting to take shape – here’s a quick overview of the likely candidates:

The PCs have two declared candidates – Ted “The Man” Morton and Doug “Doug” Horner. Alison Redford has yet to declare but, like most reasonably competent Cabinet Ministers with name recognition, she is expected to run. Gene Zwozdesky is thinking about it, if only to force everyone in Alberta to learn how to spell and pronounce his name.

Dough Griffiths may not be well known, but he’s young and has more original ideas than the rest of the PC caucus put together. He’d be a welcome addition to the contest.

Jonathan Denis is also young and ambitious, but has said it’s not his time yet.

Dave Hancock could represent the left…but there doesn’t seem to be much point in running when he has no chance of victory.

Those are the likeliest suspects from within the PC caucus but what about a star outsider? Well, I wouldn’t count on it.

Jim Dinning has simultaneously ruled out and mused about another run. Given it takes the man 40 minutes to order a donut, I wouldn’t expect a decision any time soon, but most PCs I know aren’t expecting another run from Jim.

Or, for that mater, from the other Jim – after all, Prentice has money to make in the private sector and his ambitions likely lie federally. Dave Bronconnier still smells too much like a Liberal. Preston Manning would have made a great Premier had he run in 2006…but he turns 70 next year. I’m hoping Craig Chandler runs, but only because Chandler is a bottomless source of blog material.

One outsider who sounds like he might be giving it a go is Gary Mar – Alberta’s current Washington ambassador, and a former Health Minister.

I wouldn’t expect any federal Tories to jump – the Cabinet Ministers have too much to lose, and the backbenchers lack the profile to mount a credible challenge. If anyone does run, James Rajotte seems like the most likely candidate.

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