Opinion

Political fortunes will be forged during this election

Canada’s political landscape has been planted with the images of its most infamous politicians: William Lyon Mackenzie King talking to his mother’s ghost; Pierre Elliot Trudeau and his “Fuddle Duddle” remark (now echoed by his son Justin); Joe Clark losing his luggage or fatally governing as though he had a majority; Paul Martin, after showing strong fiscal leadership as finance minister, dithering as prime minister. Alberta politics, dominated as it is by political dynasties, has had few changes in the premier’s office. The last two generations of Albertans will remember Peter Lougheed’s leadership in developing Alberta as a power in the West and in Canada. Don Getty will be remembered from paving the secondary highway to provincial debt, while King Ralph dragged Alberta kicking and screaming out of debt and into an unrivalled boom time he did not recognize or acknowledge until it was too late. Regardless how Albertans will vote on election we will elect the province’s first female premier. But which one? Both Premier Alison Redford and the Wildrose’s Danielle Smith will work hard to establish themselves during the campaign as strong, authoritative and compassionate leaders. It will be easier for Smith to weld that image in voters’ minds as she has had several years of media exposure as party leader, though none in the legislature where political personalities are forged or deflated. Redford, a relative unknown until she squeaked past front-runner Gary Mar to win the Progressive Conservative leadership last fall, has spent a fair amount of her time as premieress clarifying her position, massaging her campaign promises and dealing with frenemies in her caucus. Redford has to be confident her government will be returned to office, albeit with a reduced majority — and that wouldn’t be a bad thing for either the party, the government or Albertans. The party needs to rid itself of dead wood and hangers-on; caucus would work more effectively with fewer voices clamouring for attention; and the government needs to be warned by voters that this is the last change to right the ship. The government must be held to account for allegations of heavy-handed intimidation in its dealings with doctors, school officials and municipalities. Government MLAs and ministers don’t seem to take criticism well. How MLAs are paid will certainly be an issue for Albertans — especially in Lacombe-Ponoka where Ray Prins was paid to chair a committee that doesn’t meet. Prins has now packed it in; his escutcheon sullied. In a move you would expect from fringe parties — and maybe this is telling — the PCs have appointed Lacombe Mayor Steve Christie their new candidate. At least, to date, Prins hasn’t been as hypocritical as his opposition colleagues on the phantom all-party committee; they’re falling over themselves to give back the windfall. Redford has suspended extra pay for the committee work her MLAs are doing — or not — until after a report on MLA compensation is presented. And a new method of paying MLAs is necessary and it should be a welcome debate among candidates and voters in the next month. This current pay scheme was hatched after the last election without any discussion by Albertans or warning from Premier Ed Stelmach. It’s convoluted, what with its pay for committees that don’t meet, one third tax-free, and MLAs setting their own rates of pay. This all-party Standing Committee on Privileges and Elections, Standing Orders and Printing is a who’s who of influential MLAs, ministers and opposition party leaders who felt no twinge of guilt for being paid event though the committee did not meet. Whatever proposal retired Justice John Major recommends, it should be something all municipal councils should also consider to provide easier understanding of their remuneration schemes and for better transparency. The election call was expected to be made just as we were going to press. It’s going to be a doozy.
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