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You can’t fire the whole team. Can you?

By George Brown, editor

Twenty-five years ago the best jobs to be had in Canada were right here in Alberta — in Edmonton to be exact. Progressive Conservative leader Peter Lougheed was premier of Alberta, Glen Sather was coach of the Edmonton Oilers and Hugh Campbell was coach of the Edmonton Eskimos.

What a difference a generation makes.

Once an embarrassment of riches, the two sports dynasties have collapsed under the weight of their own shortsightedness, incompetence, dismal recruiting and hubris.

And the provincial government is not far behind. With the anticlimactic cabinet shuffle announcement from Premier Ed Stlemach, it’s clear this version of the PC government has no roster depth.

The Oilers and Eskimos were always tinkering with their championship lineups — adding toughness one year, speed the next; looking for diamonds in the rough to mold into character players. Lougheed did the same thing. He didn’t have just one line that would come over the boards to score on the opposition and stir the emotions of the crowd: he had rookies with promise he wasn’t afraid to open the gate for. After his Gretzky, Kuri, Messier and Anderson, there was Shaben, Horsman, Adair and Sparrow to pick up the pace.

It’s painful, day after day, to watch the shameful exhibitions these so-called professionals inflict on Albertans. And the Oilers aren’t any better.

After the salad days, we all expected a few years out of the playoffs as the teams lost players to free agency, trades and retirement. Nothing could prepare Albertans for this: it’s been years since the Oilers and Eskimos have had playoff success despite their highly paid athletes, and the provincial government hasn’t hit a home run in ages even though it was bulking up on high energy prices.

Of the two leaders, Pat Quinn has more leadership experience and is a far better dresser than Premier Stelmach and he’s not afraid to call a bum a bum. Stelmach was all weepy when he had to demote three under-achieving politicians from cabinet. There’s no crying in politics. No “I promised Liepert I wouldn’t do this” as you dab away a tear.

Quinn and Stelmach have their hands tied to a certain degree; their ability to fashion a winning team is limited to the skills their players bring to the rink, or to the legislature every week. You can tinker with the lineup all you want but if you don’t have a first-line centre and a goalie who stands on his head game in and game out, you are destined for failure. Stelmach has 67 PC MLAs from which to can select his starting lineup and make his statement to Albertans. Rather than promoting promising MLAs from the farm team to cabinet, the premier opted to put the future of his government, his party and the province in the hands of the men and women whose best years are behind them and who have already failed Albertans.

Re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, putting lipstick on a pig, changing the tires on a broken down van, you’ve heard all of the euphemisms. It’s as little you can do with the ministers and their portfolios and still call it a cabinet shuffle. Stelmach had a real opportunity to show Albertans he heard the crowd’s boos and would respond. He had a chance to improve Alberta’s executive council. He failed. He’s either given up or he’s acknowledging he’s wrung all he can out of the MLAs he’s got.

Close to half of the provincial cabinet won’t be around to fight in another election or will be defeated so why not bring in the second stringers and get them battle-ready for the 2012 election? Why have parliamentary secretaries learning the ropes if you’re not going to put them in the game? These backbench MLAs are beaten down every day, they’re tired of having to blindly support the government’s miscues and they are not being rewarded for their loyalty, patience and expertise. The premier hears a different message from these members of his caucus. He needs to listen better.

Stelmach said his government has a communication problem. He’s right. But it’s not that Albertans don’t understand this PC government’s message; it’s that they don’t like what the government is telling them and have rejected it, and the government doesn’t listen to what Albertans saying.

One deft move by the premier was to promote party leadership rival Ted Morton to finance minister. Morton’s name was being tossed around as a potential defector to the Wildrose Alliance party. That prized defection won’t happen now. No matter how Morton performs it will work in the premier’s favour. If Morton cuts the deficit he takes the wind out of the Wildrose Alliance’s sales. If Alberta’s financial picture worsens, that tells Albertans it would be even worse under a Wildrose Alliance government.

The premier gave his cabinet a haircut when it needed a transfusion.