Edmonton Journal's Lorne Gunter on blown opportuny

Sunday, March 2. 2008
From http://www.canada.com/edmontonjournal/news/opinion/story.html?id=4f6d...

Liberals blew a golden chance

Stumbling, bumbling Tories were there for the picking this election

Lorne Gunter, The Edmonton Journal

Published: 2:03 am

The best ads of this provincial election campaign, bar none, have been those produced by the Alberta Federation of Labour and the Building Trades Council. Too bad they will have almost no electoral impact.

The ads are sneaky in that they don't admit who paid for them. They air under the stealth banner "Albertans for Change."

They effectively whip up discontent against the provincial Tory government, yet fail to channel the widespread restlessness into a specific political recommendation, such as voting Liberal or NDP.

They create an itch they cannot scratch.

But at least the visual and audio messages of the Albertans for Change ads are consistent. The images one sees on the screen match the spoken messages being conveyed.

These ads may have an indirect impact if they help to further depress the Tory vote and allow the odd extra opposition MLA to get elected. But despite their obvious expense, I suspect they will have very little influence on the outcome one way or the other.

The worst ads are the Liberals', particularly the ones showing party leader Kevin Taft driving around Edmonton's Refinery Row.

That ad has Taft saying "This is our (Hesitate. Look down.) moment," to a tiny crowd that appears artificially

eager to give him a standing ovation -- leaving the impression that Taft appeals to very few people and even they have to be prodded into showering him with praise.

That's bad enough, but in the same commercial, as Taft is saying, "Ed Stelmach says the future is full of risks.

I say it is full of opportunity," he is driving. The camera is shooting up at his face from seat level and Taft appears to be ducking down and squinting as if to look out the side window for a house number or street sign -- you know, the way you do when you are having trouble finding your way.

The message: "I'm lost." Not exactly the impression a leader wants to leave.

Both ad campaigns, though, are indicative of the campaign as a whole: There is a lot of discontent with the Tories, but everyone who opposes them is at a loss to capitalize on voters' desire for something new.

If, as nearly everyone suspects, the Tories are returned tomorrow with a reduced, but still comfortable majority, those who oppose the government should kick themselves for the hapless way they have conducted this campaign. This was their best opportunity in 15 years to loose the Tories grip on power and they failed -- utterly -- to do it.

Taft may see the province's future as full of opportunity, but he should look back on the past 30 days as a giant missed opportunity. The Tories were there for the taking. They had a leader that inspired few in his party. Their campaign team were the benchwarmers from their B squad. The cabinet mishandled nearly every major issue thrown its way in the past 12 months and the Tories' strategists completely flubbed the first 10 days on the campaign trail.

This election has come as close to shooting fish in the Tory barrel as the Liberals, NDP and unions are ever going to get and, still, they could not hit the target.

Since 1992, when Ralph Klein became premier, Alberta's Liberals, in particular, have sneered and scoffed at every Tory win, insisting they were smarter, morally superior and better able to plan the province's future, if only the province's voters would get over their inexplicable love affair with Ralph.

Well, this time, the Liberals have no excuses. Klein is no longer premier. The Tories' leader is a farmer in a province where two-thirds of the residents live in the two largest urban areas -- and many of those residents have no natural affinity to the Conservatives, having moved here within the last election cycle or two.

Ed Stelmach is also not a Calgarian, so the Tories could not count on winning 20 or more of that city's seats by default this time. The Tories do not enjoy their customary Calgary head start.

And there is the desire for change, which is greater than at any time since the Tories replaced the Socreds back in 1971.

So how come the smug Liberals, who for so long have contemptuously dismissed the Tories, couldn't even manage to kick them when they were down? The truth is, for all their self-satisfaction, Alberta Liberals would have trouble arranging for flatulence at a bean dinner.

And something happened during this campaign that none of the opposition groups counted on: Ed Stelmach got better. To be honest, that development surprised me, too.

It's not that Stelmach has grown on me during the provincial election campaign, but rather I think he has begun to grow into his job as Alberta premier. After a disastrous opening 10 days, Stelmach has slowly, gradually, incrementally become more comfortable in his own skin.

I still don't like many of his policies or his spendthrift ways, but he has shown himself better than the alternatives.


© The Edmonton Journal 2008

Edmonton Journal does some Election venting

Sunday, March 2. 2008
From http://www.canada.com/edmontonjournal/features/albertavotes/story.htm...

Election Venting

Compiled by Terry McConnell, edmontonjournal.com

Published: 11:07 am

- If Albertans want change so much, why are we still heading for a PC majority?

- All of those sleazy ads urging people to vote against Ed Stelmach only make me want to support the Conservative party even more. Who are these people that call themselves Albertans For Change?

- I have never voted Liberal before but I am going to vote Liberal this time, just to piss off the Tories.

- Why is it that when you mention the NDP, many Albertans start to panic? Where do they think medicare came from? Not from the Liberals or the Conservatives.

- Why is it that all taxpayers are expected to pay for my child's child care or university education?

- Whatever your opinion is about the parties, leaders or candidates, it should never result in spray-painting racial slurs on an election sign. Shame on those who insulted Aman Gill.

- Can anyone explain why Stelmach would rather see bitumen and value-added jobs shipped to the U.S., rather than to neighbouring provinces? Our government is really small-minded.

- I will vote for the candidate who pledges to match the exact same taxpayer-paid arts funding that was received by Rembrandt, Mozart, Michelangelo, Bach, Da Vinci, Van Gogh, Beethoven, and Shakespeare to support their hobbies.

- The Liberals are all the same. They are an opportunistic bunch who will say anything for votes, and that will never change.

- A poll shows Tories with a 22-point lead over their nearest rival and Graham Thomson uses it as evidence that there is no odds-on favourite? That isn't political analysis - and I'm a Liberal, by the way.

- Alberta can rest knowing Graham Thomson will protect us from the Conservative hordes.

- I went to my local returning office yesterday, planning to vote. The only vacant stalls had notices saying cars would be towed. Polling station workers said I could park next door, which also threatened to tow non-customer cars. The space between that lot and the polling station was sheer ice, so this arthritic senior went home.

- My husband and I went to vote at an advanced poll. There was so much ice outside the polling station that my husband fell and hurt his hip. As we were walking in, we met another elderly gentleman who had slipped and hit his head. They should have made sure the advanced polling station was safe for seniors.

- Venters complaining they have to go farther to get to a different polling station than they're used to should know Elections Alberta always tries to get the same venue. Sometimes it just doesn't work out that way.

- Not voting in the election plays right into the hands of politicians who want the status quo to continue. Make a choice and vote.

- We live in the richest province in the country, yet Albertans are settling for less than they deserve. Demand and expect more and you will get more. Settle for less and that's what you'll get.

- I am still waiting for information from any candidate to appear in my mailbox. How does anyone make a decision based on not hearing what these people stand for?

- Yes, Albertans have short memories, but I don't have to go back 25 years to the NEP to realize it. In the 1990s, people had to leave Alberta because their jobs were cut by the provincial Tories.

- Refusing to vote for the provincial Liberals for something the federal Liberals put in place 28 years ago proves some Albertans would rather hold grudges than behave like reasonable adults.

- I'm guessing that about 60 per cent of the candidates running in the provincial election never sat in the visitors gallery in the Legislature, much less followed debates there or read Hansard. And they want to represent thousands of constituents?

- Someone should tell Dave Rutherford and Calgarians that Ralph Klein is not running in this election.

Compiled by Terry McConnell. Send your vent to vent...@thejournal.canwest.com or by writing us at the Journal Building, T5J 0S1. You can also call us at 498-5842 or fax us at 498-5677.

Edmonton Journal - LEt's get out and vote

Sunday, March 2. 2008
Let's exercise our wonderful right

The Edmonton Journal

Published: 2:03 am

Tomorrow is election day. Perhaps outside of the spiritual realm, the most important thing any of us can do this Sunday is decide how to exercise our precious right to influence Alberta's future course.

In 2004, significantly more than half of us chose to abstain, to leave the choice to others, to surrender some moral right to complain. Voter turnout hit a record low of 44.7 per cent. That was further down from 2001's embarrassing 52.8 per cent, 53.8 in 1997 and the almost respectable 60.2 per cent turnout in the hotly contested battle of 1993. We should do better this time around.

To inspire and motivate, here's a list of shame and glory, from the worst to the best in ridings in terms of voter turnout in 2004. We've all got work to do, but some parts of our fair province are electorally worse than others.


The worst participation rate was in the riding at the centre of the oilsands boom: Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo. Only 26.4 per cent of voters went to the polls. That's barely one in four who were willing to offer an electoral opinion of the Conservatives' effort on their behalf. Cabinet minister Guy Boutilier won handily with 64 per cent of the votes, but he did it with only 3,903 ballots of a total of 25,578

potential voters. Second prize for low turnout is a tight contest. Only 29.6 per cent of Calgary-Montrose voters turned out, electing Conservative Hung Pham (now retired). In Calgary Cross, only 29.8 per cent of those eligible made it to a ballot box; Conservative Yvonne Fritz won with 3,770 votes out of a potential 29,000.


First prize goes to voters in Liberal Leader Kevin Taft's riding, Edmonton-Riverview, where 62 per cent cast ballots. In fact, Taft won the highest number of votes of any candidate in the province --10,280, or 65.5 per cent of those cast.

Second prize goes to voters of Edmonton-Gold Bar, where 60 per cent went to the polls. Liberal Hugh MacDonald won with 8,798 votes, or 62 per cent of votes cast. In Calgary, the highest turnout was 52.4 per cent in Calgary-Elbow, where then-premier Ralph Klein won handily. A special notation goes to Conservative Frank Oberle in Peace River, who won his seat with just 2,884 votes, the lowest number of votes for a victory. And in case you're wondering about Edmonton's other party leader, the New Democrats' Brian Mason won in Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood with 6,054 votes, or 62 per cent of those cast. But the voter turnout was only 42.6 per cent, one of the lowest in the city.


To inspire you further, consider the all-time top provincial number -- an 81.8-per-cent turnout -- in the August 22, 1935 election. That election, in the midst of the Great Depression, was a historic turning point. The Social Credit Party of William Aberhart sideswiped the United Farmers of Alberta led by Richard Reid, premier for just one year. Interestingly, Reid's government was ready to introduce a form of medicare on a trial basis in the Camrose constituency, but the UFA defeat put an end to those plans. That election launched 36 years of Socred government.


Most of us can't imagine a time when we didn't have the right to vote. We take this basic democratic right for granted. But it wasn't always that way.

In the province's first election, in 1905, only men voted. (The Liberals swept 23 of 25 seats and A.C. Rutherford became the first premier.)

Meanwhile, Alberta's suffragettes, Nellie McClung, Henrietta Muir Edwards, Louise McKinney and Emily Murphy, were working hard on the campaign for the female franchise. On April 19, 1916, Alberta joined Manitoba and Saskatchewan as the first Canadian provinces to grant women the vote.

Canada's Inuit and status Indians didn't fare as well. They were only granted the right to vote federally in 1950 and 1960 respectively. And native people didn't vote provincially until 1967.

Teenagers are the latest to get the right to vote. In 1970, the voting age federally was lowered from 21 to 18, and provinces followed suit.


In the first election, ballots were colour-coded. The candidates' name did not appear on the ballot. Voters used coloured pencils to mark a red "X" for the Liberal candidate or a blue "X" for the Conservative, according to Alberta's online encyclopedia, AlbertaSource.ca. If there were more candidates, a yellow pencil was provided.


Let's conclude these pre-election thoughts with a vote of thanks to the 18 MLAs who retired this year after years of public service. We might single out:

- Athabasca-Wabasca MLA Mike Cardinal, Alberta's first Cree minister, who leaves after five terms. He presided over welfare reform in the mid-1990s.

- Denis Ducharme, the feisty MLA from Bonnyville-Cold Lake, who made his departing mark opposing an oilsands mine under Marie Lake.

- New Democrat Raj Pannu returns to private life after three terms as Edmonton-Strathcona MLA, including a stint as party leader. A former U of A professor, Pannu was known for his civil style and passionate work in opposition.

- Also in the Edmonton area, Conservative MLA Rob Lougheed (Strathcona) retires after three terms. A constant advocate for the disabled, Lougheed was chair of the Premier's Council on the Status of Persons with Disabilities.

- LeRoy Johnson (Wetaskiwin-Camrose) will remembered as a man ahead of his time. Five years ago, as head of the Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission, he advocated a ban on smoking in public places. His Tory caucus mates said no back then, but changed their minds last fall.

© The Edmonton Journal 2008

Edmonton Journal compares the parties

Sunday, March 2. 2008
From http://www.canada.com/edmontonjournal/features/albertavotes/story.htm...

The Issues

Where the parties stand on several key election points

Stephen Ewart, Calgary Herald

Published: 2:02 am

Ed Stelmach

Conservative Party

Oil and gas royalties

- Increase revenue from oil and gas royalties by $1.4 billion in 2010

- Retain initial oilsands royalties at 1%, increase post cost-recovery royalties to 33%

- Introduce a new royalty that would rise with higher oil prices

- Increase royalties on high-productivity oil and natural gas wells


- Reduce student loan interest rates to prime and increase student loan limits

- Invest an extra $11 million in graduate student bursaries

- Increase the number of post-secondary spaces

- Build and modernize more than two dozen schools in Calgary and Edmonton

- Construct health high schools in Calgary and Edmonton


- Reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 14 per cent below 2005 levels by 2050, focus on carbon capture and storage

- Tax credits for homeowners who renovate with renewable energy sources/energy-efficient appliances

- Develop parks in Bow River valley and North Saskatchewan River valley

- Update regulation of resource activities in the eastern slopes of the Rockies


- Eliminate public health-care premiums over four years

- Increase tax credit by 10% for 150,000 low-income families and single parents

- Reduce taxes for 20,000 families/increase Family Employment Tax Credit threshold to $31,392

- Cap education portion of seniors' property taxes at 2004 levels for at least five years


- Create a secretariat on homelessness

- Increase income exemptions for people on social assistance

- Increase the number of affordable housing units to 11,000 over the next five years

- Continue rent-supplement and eviction-prevention programs

Health care

- Create new physician training spaces to qualify 225 more doctors annually by 2012

- Increase the number of nurse graduates by 350 annually by 2012

- Increase the number of Licensed Practical Nurse graduates by 220 annually by 2012

- Recruit more foreign workers to fill health-care positions

Auto insurance

- Introduced the $4,000 soft-tissue injury payout maximum

- Will appeal Court of Queen's Bench ruling striking down the limit

Day care

- Support the creation of 14,000 new child-care spaces by 2011 and another 4,000 by 2016

- Recruit more qualified foreign-trained workers


- Support municipalities with recruitment and retention of police officers

- Co-ordinate western provinces initiative to target gangs and organized crime

- Give police the tools to swiftly deal with known drug houses

- Hire more prosecutors and provincial judges


- $6 billion a year to build, maintain and repair schools, hospitals, highways, urban transit, universities, colleges, parks and senior care facilities

- $40 million for a science centre in Calgary

Government reform

- Review recommendations from Alberta's chief electoral officer calling for autonomous selection of returning officers

- Consider reforming finance regulations for party leadership races


Kevin Taft

Alberta Liberals

Oil and gas royalties

- Increase overall royalty revenue by 20 per cent a year

- Increase the royalties on oilsands

- Reduce proposed royalty changes on natural gas


- Roll back tuition an average of $1,000/create $300 annual grant for books and tools

- Add 60,000 post-secondary spaces by 2020 and reduce interest on student loans to prime rate

- Double Alberta bursary program with an additional $13 million

- Three-year moratorium on public school closures


- Establish hard cap on greenhouse gas emissions in five years/raise penalties for excess emissions

- Redirect consumer gas rebate program to energy conservation

- Develop parks in Bow River valley and North Saskatchewan River valley

- Suspend oil and gas exploration in parts of the eastern slopes of Rockies


- Eliminate public health-care premiums immediately

- Reduce property taxes for seniors by an average of $700 per household

- New tax credits for forestry and TV/film industries


- Assist municipalities with plans to end homelessness and create more affordable housing

- Implement temporary 10% cap on annual rent increases

- Establish moratorium on apartment-condo conversions

- Financial assistance for moderate-income earners seeking to buy homes

Health care

- New cancer facility in Calgary, build or expand hospitals in Grande Prairie, Medicine Hat and Edmonton

- Implement a public pharmacare program for prescription drugs

- Train additional nurses, doctors and other health professionals

- Create specialized surgical centres

- Implement provincewide community health centre model

Auto insurance

- Will not appeal court ruling

- Review whether to introduce public auto insurance

Day care

- Create new child-care centres

- Boost wages at every level to help child- care centres recruit and retain staff

- Provide financial support for students in early childhood education

- Improve eligibility for subsidies for parents


- Increase funding for police in Edmonton and Calgary

- Work with major cities to improve security on transit systems

- Develop a Unified Family Court system to address legal issues arising from family breakdown


- Increase funding for public transit

- Increase funding for Red Deer airport

- New or expanded hospitals in Calgary, Edmonton, Grande Prairie, Medicine Hat

- New arts centre in Lethbridge

Government reform

- Put chief electoral officer in charge of selecting constituency returning officers

- Establish fixed election dates

- Reform election finance laws

- Enact whistle-blower legislation


Brian Mason

New Democratic Party

Oil and gas royalties

- Increase royalties by $2B in first year and $6B in years two, three and four

- Examine whether an Alaska-style royalty regime is appropriate for Alberta

- Add a variable royalty structure that increases at higher oil prices

- Increase royalties on other non-renewable resources such as coal

- Add an interim per barrel tax on bitumen exported outside Alberta


- Roll back tuition to 1999-2000 levels, saving students an average of $1,400

- Reduce student loan interest rates to prime

- Increase post-secondary spaces at existing institutions and support new facilities

- Phase out government funding for private schools

- Implement cap on classroom sizes


- Establish a hard cap on greenhouse gas emissions/raise penalties for excess emissions

- Create a $2-billion-a-year "green energy" fund to support energy efficient retro-fits and alternative energy

- Fund alternative power generation projects such as solar and wind farms

- More effective environmental compliance in the oilpatch


- Eliminate public health-care premiums immediately

- Reduce education portion of property taxes for seniors

- Reverse $400 million in corporate tax cuts


- Implement rent controls equal to the cost of living plus two per cent

- Limit apartment-condo conversions

- Establish first-time home buyer's assistance program

Health care

- Cap seniors' monthly drug costs at $25.

- Remove financial barriers for students interested in medical professions

- Create more residencies for international medical students

- Shorten wait times in hospital beds by moving seniors to appropriate long-term care settings

- Create community-based, primary health care clinics to divert patients from emergency rooms

Auto insurance

- Implement a government-run auto insurance program

Day care

- Cap fees at $25/day for infant care and $9/day for after-school care

- Bring funding up to the national average ($268 million) to create more spaces and cut fees in half

- Improve the wages of child-care workers to address shortages and turnover


- Increase funding to hire 800 new officers over five years

- Establish response-time targets whencalls are made to report crimes

- Establish a provincial body to investigate allegations of criminal wrongdoing by police


- Develop $20-billion fund for creation of a green energy economy, renewable energy projects

- Create Alberta Renewable Energy Corporation to develop larger -cale projects, foster research and market development

Government reform

- Prohibit political donations from corporations and unions to political parties

- Align disclosure rules and campaign funding limits with federal rules


Paul Hinman

Wildrose Alliance

Oil and gas royalties

- Improve application of existing royalty regime

- Retain the current royalty regime on conventional oil and gas

- Honour existing agreements with companies

- Increase pre-project payout oilsands royalties by 1% over four years


- Institute a financing plan so each qualified Alberta student receives a full scholarship for five years

- Give admission and funding priority to Alberta students over out-of-province students

- Increase apprenticeships in the trades and technical sectors

- Double graduates in computer science and electrical and computer engineering


- Reject the Kyoto accord and any quotas that would negatively impact Alberta's economy

- Permit private prosecutions against polluters

- Ensure laws are "reasonable, sensible and have a relationship to reality and common sense"


- Eliminate public health-care premiums immediately

Referendums for any increase to provincial or municipal tax increases

- Raise the basic tax exemption to $20,000

- Reduce corporate taxes to 8% from 10%

- Create provincial unemployment insurance and pension plans



- Allocate appropriate public land for affordable housing

- Implement a program to increase affordable housing supply

- Eliminate homelessness during first term in office

Health care

- Elect regional health authority boards

- Give health regions more control over how funds are spent

- Provide forgivable student loans to Alberta-trained medical professionals who practise in under-served communities for 10 years

Auto insurance

- No public policy statements

Day care

- Tax cuts that support stay-at-home parents

- Redistribute federal child-care funds received by the province directly to parents on a per-child basis


- Establish a provincial police force

- Establish an independent agency to review complaints against police

- Ensure police have the tools to pursue Internet-related crimes such as child pornography

- Ensure sufficient funding for municipal police forces to hire enough officers


- Institute a program to upgrade provincial transportation systems

- Mandate all revenues from provincial gasoline tax be used for transportation, such as road upgrading and public transportation

Government reform

- Plebiscites on matters of "public significance" if a petition is signed by 5% of voting population

- Reduce size of cabinet to 12 members

- Set fixed election dates every four years and two-term limit for premier

- Institute right of recall of elected officials

© The Edmonton Journal 2008

Edmonton Journal - Leaders make final push

Sunday, March 2. 2008
Leaders make final provincewide push

Archie McLean, The Edmonton Journal; With files from the Calgary Herald

Published: 2:02 am

From Edmonton to Taber, Alberta's political leaders hustled around the province Saturday in a final attempt to sway voters before Monday's election.

Alberta Liberal Leader Kevin Taft stuck to a familiar theme when he told more than 250 boisterous supporters in Edmonton that the province urgently needs a new government after almost 37 years of Conservative rule. "People, we have the chance to make history," he said. "Let's do it now, let's do it together. It's time."

Earlier in the day, he delivered a similar message to about 500 supporters in Calgary and in Red Deer before finishing the day campaigning with Norma Block, the local candidate in Thorsby.

Premier Ed Stelmach was in Calgary, moving through 11 meet and greets with local campaigners. NDP Leader Brian Mason was in Innisfail and Calgary rallying voters and Wildrose Alliance Leader Paul Hinman stuck close to home in his riding of Cardston-Taber-Warner.

Taft has said his party needs a major breakthrough in this election, but he wouldn't make predictions Saturday. He thanked his campaign volunteers and staff and said he's pleased whatever the final results.

In the past week, Taft has raced across the province, making a number of last-minute campaign stops and promises, including holding legislature sittings away from Edmonton for two weeks every year, and a government probe into soaring fertilizer costs for farmers.

Tory leader Stelmach began his "blitz" of Calgary at likely one of the Conservatives' safest ridings in the city -- Ron Stevens' Calgary-Glenmore seat. Most of the day's stops were in front of a few dozen supporters at campaign offices like Stevens'.

Polls have repeatedly shown that Calgary is the main battleground of the 2008 campaign, with the Tories seemingly in a dogfight with the Liberals in many ridings. Stelmach pleaded with Progressive Conservative supporters to cast a ballot Monday to ensure that Calgary remains a Tory stronghold and isn't swamped by a red Liberal surge.

"I'm being very frank with the voters -- please give us our support. We're listening to Calgarians," Stelmach told reporters following a campaign stop in Calgary-Varsity, currently held by the Liberals.

"I know we have the support. It's just a matter of ensuring that they do go out and vote."

In response to a protest at the legislature Saturday by members of the northern Alberta Fort Chipewyan aboriginal community, Stelmach said the government will soon receive a report on cumulative environmental effects of oilsands development. He pledged to continue working with aboriginal communities.

The NDP held their Calgary rally in the riding of Calgary-Fort, which leader Brian Mason has given special attention. Mason has already held a press conference on affordable housing in the riding, and party candidate Julie Hrdlicka has been campaigning there for more than a year.

The New Democrats haven't held a seat in the city since 1993, but Mason told the crowd of about 60 supporters that some Calgary candidates will win Monday.


© The Edmonton Journal 2008

Edmonton Journal on the Calgary Provincial Political Scene

Sunday, March 2. 2008
From http://www.canada.com/edmontonjournal/features/albertavotes/story.htm...

Calgary giving Tories cold shoulder

Anger at Stelmach could mean Liberal majority in Cowtown

Jason Markusoff, The Edmonton Journal; With files from Renata D'Aliesio, Calgary Herald

Published: 2:02 am

Progressive Conservative supporters get badly outnumbered at all-candidates forums; red Liberal signs break out like rashes on front lawns in many neighbourhoods.

Welcome, for the first time in ages, to a politically volatile Cowtown. This isn't Ralph's world anymore -- and it doesn't seem to be Ed's, either.

Many Calgary voters are cranky and unsure about the new premier from a small town east of Edmonton, who jacked up energy royalties and downsized the city's cabinet clout.

Polls show that it's no longer Edmonton, but Calgary that is the most anti-Tory region in Alberta, though Ed Stelmach's party still narrowly leads among decided voters. Polls have consistently shown a large pool of undecided voters.

The Kevin Taft Liberals hope to build on the party's current four-seat beacRating 2ead in Calgary, and possibly take a majority of the city's 23 seats.

Long gone are the days that Liberals were perceived as devils, said James Maxim, campaign manager for Darshan Kang, who lost in northeast Calgary-McCall by 300 votes in 2004, and may be one of the Liberals' best shots in the city.

"It's like the Tory blue is being a little bit diluted by newcomers moving from other parts of the country to Calgary and making an informed decision, and that could lead to some possible victories," Maxim said.

Tory insiders say volunteers are more scarce, and many are disheartened. But Stelmach isn't going down without a fight in what he calls the "Conservative heartland" and the "heart of the new West," vowing to try to retake the Liberal seats and appoint more Calgary cabinet ministers.

The premier and his charter bus will make 11 campaign stops around Calgary today, mostly for pep talks and appearances at campaign offices. Taft will hold a rally.

After watching a candidates' debate in the downtown swing riding of Calgary-Buffalo, riding resident Jon Palmer said he's frustrated about the stream of homeless people who break into his condominium complex. He's undecided about who to vote for, but keen for change. "I think for a real long time in Alberta we have really suffered from not having a strong opposition," Palmer said.

About 80 people move to Calgary each day, straining hospitals, roads, housing and schools. The health region's executives last week demanded action on a $115-million deficit, evoking memories of Mayor Dave Bronconnier's spat with the Tory government over funding last summer, which Stelmach countered with a 10-year funding plan for cities.

But the premier's decision to raise oil and gas royalties had many in Calgary's energy company offices complaining he doesn't understand their industry. That feeling is expected to push some grumpy voters to the Wildrose Alliance, who disavow the royalty hikes, which could split the right-wing vote and help the Liberals.

"The climate has to be receptive and the soil has to be fertile for something to happen, and I think in Calgary it is," said Doreen Barrie, a political scientist and author of The Other Alberta: Decoding a Political Enigma.

"There's so much dissatisfaction to be harvested. And Calgary's not used to being ignored."

Liberals have never had more than four Calgary MLAs before; a victory in former premier Ralph Klein's former Calgary-Elbow seat was the party's highlight in Stelmach's rookie year.

The Tories are running hard in that riding with lawyer Alison Redford, one of many of the party's Calgary hopefuls who offer the city a cosmopolitan, young and progressive image.

"That's the new team we're building here, people that have been disengaged and we're bringing them on side," said Calgary-Montrose candidate Manmeet Bhullar, 27, hoping to replace veteran MLA Hung Pham in a bitterly contested riding.

Much as Klein hurt the Tories in past Edmonton races, Stelmach isn't helping in a city where many didn't back him in the PC leadership race, one Tory operative complained.

"At the door, he's the issue: we get a lot of, 'I like you, but not your leader,' " he said.

Barrie said Taft hasn't drawn many voters into his fold, and the issues haven't either in a race she called "bland and blander."


© The Edmonton Journal 2008

Edmonton Journal on the prediction of a Liberal Victory

Sunday, March 2. 2008
From http://www.canada.com/edmontonjournal/news/local/story.html?id=05e46d...

Is Tuesday Taft's?

Liberal leader predicts victory

Darcy Henton, edmontonjournal.com

Published: 2:11 pm

EDMONTON - Liberal Leader Kevin Taft says Albertans want change and they will wake up to a bright new day Tuesday with a new Liberal government.

"What we heard on the doorsteps over and over was exactly that - that our message (It's Time) captured the public mood," Taft said today. "More than half of Albertans think it's time for a new government and our message just connected."

He said the desire for change was the number one issue of the campaign.

The Liberal leader dropped by two Mill Woods temples Sunday where he urged New Democratic Party voters to cast their votes for Liberals this election to throw out the Progressive Conservatives who have been in power nearly 37 years.

He said voters can only vote in opposition members if they vote for Brian Mason's NDP party - but if they vote Liberal they can change the government.

"Brian has always played for third place," he said. "We're in this for the gold medal."

Taft was optimistic his party will make inroads in Calgary and hold its seats "and grow" in Edmonton "and I think we will make breakthroughs in other areas, too."

"Calgary started feeling different in 2004," he said. "It's going to feel a lot different Tuesday morning."


© Edmonton Journal 2008

Edmonton Journal Article on the Edmonton Unknown Factor

Sunday, March 2. 2008
From http://www.canada.com/edmontonjournal/features/albertavotes/story.htm...

Edmonton still up for grabs

City's undecided voters could extend Tory dynasty -- or end it

Darcy Henton, The Edmonton Journal; With files from Jason Markusoff

Published: 6:42 am

It's people like city dweller Mark Woronuk who hold the fate of the 37-year-old Progressive Conservative dynasty in their hands -- and more specifically, whether or not the Tories make inroads in the province's capital.

The south Edmonton resident is among the 25 per cent of Edmonton voters identified in a Leger Marketing poll this week who haven't decided where to put their vote.

The huge percentage of undecided voters, along with the massive influx of newcomers and the appeal of a northern Alberta premier, could all be factors in whether Albertans decide to change their government or change their representation in Edmonton.

The capital city has often been dubbed "Redmonton" as a result of its tradition of electing opposition members of the legislature.

Premier Ed Stelmach has vowed to put the "Ed" back into Edmonton.

Currently opposition members hold all but three of the city's 18 seats.

But the Leger telephone poll suggests that could change Monday.

The poll, conducted Feb. 21 to 25, suggests that 39 per cent of city voters support Stelmach's Conservatives while 21 per cent support Kevin Taft's Liberals and nearly nine per cent support Brian Mason's NDP.

That suggests there could be an 11th straight Tory majority.

Woronuk, a 28-year-old policeman who was born and raised in the city, has never known anything but a Conservative provincial government.

He voted Conservative previously when Ralph Klein was the premier, but he's not so sure about Stelmach.

None of the other leaders has grabbed him either.

"Like a lot of people, I'm kind of on the fence with Ed," he said when a Liberal candidate came door-knocking this week. "I will do some research and look into the core values of each party and make a decision from there."

Chaldeans Mensah, who teaches political science at Grant MacEwan College, said rookie premier Stelmach may receive some sympathy from city residents because of the way he has been treated by the Calgary establishment.

"You hear people say: 'Give the guy a chance. He's been in just over a year. Whatever his foibles are, he deserves a chance to prove himself,' " Mensah said. "There's a sense this individual hasn't been given the opportunity to demonstrate his leadership."

But Liberal Leader Kevin Taft said his candidates don't sense any Stelmach momentum in the capital.

"We're in a race to the finish line, but we're not picking up anything unusual," he said.

Taft noted that in Edmonton, his party has an advantage it didn't have in 2004 -- 10 incumbents and strong riding-by-riding organizations.

Edmonton-McLung Liberal incumbent Mo Elsalhy, who knocked off Tory cabinet minister Mark Norris in 2004, said he has heard voters express sympathy for Stelmach.

"Very infrequently somebody says: 'Mr. Stelmach deserves a chance.' I tell them he has been the premier for 14 months. How much more time do you need to give him?"

Alberta Liberals are confident they can hold all of their seats in the city, but the Tories are hopeful they can take Edmonton-Meadowlark, where incumbent Liberal Maurice Tougas has stepped down, and Edmonton-Manning, where former Liberal Dan Backs is running as an independent after being expelled from the Liberal caucus.

With recent polls in their favour, Edmonton's Tory candidates are exuding a quiet confidence, but they say they've also been working very, very hard.

Health minister Dave Hancock, who won narrowly in Edmonton-Whitemud in 2004, said he hopes to benefit from a higher profile after taking a run at the party leadership in 2006.

He said voters in his riding are generally supportive of the new premier. "People have their concerns about presentation, but he's getting marks for being willing to step into the middle of controversial issues and deal with them in a thoughtful way," Hancock said.

Tory candidate Gene Zwozdesky, an associate cabinet minister and the incumbent for Edmonton Mill Creek, said Stelmach earned points with voters in his riding with his performance during the leader's debate. "Any time you can stand your ground against three opponents, that's appreciated."

Edmonton-Castle Downs Tory incumbent Thomas Lukaszuk, who won by only three votes after a protracted recount in 2004, said he never stopped campaigning.

He said there are 8,000 new eligible voters in his riding this time and he's been out meeting them as often as he could.

"Most people who come here are happy to be here," he said. "They're not likely to stage a revolution. They like having a job and a house."

But Liberal Chris Kibermanis, who lost the squeaker, has also been pounding the sidewalk.

"I think we'll have a very close election again," he said. "There's a real mood for change. If we get the vote out we'll be successful."

The retirement of popular NDP MLA Raj Pannu in Edmonton-Strathcona has opened the door for rivals in Old Strathcona, but NDP candidate Rachel Notley, the daughter of former NDP leader Grant Notley, has been campaigning hard for months.

"There are not a lot of people saying: 'I'm just so happy to be part of the Alberta Advantage and I can't wait to vote the Tories in for another 37 years,' " she said.


© The Edmonton Journal 2008

Alberta Liberals rank highest on all of Albertans' priorities

Sunday, March 2. 2008
March 2, 2008

Alberta Liberals rank highest on all of Albertans' priorities

Edmonton - The Alberta Liberals received the highest rankings on their

policies this election campaign, including major issues such as health care,

education and environment.

"This campaign, the Alberta Liberals put a plan in front of Albertans that

is consistent with what we've been saying for years, it's responsible and

it's all about Albertans' priorities," said Taft.

"Our opponents know what the people and the experts have been saying," said

Taft. "The Alberta Liberals are the strongest on the environment, we're the

strongest on health care, we're the strongest on education, we're the

strongest on jobs and the economy, we're the strongest on saving for the

future. Not the Greens, not the NDP, and certainly not the Conservatives."

On health care, the Alberta Liberals were ranked the highest by the Alberta

Medical Association. On environment, they received the best review from the

Conservation Voters of Alberta, and the top ranking from the University of

Calgary Students' Union on their plan for post-secondary education.

The party's plans for Aboriginal Affairs, municipal autonomy, placing a

three-year moratorium on school closures, ending homelessness, and

strengthening the arts and culture sector also received positive reviews

from both people on the doorsteps and experts.

Edmonton Journal columnist Todd Babiak described the Alberta Liberal arts

and culture platform as, "by a long shot, the only one that respects the

true meaning of the word 'plan'."

"What I've heard across the province during this campaign is that it's time

for a new government," said Taft. "Albertans know that our province has

changed, while the Tory government has fallen asleep on the issues and

priorities that matter to this province."

Taft said the Alberta Liberals are the only party that is taking fiscal

responsibility seriously and is committed to a comprehensive, sustainable

and fiscally responsible savings plan by channeling 30 per cent of resource

revenue directly into four endowment funds. The Alberta Liberal policy on

savings is consistent with recommendations from the Alberta Chambers of

Commerce, the Alberta Institute of Chartered Accountants, the Canada West

Foundation and the C.D. Howe Institute.

Taft notes that the Alberta Liberals were the only party to release a

comprehensive platform prior to the election and to properly cost out all

platform commitments.

"The Alberta Liberals are the only party poised to form a new government

that acts on Albertans' needs and priorities," said Taft.

"Nothing changes unless we change government. Albertans have a chance to

change the future. It's time for a new government."

It's time for a new government, Taft tells Edmonton rally

Sunday, March 2. 2008
March 1, 2008

It's time for a new government, Taft tells Edmonton rally

Edmonton - Edmontonians turned out today to hear Alberta Liberal Leader

Kevin Taft deliver one strong message: Alberta needs a new government.

"It's time," said Taft. "We've been saying it through this entire campaign,

and on Monday-together-we will translate those words into action: It's time

for a new government."

"Ed Stelmach expects Albertans to wait four years for the end of health care

premiums. He expects Albertans to wait until 2050 before taking serious

steps to address climate change. When it comes to affordable housing, he

expects us to wait. When it comes to spiralling electricity and auto

insurance rates, he expects us to wait. And when it comes to hospital

emergency rooms and surgical procedures, he really expects us to wait."

"Well, we've had enough waiting. We've had 37 years of waiting. We need a

new government."

"On Tuesday morning, we will wake up to the Next Alberta. We'll wake up to a

province where public health care is stronger than ever, where we lead the

planet in protecting the environment, where we protect jobs and the economy,

where we make our communities safer, and where we save and invest our money

for the future."

"We'll wake up to a new government. An Alberta Liberal government."

"Ed Stelmach himself was quoted yesterday saying that the Liberals will be

successful. We agree."

"We will be successful because of all the ways we're different from the

Tories. Alberta has changed. The world has changed, but Ed Stelmach and the

Tory government have not. Like Rip Van Winkle, they've been asleep for

decades. It's time to move on, Alberta! We need a new government!"

Taft told the enthusiastic crowd that the Alberta Liberals are the only

party in this election poised to form a new government that acts on

Albertans' needs and priorities.

"Our opponents know what the people and the experts have been saying," said

Taft. "The Alberta Liberals are the strongest on the environment, we're the

strongest on health care, we're the strongest on education, we're the

strongest on jobs and the economy, we're the strongest on saving for the

future. Not the Greens, not the NDP."

"Not the Conservatives."

On top of that, Taft reminded the crowd of the Alberta Liberal commitment to

Edmonton and Alberta.

Taft said the Alberta Liberals will:

Super-charge Edmonton's post-secondary institutions, making them

true, permanent world leaders.

Expand the Cross Cancer Institute and increase training spaces for

health care professionals.

Strengthen arts and culture by tripling funding to the Alberta

Foundation for the Arts and establishing an Alberta arts festival.

Get the 23rd Avenue interchange built.

Create a new royalty regime that gives Albertans their fair share

while also protecting jobs, the environment and the economy.

Place a three-year moratorium on school closures to review the

flawed school closure process.

* Enact a big cities charter, giving Edmonton the constitutional power

it needs to chart its own course.

"Nothing changes unless we change government," said Taft. "Albertans have a

chance to change the future."

"It's time for the next Alberta - it's time for a new government."

Edmonton Journal comments on the unknown factor

Sunday, March 2. 2008
From http://www.canada.com/edmontonjournal/news/local/story.html?id=5d2aae...

280,000 'Unknown' Votes

Massive influx amid boom yields electoral wild card

Darcy Henton, With files from Jennifer Fong, Journal staff., The Edmonton Journal

Published: Saturday, March 01

EDMONTON - When Marilyn Clements moved to this province from B.C. two years ago, she expected to vote in the next Alberta election.

Now, she's not so sure.

Clements is one of 280,000 newcomers who have flooded Alberta since 2005. They've arrived in such massive numbers in some ridings that they could have a dramatic effect on the result.

They've come for jobs and new lives. Many, instead, have found a tight housing market, a shortage of day-care services, difficulty finding family doctors and long lines at hospitals.

Clements, 53, says if her husband wasn't working in the oil and gas business, they wouldn't be here because Alberta is too expensive.

Political analysts say the newcomers, who have ballooned voters' lists in suburban ridings, are the mystery card in Monday's provincial election because they have no traditional loyalties to the governing party and no prejudices.

They could sock it to the governing Tories in tight urban ridings, knocking off a string of key cabinet ministers, or they could send the Conservatives to an 11th majority.

But will they vote?

"We don't know," says Chaldeans Mensah, who teaches political science at Grant MacEwan College. "It's the unknown factor."

Incumbent Conservative MLAs say the influx is bound to boost their fortunes because the newcomers were lured by Alberta's prosperity.

"By and large people who have moved here have purchased a house and made an investment," says Edmonton-Whitemud Tory candidate Dave Hancock, the province's health minister who ran unsuccessfully in the party leadership race.

"They're working. They're enjoying the economic opportunities and they're excited about being here, and that usually translates into support."

Harry Hillier, a University of Calgary professor of sociology, says there could be a stark difference in the voting choices of people who have lived here a long time and those who moved to Alberta after 2005.

"People who came here up to 2005 were people who experienced Alberta at its best and therefore people who tend to feel that the party in power must be doing something right, and they will tend to support the Conservative party," Hillier says.

Those who arrived later and experienced the dark side of the boom may have the opposite view, he says.

"These are people who are more likely to take a critical view of government."

Hana Razga, 60, who is running for the NDP in Edmonton-Whitemud, says a lot of voters in the new neighbourhoods are undecided because they don't know the political land-scape.

"Some people are coming in here to make money, and some say they don't have any voting loyalty because they haven't been here long enough," she says.

"I don't think the influx favours the incumbent because a lot of people who come in from other parts of the country are concerned about affordability."

Many say they don't know where to park their vote.

Clements, who left Surrey, B.C., two years ago, says she was a card-carrying NDP supporter before she moved here, but now she's reluctant to tell anyone about her former political affiliation.

Darcy Henton, With files from Jennifer Fong, Journal staff., The Edmonton Journal

Published: Saturday, March 01

"I was sadly disappointed to find out the NDP had basically no presence here and no clout," says Clements, 53, who lives in Fort Saskatchewan with her husband and her son. "I was kind of shocked and amazed."

Clements says there have been few public forums in her riding, where Premier Ed Stelmach is the incumbent. No politicians have knocked on her door or left election material in her mailbox.

She doesn't know if she'll vote. "I guess I will decide on March 3."

The lack of adequate information about candidates and party platforms was a common complaint heard from many newcomers.

Fort McMurray resident Derek Rolstone, who moved from Vancouver in 2005, says newcomers have some responsibility to educate themselves.

"They don't have an excuse. They have to seek out the information."

The influx of newcomers has made it tougher on candidates who have had to identify and track down their votes.

It has been especially difficult in Edmonton-Whitemud, which has seen some the most incredible growth in Alberta. Statistics Canada census figures show the riding's population jumped to 56,596 in 2006 from 37,770 in 2001. The voters list grew to 37,613 in November 2006 from 31,027 in March 2005.

Edmonton-Whitemud Liberal candidate Nancy Cavanaugh says she's knocked on 5,000 doors, but there are more than 23,000 homes in her riding.

"How it will affect the election is a good question," she says. "But the truth is, all of these people are just people like any other Albertans and they have the same issues."

Out door-knocking in the riding Friday, she found many residents didn't know where they were supposed to vote.

While Elections Alberta officials contend they're coping with the deluge of new voters, Liberal Leader Kevin Taft has slammed their elections planning.

"There's been some real problems with enumeration and a lot of other issues around the election machine. In fact, our campaign is having to spend hours correcting mistakes in enumeration," he said.

"We're really, really concerned that the basic mechanisms of an election are not in very good shape in Alberta."

Elections Alberta spokeswoman Teresa Atterbury says Alberta is growing faster than any other part of Canada, but that hasn't been a problem.

"We think we're handling it. It's true that growth is maybe higher than it's been in the past, but there are mechanisms in place to deal with that growth."


© The Edmonton Journal 2008

Edmonton Journal - Tories feel the wrath of Cowtown

Sunday, March 2. 2008
From http://www.canada.com/edmontonjournal/features/albertavotes/story.htm...

Tories feel the wrath of Cowtown

Conservative candidates find out the hard way that Calgary remains 'mad at Ed' epicentre

Jason Fekete, Calgary Herald; Canwest News Service

Published: Saturday, March 01

CALGARY - Some Calgary Conservative candidates say they're facing the wrath of voters who don't believe Premier Ed Stelmach understands the city.

Several incumbent Tories said they're having to ease concerns about Stelmach, but firmly believe his accomplishments during his first 14 months in office will win support at the ballot box.

Heather Forsyth, who is seeking re-election and was a cabinet minister in Ralph Klein's government, said she's hearing "over and over and over" from people who aren't happy with Stelmach.

"My response to that particular question is the premier is not on the ballot. I'm on the ballot."

Forsyth said the anger goes back to Stelmach's first day in office, when he appointed a rural-heavy cabinet that reduced the number of Calgary ministers. "It hasn't gone away," she said of voter discontent.

Indeed, Forsyth suggested the mood at the doorsteps is different than anything she's experienced during her 15 years as MLA. She is worried about her fate on election day.

"There seems to be an uneasiness out there," she said.

Campaigning in Calgary on Friday, Stelmach said he hasn't heard those complaints from others.

"In speaking to the candidates this week when we were in Calgary . . . they are telling me the doors are very positive and things are going in the right direction," he said.

"It's voter turnout and making sure we get the vote out."

Stelmach will be in Calgary today to launch an all-out blitz, as he's scheduled to make 11 campaign stops. He'll make a few more stops Sunday before heading to his hometown of Andrew.

Today's tour doesn't include a stop at Forsyth's office. Asked whether she's happy with Stelmach's larger provincial campaign, Forsyth wouldn't comment.

Tory incumbent Art Johnston said he's receiving lots of positive feedback at the door, but has heard anti-Stelmach sentiment. He insisted Stelmach has been an activist premier who's addressed long-standing concerns such as increasing resource royalties and resolving the teachers' unfunded pension liability.

"There's some people that want Ralph (Klein) back, and it's not going to happen, but you have to let them vent," Johnston said, urging his caucus colleagues to rally behind the leader.

All but one Calgary Conservative MLA backed former provincial treasurer Jim Dinning in his Tory leadership loss to Stelmach. Johnston backed Dinning, but said it's time to move on and recognize what Stelmach has done.

"Maybe we have to stop trying to take a popular stance with people and pick up for Ed," he added.

Anger being lobbed at Stelmach and the Conservatives is most potent in Calgary, which is the "crankiest" part of Alberta, said political scientist Bruce Foster, chairman of policy studies at Mount Royal College.

"Calgary is the epicentre of 'We're mad at Ed,' " Foster said, noting it's partly due to unpopular policy and cabinet decisions, and being compared with Klein.

Despite the problems facing Stelmach in Calgary, Foster said the opposition likely "doesn't have what it takes to entice people into making a wholesale change."

Back on the campaign trail, Tory candidate Ron Stevens said he's also faced some heat, but is confident voters will put their faith in the PC leader.

"Ed Stelmach is not as well understood in this campaign as Ralph Klein was in the last," Stevens said.

Cindy Ady, longtime Conservative incumbent in Calgary-Shaw, said she's faced a swath of voters who aren't happy with Stelmach and his leadership.

"There's conversation around that, for sure, in my riding. They're still trying to themselves understand Ed and understand where he's heading as a leader," Ady said.

Ady's rebuttal to those concerns is that Stelmach has tackled tough issues and possesses the leadership qualities needed to lead Alberta through some challenging times.

Looking for an extra boost on the campaign trail, Ady said she asked Klein last week if he would come door-knocking with her, but he politely declined.

© The Edmonton Journal 2008

Edmonton Journal's Paula Simons - Stelmach a nice guy in middle of ugly mess Calgary faction clamours for premier's scalp

Sunday, March 2. 2008
From http://www.canada.com/edmontonjournal/features/albertavotes/story.htm...

Stelmach a nice guy in middle of ugly mess

Calgary faction clamours for premier's scalp

Paula Simons, The Edmonton Journal

Published: Saturday, March 01

I like Ed Stelmach. It's hard not to. He's polite, thoughtful, hard-working, down-to-earth. Catch him at the right moment, and he's even pretty funny.

I'd love it if he moved in next door. He'd be the kind of guy who would shovel your walk for you after a bad snowfall or give you a boost if your battery died.

And he's a terribly easy guy to underestimate. That's how he won the Tory leadership. While the attention was focused on the high-profile Jim Dinning and Ted Morton campaigns, Stelmach was quietly, doggedly orchestrating his strategic victory, using the personal networks he spent years building across northern and central Alberta to bring out his voters.

In his year as premier, Stelmach governed with the same kind of stolid, solid approach, quietly cleaning up some of the worst messes left behind by his predecessor. Funding new infrastructure, creating a land-use planning model for metro Edmonton, fixing the teachers unfunded pension liability, trying to repair our absurdly dysfunctional and outdated oil and gas royalty system, establishing all-party legislative committees.

It wasn't sexy stuff, but it was badly needed and badly overdue. And if Stelmach didn't always go far enough, at least he seemed to be moving, cautiously, in the right direction.

On top of that, there's something about the shoddy way Stelmach's been sandbagged through this campaign by some of Calgary's leading political and business interests brings out my sense of hometown loyalty.

The Calgary Herald's lead business columnist, Deborah Yedlin, summed up their attitude in a column earlier this week: "When the business community goes to vote Monday, the only agenda it will have is one of changing the leadership of the provincial Conservative party. Either it will happen by voting for the Conservative candidate in their riding -- with the understanding that the support is being conditionally given for the purpose of starting an internal leadership review -- or by casting a protest vote that will see the Conservatives end up with a smaller number of seats." See SIMONS / B4 "Either way, the premier has lost the confidence of the business community and this election -- no matter what the outcome -- will almost certainly start the process of finding his successor." Gosh, with Tory "friends" like these, Stelmach hardly needs opposition enemies.

But despite all of Stelmach's earnest worthiness, despite my disgust at watching a bunch of Calgary insiders gang up on an Edmonton outlier, it's hard to deny that after 361/2 years in power, the Progressive Conservatives are a tired, lacklustre party, driven by infighting and largely devoid of fresh ideas. For Stelmach's campaign to insist a vote for him is a vote for change is like saying Raoul Casto will bring change to Cuba.

This is a province with a mind-boggling amount of potential, a province on the cusp of global greatness.

We need leaders with the vision, ambition and guts to manage our growth, sustain our prosperity for the future, preserve our environment, and restore the integrity of our battered democratic institutions.

It's time we stopped running this place like a banana republic, where Conservative MLAs, filled with a bloated sense of entitlement, treat the provincial treasury like their party purse, where the civil service has become so politicized we think it's normal that the party in power appoints every returning officer and that senior bureaucrats take "faux" leaves of absence from their allegedly impartial, apolitical "public service" jobs to campaign for the Tories.

Which leads to the questions. Are Kevin Taft and the Liberals up to the task? And are enough voters ready to take a chance on a new governing party? This election campaign was Taft's chance to prove himself. After four years on the job and a somewhat shaky start, he has grown into his role as leader of the Opposition.

He stepped up to lead the Liberals when no one else wanted the job. Now, he's made the transition from caretaker, from another perfectly nice walk-shovelling neighbour to a legitimate premier-in-waiting.

The Liberals have run a smart campaign. They have recruited some strong candidates, with some particular stars in Calgary.

They've developed a comprehensive, coherent and credible policy platform. They have successfully presented themselves, not as a party just hoping to win more opposition seats than Brian Mason's New Democrats, but as a party ready to govern.

But though the Liberals have run a very good campaign, they haven't run a great one. They have looked sharp, professional and competent. Yet despite the Tory's own lacklustre performance, the Liberals haven't succeeded in truly galvanizing voters, especially outside the cities.

Nor has the Wild Rose Alliance succeeded in channelling popular discontent on the right. Not enough Albertans are angry enough.

In a province this rich, perhaps it's just too easy to be complacent.

Even if the Liberals and New Democrats between them take every urban seat, even if the Wild Rose party pick up a handful of rural ridings, Stelmach's quite likely to see himself returned to power, albeit with a significantly reduced majority.

Given the way our seats are apportioned, given the disproportionate number of rural MLAs, it's even possible the Liberals could win the popular vote and still not form the government.

Still, I don't necessarily envy Stelmach the prospect of sitting in a legislature across from a real and rejuvenated opposition, facing rebellion within his own ranks.

Alberta's political monolith has begun to finally begun to fracture, along both geographic and ideological lines. And as the chips fall where they may, a few may land quite hard on Ed Stelmach's perfectly pleasant head.


© The Edmonton Journal 2008

Alberta Tories in Panic mode?

Saturday, March 1. 2008
From http://www.nationalpost.com/most_popular/story.html?id=344476

Panic creeps into Alberta Tory ranks as election nears

Don Martin, Canwest News Service Published: Saturday, March 01, 2008

OTTAWA -- After picking up bad Conservative vibes from his political heartland, Prime Minister Stephen Harper summoned several southern Alberta MPs to his office for a reality check.

The mighty Alberta Progressive Conservative dynasty in trouble? Implausible, if not impossible.

But the confided consensus of MPs was that Premier Ed Stelmach is about to lose a bunch of seats in Monday's provincial election and, if the large undecided vote shifts to the opposition or stays home, perhaps lurch into the nightmare scenario of becoming Alberta's first-ever minority government.

Panic has crept into Conservative ranks, but the fret is most intensely felt in Calgary where the party's 37-year reign is facing its most dangerous electoral test in, well, 37 years.

The Ed Effect has gone toxic in the heart of the oilpatch, a doorstep rejection of Stelmach's folksy low-coherence sincerity as the sign of someone well over their head politically and out of touch with urban Alberta personally.

"We have to work hard for the win this time," confides a veteran Conservative strategist. "That's not something we're used to doing in this party. Usually we sit back and wait for the polls to close to claim victory."

Calgary MLAs are bracing to lose seats that had come with a lifetime Tory guarantee until the writ was dropped last month by the unlikely rookie who replaced Ralph Klein.

The reaction to Stelmach has been so negative, there are already speculative rumbles of who would replace him after he gets savaged in the mandatory review of his leadership in two years.

Sustainable Resources Minister Ted Morton is seen as an early contender. And if there was a draft of sufficient depth to bring on a coronation, former treasurer Jim Dinning might be convinced to take another run at the top.

But to even whisper Conservative leadership change on the eve of an election defies all logic in a province where the economy is roaring and loyalty to political parties runs unfathomably deep.

Consider the short history of long reigns by Alberta parties:

Liberal: 1905-1921

United Farmers of Alberta: 1921-1935

Social Credit: 1935-1971

Progressive Conservative: 1971-200?

Even if, as expected, the Conservatives survive to control the legislature, the spectre of a party-changing rollover in four years is in ascendancy.

The right-wing Wildrose Alliance, a smidgen of a party now, and leader Paul Hinman are suddenly viewed with considerable alarm by Conservatives.

If that party can toehold a handful of seats in this election, keep itself from drifting into ideological extremes and face off against Stelmach in four years, well, that might be the set-up scenario that ushered the Conservatives to power under Peter Lougheed in 1971.

Beyond the sound of the Alberta balloon hissing economic air and the premier's controversial decision on a new royalty regime Stelmach is also facing a demographic sea change in Alberta. The influx of new voters from across Canada who weren't issued a Conservative membership for a birth certificate have few if any recollections of the psyche-scarring National Energy Program. They are not afraid to gamble on party alternatives.

If the Conservatives escape election night only down a single-digit count of seats, they should send a massive bouquet of flowers to Liberal leader Kevin Taft.

The salvation of any weak government is always a weaker opposition -- and while Taft is often unfairly scorned for falling between bland and boring, he does not appear to have the royal jelly for premier consideration.

That's why a quarter of the voters were still in limbo during the final week of the campaign -- they want to flip Stelmach the electoral finger, but can't bring themselves to embrace such a flaccid alternative.

That's why nobody can realistically predict an election outcome with so much whimsical decision-making still at play. The result could be anything from a modest seat loss to a wholesale government defeat.

But that ensures something very new will be on the ballot when the one-party state of Alberta goes to the polls on Monday -- doubt about the outcome.

National Post Article - A grudging vote for Ed Stelmach

Saturday, March 1. 2008
From the National Post A grudging vote for Ed Stelmach

He's uninspiring and sometimes clueless but the alternative is worse

Colby Cosh, National Post Published: Friday, February 29, 2008

A few days from now, I'm going to do something I haven't done in close to a decade: vote for the Alberta Progressive Conservatives in a general election.

I could not possibly exercise my democratic rights with less pleasure. It's becoming clear that Premier Ed Stelmach, chosen by a divided PC party as a middle option between the technocratic Jim Dinning and the right-wing insurgent Ted Morton, was a poorer choice than either front-runner would have been. English is a second language that Stelmach speaks more like a fourth or fifth. He has cracked down on smoking, hurting businesses on a health care-savings pretext that is contradicted by all the relevant evidence. His flinging of $2-billion at the country's highest-paid teachers to fund voluntarily accepted pension liabilities in advance of the election was an act of monstrous cynicism. He is clueless about civil liberties, and has managed his caucus like an inept substitute teacher.

But the Alberta Liberals are no better, and indeed would be much worse on many of these points. What distinguishes Stelmach's Conservatives from the opposition is a belief in the power of compounding economic growth. The Tories have made Alberta a place that attracts talent and capital from across Canada and around the world. Kevin Taft's Liberals look at the province's booming economy and see only problems.

Recently Taft, in a tête-à-tête with the Edmonton Journal editorial board, looked forward to "the morning people wake up and realize that northeast of Edmonton there's one of the largest petrochemical and industrial complexes in the world, and to the southeast there's a strip coal mine covering 100 square miles ... and there's no land-use planning." The quote captures the man's style neatly. He openly accuses the voters of stupidity; he wishes some central authority had interfered with the growth of the Refinery Row-Scotford belt and the Highvale mine; he looks upon enterprise and sees defilement. Are the tens of thousands of workers he's talking about all supposed to get jobs as land-use planners? Perhaps, they can find work as caddies when Alberta becomes a quarter-million-square-mile golf course?

To hear Taft, you would think that every day in Alberta was a life-or-death struggle with a poisoned environment and post-apocalyptic levels of public infrastructure and services. So why does Alberta have a large positive net balance of immigration from every other province over the last 10 years? It's not just because of $100 oil; the demographic tidal wave peaked in 1998, when benchmark prices were below $20. Tens of thousands are voting with their feet for a way of life. And the Taft Liberals are opposed to everything that defines that way of life economically; they yearn for stronger unions, more business regulation, ubiquitous social housing, generous welfare for capable adults and aggressive environmentalism. God forbid there might remain one refuge in Confederation from multi-tentacled Ontario-style government.

The Liberals are likely to have their best election since 1993. The mass immigration they can't quite explain helps them, diminishing the influence of Trudeauphobic native-Albertans a little more every year. Their characterization of Alberta as a giant failure zone helps them with voters who really do face special pressures from the boom. And Stelmach has been enough of a disappointment to unite the right-wing opposition under the banner of a single protest party.

So why vote for his candidate? I know how it looks: Like some doddering old Stalin-era Bolshevik, I have spent a decade grumbling about The Party, but at the first sign of crisis I hurtle toward its bosom like a coward. My vote won't even mean much in my inner-city constituency of Edmonton-Crystal Meth-Sextrade; New Democrat incumbent David Eggen, a friendly chap who is probably his party's next leader, should win handily.

But on the other hand, like an Old Bolshevik, I am increasingly infuriated by the pact between external critics of Alberta and the Alberta Liberal opposition. Even relatively conservative Canadians outside our borders are fond of sniggering at our 36 years of uninterrupted Conservative government, as if we had not exercised our judgment anew at each election and were not reaping rewards for it now.

What part of the Conservative legacy should we be ashamed of, exactly? The elite public schools, patronized by even the richest families and admired continent-wide? The increasingly outstanding universities, tech schools and research facilities? The cushy working-class salaries? Our liveable, growing twin metropolises? Should we regret that we have dozens of companies quietly providing services and supplies to the worldwide petroleum business? Or perhaps denounce the new non-energy business champions of the province -- WestJet, BioWare, Matrikon, the Forzani and Katz Groups?

No, I'm not voting for Ed Stelmach and the Conservatives because I feel good about doing it. I'm doing it as a small gesture in favour of a party and a premier that, despite enormous failings, have one outstanding qualification to govern Alberta: They like the place.

National Post


My reaction Colby - these guys need a rest ; time for them to sit in opposition