Rocky Election Start for Ed Stelmach

By Marco Navarro-Genie on Feb 12, 2008

Ed Stelmach's first week during the campaign has been rocky, if the media coverage is any indication.

The start of the Alberta election should have been an opportunity to showcase the government's accomplishments in the last 12 months. Instead, Ed Stelmach got questions about the coinciding election date with the third anniversary of the Maythorpe killing of four RCMP officers. What was reported were speculations about insensitivity or incompetence.

The opposition also attacked the premier for his use of a room to hold a press conference in the legislature. While Stelmach addressed issues in the Throne Speech, which made the use of the space legitimate, there were intimations of impropriety given the proximity to the election call. In any case, the opposition complaints got air and ink.

An order-in-council issued on the same day of the election writ was also called into question. The order stipulated new rules of ethics for public servants and elected officials leaving their posts to become lobbyists. Stelmach was accused of deliberately setting the date for the new ethic rules to take effect after the election, suggesting an intent to allow retiring ministers enough time to get into the unrestricted lobbying game.

Then was the announcement to "graduate" more doctors. Medical schools objected to the implied notion that government can graduate more students by fiat. It suggested that government would meddle in the near-sacred independence of universities to establish their own standards. While Stelmach did not intend to annoy academicians, there were yet again hints of carelessness in the use of language without accounting for the audience to whom he speaks.

That carelessness was also apparent in premier Stelmach's announcement regarding childcare. The premier appeared to be blind sided by questions and comments coming from the mothers present at the announcement. Stelmach may have expected gratitude from them but instead got an earful on camera. The premier got to display his conciliatory nature by meeting privately with those who expressed concern. But he appeared uninformed and lacking in command of the issues for which he is supposed to be presenting solutions.

Very much the same can be said about yesterday's (Feb. 11) response to the young man who heckled the premier's announcement on the environment. Stelmach announced tax-credit incentives for purchases of environment-friendly, energy-efficient items such as heating furnaces. His good nature prompted him to address the heckler's concerns. But he ended up quoting numbers, the origin of which he could not reference. Once again he gave the impression of lacking command of crucial details.

Most of these gaffes are unlikely to cost the premier at the polls. They are not gaffes of Klein proportions in any measure, but they are distracting from the message. They will probably affect many of those watching closely: his opponents, the media, and his followers. The mishaps are likely to inspire his opponents to go harder. They will reason that their hard work might encounter a future opportunity of a more disastrous gaffe; one that will have a greater effect on the outcome.

For different reasons, the media will continue to watch him hawkishly in the expectation of greater or more meaningful mishaps that they can report in what is otherwise expected to be a boring campaign. A goof-watch of sorts may have already been declared, which might result in a quick decision by handlers to keep the premier away from cameras and microphones. The mishaps are also likely to deflate the spirit of party supporters. Going in, Stelmach was already wanting in the key electoral area of troop-inspiring. More gaffes may consolidate the scepticism about the premier, which many seem to harbour in the rank and file of the Progressive Conservatives.

None of the above should be interpreted as a prediction that Stelmach and his party are going to lose the election. All else seems to suggest the opposite. The latest public opinion poll this week gives the premier a more than comfortable 25-point lead over the Liberals and puts him in clear majority territory. The lack of what the public and pundits interpret as viable electoral options in Alberta is not being supplied. The size or quality of a Tory victory will matter more to the premier's and the province's future than a victory itself.

On to week two.

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Not to mention the

Not to mention the connections between many returning officers and the PC party...

On the Liberal front I was surprised to see this letter sent to Ezra Levant on his AHRC case:

The Alberta Liberal Party supports Mr. Levant’s freedom to express his opinions and to maintain, what the American Supreme Court termed, “the marketplace of ideas”. If citizens and publishers don’t maintain the limits of their freedoms it would bring about a chill in fundamental freedoms which could adversely affect all Canadians. The Alberta Liberal Party shares the opinion expressed in Ross v. New Brunswick School District No.15; when discussing the importance and limits of expression, Justice La Forest opined in s. 2(b):

“…[freedom of expression] is not restricted to views shared or accepted by the majority, nor to truthful opinions. Rather, freedom of expression serves to protect the right of the minority to express its view, however unpopular such views may be…”

I of course think that HRC's have an important role to play in Canada, especially with regards to employer discrimination. However, free speech is free speech.

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