By Trevor Busch
Alberta will anoint a fresh face at the top with the declaration of Jim Prentice as premier-designate following the Progressive Conservative leadership convention over the weekend.
Despite a record low voter turnout for the party’s leadership race, Prentice secured the position, taking in 77 per cent of the member vote.
“I wish him well — of course his selection comes as no surprise,” said Cardston-Taber-Warner MLA Gary Bikman. “I think the paltry numbers that voted must mean something, and I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of speculation as to what that actually means. It doesn’t seem like the party has retained its engagement and relationship with the people of Alberta the way they have in the past.”
Bikman is a member of the Wildrose Alliance Party, which forms Alberta’s official opposition. Prentice bested fellow leadership candidates Ric McIvor and Thomas Lukaszuk for the party’s top spot after the first ballot on Saturday.
“It’s a sign of the times, and I think premier-designate Prentice will have his hands full dealing with the entitlement that is so deep and pervasive, and not only deep, but broadly spread. It’s going to be a difficult thing to change, because its become embedded also in the bureaucracy that has been built up over the years. The bureaucracy has become quite large and burdensome, and that’s going to be a tough challenge. Part of the solution will be addressing that challenge.”
Prentice is a former Alberta MP (Calgary Centre-North) and three-time federal cabinet minister (Indian Affairs, 2006-2007; Industry, 2007-2008; Environment 2008-2010). Until his recent resignation to run for the leadership of the provincial PCs, Prentice had represented his federal riding since 2004.
Over the past three months, the PC leadership race has often been overshadowed due to the ongoing financial scandal associated with the party and the tenure of former premier Alison Redford. Prentice’s stature as a political outsider from the federal arena should allow him to look at the province’s financial problems with a more objective eye, according to Bikman.
“In theory, it should make for a fresh perspective, but I think the party itself, and the mechanisms we’re controlling, what the ruling elected people do is a bit muddled, and it’s a bit incestuous, in the sense that the party and elected officials of the ruling party take an awful lot of their direction from that entrenched bureaucracy,” said Bikman.
“It’s like we need speed boat manoueverability, but we’ve got a battleship that we’ve got to try to turn around. You can’t turn on a dime, and that’s the kind of thing we need to do, and I think it’s going to take a fresh party and a fresh perspective to actually make that happen, and have the courage to make it happen.”
According to party figures, 23,386 members in total voted at the leadership convention. Prentice took 77 per cent of the vote (17,963 ballots cast), while Ric McIvor received 12 per cent of the total vote (2,742 ballots cast), followed closely by Thomas Lukaszuk with 11 per cent (2,681 ballots cast).
Questions have also arisen over a new e-voting system employed at the leadership convention which led to alleged voting irregularities for some members.
Prentice’s bid for the leadership was well below previous voter turnouts which saw 100,000 members cast a ballot in 2006, and 60,000 members in 2011.
“I wish him well — I pray that he’ll be successful — because the province needs it,” said Bikman. “We’ll let the people decide in 2016 if they want a new approach.
“I think they do, but in the meantime this is the party that governs and so we’ve got to wish them well and do all that we can to encourage them, and hopefully share ideas with them. Hopefully they’ll be open to ideas and suggestions — we’re not just here to oppose, we’re here to propose. We’ve tried many times to propose things that have been rejected when legislation comes forward, that later they’ve changed on their own at greater cost and inconvenience, just because it appeared they were too proud to take a good idea from across the floor.”
Party leaders selected mid-stream during a previous mandate often choose to seek the approval of the electorate, sparking speculation about a new provincial election sometime in the near future, and well before the PCs would be required by law to return to the hustings.
“There is a lot of speculation out there,” said Bikman. “Some of the people that advise us within our party suggest that we could see an election before Christmas. Others have suggested that it may not be until spring.
“There are a few — the minority I would think — that think it won’t be until 2016. They’ll wet their finger, hold it in the air, and if they think the wind is blowing strong enough in their direction, they’ll call an election.
“But to be in the poll situation where they are, after all of the free publicity that you get during a leadership campaign — this is the first time they’ve had a leadership campaign where their poll numbers haven’t been above 50 per cent.”
The next provincial election is officially scheduled for 2016.