While this morning's closed session on election readiness is taking place it is time to put some thoughts together on the opening night of the PC AGM . (the research being presented in the closed session has been distributed in PowerPoint form here in the media room) I also have to say that the variety show put on by many of the PC caucus this morning was actually worth getting up for - watching Ted Morton and Dave Hancock singing Kumbaya hand in hand was well worth the (free) admission.
The central element of opening night was, of course, the Premier's speech. Mr. Stelmach, not noted as a speaker, has definitely improved the writing and delivery, however, and there were several moments of real warmth and humour. The speech itself was a classic stump speech, with elements to rally the base, clips for the news and some positioning for future negotiating. It included a strong emphasis on Alberta's relative insulation from the recession, and the strengths of the PC record. Interestingly there was also a commitment to complete the nomination process for candidates, including the four new ridings, by the end of spring 2011. Particularly interesting to me was the announcement that the party would be undertaking a very wide-ranging and open policy development process, which the Premier said would be the most open and interactive in Alberta history. I am interested to see how it will compare to the Alberta Party's 'Big Listen' idea, given that the PCs have to deal with a vastly larger structure and certain concerns, like getting elected and raising money, that the Alberta Party is only in the natal stages of considering.
The part most striking to me was the positioning for future negotiations with the Federal government, as the Premier opposed a national securities regulator and insisted that Alberta needed to be "treated fairly" in terms of the net tax burden. To me the fact that Alberta and Albertans pay more than less affluent provinces is hardly surprising, nor is it an issue. The Premier, on the other hand, was clearly staking out a position for a future negotiation about transfer payments and natural resource revenue distribution. How helpful the combative language is, as opposed to the dangers of creating a negative feedback loop in the conversation, is not clear to me. That said, given the Harper government's usual negotiating style, it is hard to see how anything the provincial government could say would substantively change the tone of the conversation.
As far as my ongoing project for the weekend, namely talking to as many constituency organizers and riding presidents as possible about their perceptions of and involvement in change within the organization, I have had a number of very interesting conversations. The responses have so far fallen into three broad categories. First, those who are genuinely concerned with and engaged in change, variously defined, and acutely aware of potential risks and opportunities for the PC party here in Alberta. Second, those who feel that change is coming, but either aren't clear on what it should be or why it is necessary. Finally, there are those who talk about change without any seriousness - either because they feel they need to say something about it for form's sake or because they don't really see any need for it. I'll have a real breakdown on the details after the event ends.
I do need to thank the organizers and participants for their warm welcome and, for the overwhelming majority, their willingness to take time to talk to an outsider freely and openly.