The Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta was first elected to power on August 30, 1971 under the leadership of Peter Lougheed. Through terms under the leadership of Don Getty, Ralph Klein and Ed Stelmach, the PC’s appeared unbeatable. When they miraculously overcame some very poor late polling numbers in 2012 under Allison Redford, it seemed that even a miracle wouldn’t be enough to give any other party a victory over the PC’s. What happened next seems like ancient history now. Scandals plagued Allison Redford’s last two years as premier. PC polling numbers hit record lows and on March 23, 2014, Redford resigned as premier of Alberta. Jim Prentice was sworn in on premier on September 15, 2014, and the PC’s popularity level shot right back up. It’s hard to tell exactly when the wheels fell off of Prentice’s wagon. It could have been the Wildrose floor crossings. It may have been his “look in the mirror” moment, or perhaps the leader’s debate in the 2015 election campaign. When the dust settled, the once unbeatable PC Party ended up with only 9 seats to the NDP’s 53, as the NDP formed a majority government and the PC’s were relegated to third party status.
Since the election defeat, Ric McIver has been announced as the new interim leader of the party, and rumors have come out about the party having extremely poor financials, having spent millions on the election campaign. All but one party staffer, including executive director Kelley Charlebois, were laid off (the final staffer later resigned). Mass document shredding at the legislature (later admitted by NDP Premier Rachel Notley to have been legitimate) made bad optics look even worse. The Edmonton Sun recently revealed that Wildrose floor-crossers Rob Anderson and Danielle Smith had been promised cabinet positions by Prentice, but that the promises had been revoked following a caucus meeting on December 17, 2014. It is certain that the hits will keep coming over the next little while.
The question now is this: What’s next for the PC Party? I made some suggestions in my May 27th Open Letter to the PCAA. I received a number of responses from people involved with the party, including one regional VP who disagreed with me on my point about needing to find a new leader. He told me over the phone, “we need to decide who we are, and then find a leader who represents that”. He went on to exlain that, “for way too long, the PC Party has chosen a leader and then shaped the party around that leader”. It’s hard to disagree with that point. Under great leaders, like Lougheed and Klein, the PC Party soared. Under the corrupt leadership of Allison Redford, the stench of backroom deals and wasted money stretched from the premier right down to the most distant backbencher. It’s important for the PC’s to find a leader who answers to the party, rather than finding a leader who expects the party to answer to the leader.
Rebuilding the party will not happen overnight, but it appears that the PC’s have embraced the “take it slow” approach. The party’s AGM has been pushed forward, as has a leadership vote. There are plans to host regional meetings in Edmonton and Calgary to begin planning for the party’s future. These are the right steps to be taking at this point in time. Financially, the PC’s simply can’t afford to be blowing large amounts of money on a leadership race or on an AGM. Before making suggestions on who the next leader should be, the PC’s must ask themselves a number of questions:
Who are we?
What do we believe?
Why do we believe these things?
Where will we start this change?
When will we start making these changes?
How will we accomplish this?
Once these questions are answered, it will be time to find a leader who best represents the answers to these questions. This leader may come from inside the party, but I suspect it will be an outsider who takes the reins. There’s four years until the next election, but as I stated in my open letter, the campaign has already begun. It’s time for the PC’s to get back to work under interim leader Ric McIver and look into the future. The time for change is now, and the PC’s must do what they should have done the day Ralph Klein retired: find a leader who will answer to the party’s membership, and abide by the will of that membership. That is the only way that the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta can hope to survive.