Stelmach pans PC tactics
Shift to right, lack of humility hurt party, former premier says
The Progressive Conservatives moved too far to the right and lost the crucial middle ground in last week’s election, says former premier Ed Stelmach.
A key mistake was bringing Wildrose MLAs into the Tory fold, especially Wildrose leader Danielle Smith, Stelmach, premier from 2006 to 2012, said in a rare interview Monday.
“Our popularity was always in the centre and someone gave the advice to move to the right,” said Stelmach, adding that he was not consulted on campaign strategy for the May 5 vote, which saw the Toris reduced to 10 seats.
Also, voters were offended that Smith herself crossed the floor with eight other MLAs, he said.
“The leader of the opposition has a responsibility to people and you don’t abdicate that responsibility — for whose benefit? For Albertans or your own?” said Stelmach.
A key sign of trouble early in the Tory campaign was a shortage of volunteers, he added.
While he “always has confidence” the Tory party can revive, those efforts “will have to start in the north” where only two Tories survived the orange wave, Stelmach added.
“And we don’t know what the Wildrose will do — will it move to the centre?” he asked.
There was a “lack of humility” in the Tory campaign, while Notley appeared “confident and had that humility about herself,” said Stelmach.
Calgary-area-Tory MLA Ric McIver was selected as interim leader by the PC caucus Monday to replace outgoing premier Jim Prentice, who quit on election night.
McIver told reporters in Calgary that he accepts the voters’ verdict and the Tory caucus is ready to serve.
McIver, who finished second to Prentice in last year’s Tory leadership race, did not rule out a second run for the party’s permanent leadership.
Doug Griffiths, who stepped down as Tory cabinet minister before the election, also said the Tories must regain the centre of the political spectrum.
That’s why merging with Brian Jean’s Wildrose Party is not the best option, he said.
“Rachel Notley is smart and if she keeps the middle, that will make it hard to draw PCs away,” Griffiths said.
Interference by Tory higherups in nomination races also alienated people, he added.
“The party became more concerned about what was good to win, not what was good for Albertans,” he said.
Meanwhile, there is “certainly no need for business to panic at the ND government before any decisions are made,” said Stelmach.
Inevitably, much of the NDP government’s success will depend upon the price of oil, he said.
“At the end of the day, her popularity will rest on the price of oil, if it goes up, and whether she can live up to her commitments,” said Stelmach.
While oil prices are down, the major oil companies are improving profits on the retail side, said Stelmach.
Stelmach led the PCs to major victory in 2008, with an unusually high 52 per cent of the vote, capturing 72 seats (compared to 44 per cent and 61 seats for his successor Alison Redford in 2012).
Unlike Prentice, Stelmach didn’t go to the polls until after he passed his budget, which included new municipal infrastructure grants, and completed a royalty review.
Despite the risks, Notley should proceed with her promised royalty review, said Stelmach, who ran into political rough water after he conducted the 2007 review.
“If you said you would do it, you have to do it,” he said.