Just forget the words and sing along

Thursday, November 23, 2006

The PC Leadership Race: My Thoughts

Well, in just two short days, members of the PC Party of Alberta will be heading to the polls and voting for a new leader for their party. A leader who will quickly become the next premeir of the province of Alberta.

I know a lot of people have been criticizing this "election" as dull...with no single issue dominating the fore. Well, I'd like to propose that it's been so dull because these are the kinds of elections we idealists want. There's no one issue at the fore because all the candidates released relativly well thought out platforms that take weeks to digest...very difficult to condense into soundbytes. The debates have been about the finer points of these platforms. Cuz at the end of the day, don't forget, they're all Tories, so the pretty much agree on a lot of things.

If anything, this has been highlighting to me some ignorance of our electoral system by the people. When this whole thing started, I did have to explain it to quite a few people around Athabasca. "No, you can't vote NDP...only Tories are running." "It's not really open to everyone, because you have to be a member of the Tory party to vote." "Yes, that means you have to pay $5 to vote."

To sum up: this "election" is to choose a new leader of the PC Party of Alberta. Therefore, only members of the Party are allowed to vote. If you want to vote, you have to buy a membership and join the party. Memberships cost $5 and expire at the end of the year. Memberships were being sold over the past year by the candidates, and they'll be on sale at the polling stations. However, you should be able to buy one at any well-run constituency office.

Notice how I keep putting "election" in quotations? That's because this isn't a true election...in that not everyone is able to vote. You want to vote, you gotta join the party.

This has been a good experience for me. 7 of the 8 candidates came up to Athabasca University to conduct town hall meetings. They were invited up by Athabasca University. Like every other university, Athabasca University wants to see more funding for post-secondary education. On a more local level, the Athabasca University building is full to the brim with faculty and staff, and they really want to start expanding their campus. So, they've been bringing up all the cadidates, showing them exactly what they do up here, and pleading their case for more cash.

Which led to the town hall meetings...and, good reporter that I am, I was on-hand to cover them. Eventually, the University was also kind enough to start setting up press time, so me and my learned colleagues from Athabasca's newspaper could interview the candidates. It was a great way to meet the leaders...sitting down and interviewing them all. I wish everyone could do it. It's a great way to actually get to know all the candidates and what they're about.

The first one that came up to Athabasca was Mark Norris. If there's one thing that struck me about him is that he's slick. He's a very well-polished and well-rehearsed politician. I didn't realize that myself until I downloaded my interview into my computer at work and said to myself, "Wow! Look at the waveform for his interview. Everything is so clearly measured out...this is the easiest interview to get soundbytes from...almost like he planned it this way...."

As part of that slickness, he also sent me a thank-you note. "Mark. Good to have met you. Mark Norris." That was all the note said. It was scribbled on a desk pad, and I could tell by the divots in the paper that he must have spent a morning writing out those notes and mailing them to small town reporters all over. I have it tacked to the bulletin board at work.

Next up was Ed Stelmach. The good parts: he's in tune with rural Alberta. The bad parts: he's in tune with rural Alberta. No matter what question you asked him, he'd always steer it towards his agricultural platform. The man's a farm boy, through and through.

Dave Hancock. Wow. I've completley blanked out on this guy. I remember absolutly nothing of what he said...I can't pull any good soundbytes out of memory...not good for him, eh?

And this was the first one where the university had scheduled some press time. I did what I thought was a clever thing. In my interviews I asked "the job interview question." I call it such because, hey, I'm always asked this question in job interviews. And that question is, "Why do you want this job?"

Dave Hancock: “I've been passionate about government all my adult life. I've been involved in the political party since I was 15. I got involed in the '71 election, up in Fort Vermillion where I grew up. I guess I grew up with the concept that you have an obligation to give back to your community in the best possible way. I'm not a very good soccer coach, but I can do this, and I can make a difference doing this, and I think it's important to make that difference....Why do I want the job? It's not to go out and say I know everything, cuz I don't. But it is to say that we need to be changing the focus a little bit. We need to be talking about the big picture and the long term.”

I'd like to point out that he rambled on for about five minutes in answering this...I just edited it down to the good parts. Every other answer you'll read is verbatim.

Next up was Ted Morton. On a perfectly technical view of things, I'd like to say that my interview with Morton was probably the best one I did. As they taught me at school, a good interview should just be a conversation with the guy. And Morton and I, we actually had a conversation.

That being said...Morton is old school Reform party. All his answers were "Blame Ottawa" this and "The West Wants In" that. And as my mother said about this kind of mentality two federal elections ago, "I'm sick and tired of this regionalist BS." As I say about this kind of mentality, "Pierre Trudeau hasn't been in office for 20 years...and he's dead. Can we stop blaming him for everything?"

Mr. Morton, why do you want this job? "Our party needs new leadership and fresh ideas. We've been in power for 35 years, we have a lot to be proud of, but we've developed some bad habits. Our party membership is way down, our vote totals were down in the last election. So we need somebody who can bring reform to the party...reunite the party. I think I bring the background, and the policy and the character to the job that will allow the party to renew and reunify."

How can you tell that Jim Dinning has all the money? Well, his town hall meeting started a half-hour late. Why? His plane was too big for our airport, and they had to divert him to Lac La Biche. Gee, Mr. Dinning, (or, as I call him around the office, "The Big Dinner"), everybody else just drove up from Edmonton....

On another note, Dinning's town hall meeting was the best-attended of them all. It was only the second one that the mayor of Athabasca came out to...along with most of town council. The county reeve was there, along with a good portion of the county council. And it was the only one that Athabasca's own MLA, Human Resources Minister Mike Cardinal came out to, and it was here where he revealed to the press (me and my learned colleagues from the Athabasca newspaper) that he's backing Dinning.

That being said...because I want to be a radio announcer, I've received coaching on public speaking, how to be conversational, and all that stuff. Dinning's coaching was showing.

Mr. Dinning, why do you want this job? "Alberta is so uniquely positioned today to take on the rest of the world. And we need a new approach to leadership, one that says, 'We're going to raise the bar in Alberta! We're going to do what it takes to get there!' And I'm convinced that Jim Dinning is the guy that can take us there.”

Yes, he actually referred to himself in the third person. This is what I mean by coaching...he knew this was going to be for radio so, like when writing any good radio spot, he got the name of the product out there.

Victor Doerksen stepped on my foot. Don't worry. Now that winter's here, I was wearing my steel-toed boots and I was fine. But then, rather than apologize, he tried to make a lame joke about it. And it was all downhill from there....

Now, I've grown pretty agnostic in my young-but-getting-close-to-middle age. However, I'd like to think that I'm also quite tolerant when it comes to people who have a strong faith. I also know that there's a place to preach, and a place not to preach. The election podium is a place where you do not preach. So when Doerkson started drawing analogies between the government and creationism, I kinda tuned out.

Mr. Doerksen, why do you want this job? “Cuz I'm the best candidate for the job.”

On the flip side, Lyle Oberg bought me lunch. Well, not just me. He had his town hall meeting fully catered, so it was free beef-on-a-bun for everyone. It was kind of funny actually, as the Assistant to the President of Athabasca University was afraid that no one would show up to eat all the food, so she scrambled around to all the offices, grabbing anyone who wasn't eating to come eat all this beef. Apparently, she couldn't find enough, as I got to conduct my interview with Mr. Oberg as he ate the leftovers for his lunch.

And ya know? I actually kinda like Lyle. He seemed to be the most thought out and the most...well-put-together of the bunch. (But, on the flip side, he was the Minister of Education when my mother was serving her final term as Chair of the Parkland School Board, and oh, does Mom have some stories about Mr. Oberg.)

Mr. Oberg, why do you want this job? “I've been in politics for 13 years, and I feel that I have the ideas about numerous topics that can help Alberta and help Albertans. It's been a wonderful campaign, cuz I get to talk about everything, as opposed to your own department. So it's about ideas, and direction and goals that makes a leader."

The only one who declined the invitation to come to Athabasca Univeristy was Gary McPherson. Too bad, cuz Athabasca University is wheelchair accessible and everything. I know it politically incorrect to say that, but that's how everyone I talk to has been identifying Mr. MacPhearson: "Oh, he's the guy in the wheelchair, right?" Yes. He is.

And ya know, if you'd like to hear the town hall meetings that I had to cover, Athabasca University has been podcasting them, so their students from all over the province could participate. Click here for the Athbasca University podcast feed, so you can listen to all the town hall meetings.

Now, I know when this whole thing started, I was oh-so-passionate about buying my $5 membership and going to vote, but I don't think I will now. Now that I've met pretty much all of them, I realize that they're all the same middle aged man with similar ideals about how to run this province.

I think I'll just hang back and wait for the next provincial election, when I have a real choice.

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