It’s a small but significant benchmark in the steady decline of our province’s once unshakeable Tory dynasty that in barely two weeks two conservative columnists in the Alberta press have referred to the government as “gormless.”
One online dictionary defines gormless as “lacking in vitality or intelligence; stupid, dull, or clumsy.” Another is harsher, simply stating: “stupid.” I‘m assuming that any dictionary that defines words on paper between covers, if such things still exist, would say much the same thing.
One cannot shake the feeling that “gormless” and “Stelmach” are two words that will soon fit together as naturally in the journalistic lexicon as, say, “shark infested” and “waters” or “military” and “precision.”
So, in this morning’s Calgary Herald, columnist Don Braid wondered: “How gormless is the premier to let two ministers take actions (or even worse, to approve those actions) when they directly contradict his speeches?”
Back on Dec. 13, Lorne Gunter observed in the Edmonton Journal: “But the Alliance can at least count on the Tories to continue their bullheaded, clumsy and gormless race to the bottom.” (Emphasis added in both cases.)
Indeed, the Google search engine today returned 2,580 items for the search terms “gormless Alberta Tories” In fairness, though, some of these linked to columns comparing the Stelmach Conservatives favourably with the province’s equally gormless Liberal Opposition and most are mere coincidences. Still, one suspects this number will soon increase, and that a majority of the references will be to Mr. Stelmach’s government.
This is a lot to read into a mere two occurrences of a silly word liked by journalists, of course, but it is nevertheless a symptom of something more profound that is happening in Alberta.
You simply can’t talk to anyone in this province – and I mean anyone other than a few political functionaries in Mr. Stelmach’s inner circle and Journal columnist Graham Thomson – who can stand the man, at least on a non-personal level. (I don’t know about you, but I certainly feel some empathy for a guy who is so clearly and so cluelessly struggling to keep his head above the water.)
It is simply astounding how far, and how fast, the Conservatives have fallen under Mr. Stelmach’s bumbling leadership.
No one should be blamed except the man himself and the members of his inner circle – that is, people he chose. The Alberta Conservatives remain a party with access to a deep talent pool and broad popular support for their general policy platform. They have years of experience winning elections, and access to many people who understand how this difficult trick is performed.
As readers know, I don’t have a dog in this fight. I’ve never voted Conservative in Alberta and, God help me, I never will. Nevertheless, the seeming collapse of Conservative support is a concern because of what may rush in to fill the vacuum it creates.
Speaking of which, the Conservatives’ problem is not the attraction of the Wildrose Alliance or the undeniable superficial appeal of its leader. Nor is the Conservatives’ challenge what the media has to say. Indeed, whatever they may be saying just now, guys like Mr. Gunter and Mr. Braid, by inclination and training, live and breathe to support Conservative governments.
Nor will the problem be solved by a Cabinet shuffle. Although, with the government’s polling numbers at the bottom of a well shaft where the sun never shines, you can bet on one happening anyway in January.
When it happens, Health Minister Ron Liepert will be moved to Energy, where he can make new enemies among the oil companies that are bankrolling Danielle Smith’s far-right Alliance. The widely respected Fred Horne, now chairing the committee on figuring out how the hell to solve the Alberta Hospital Edmonton political nightmare, will be given the health portfolio. Energy Minister Mel Knight will be canned. Remember, where you heard it first! (Click here for more cabinet shuffle predictions.)
Nope, the problem is Mr. Stelmach.
If the Conservatives are going to survive, as a party let alone as a government, they are going to have to skid him. It really is as simple as that.
The trouble is, they had their chance last month and they were too clever by half to seize it. Now what are they going to do?