Governing ‘gormlessly’ – the principal problem’s the premier

Ahoy, there! This is Captain Stelmach speaking. No need to panic. Everyone keep calm and remain in your staterooms. All will be well. Can someone hum a couple of bars of Nearer My God to Thee? Below: The Alberta Conservative legislative caucus, circa 2013.

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?

3 Comments on "Governing ‘gormlessly’ – the principal problem’s the premier"

  1. Anonymous says:

    It’s very attractive to take it out on the leaders, the problems that are more likely inherent in the Alberta Conservatives long tenure itself.

    I believe that if commodity prices remained high we likely would be singing Stelmach’s high praises, almost like us “gormless” voters need some sort of god like figure to ascribe characteristics of the day to.

    I submit to you that the P.C. party has been in government for way to long. To borrow from the Alberta Liberals, the P.C.’s have grown old and tired and are out of fresh ideas.

    The issue here then becomes who can replace them, so I guess us voters are not gormless after all, as we are staying with the devil we know instead of the devil we don’t. The next election will go to the Party that can start of act like a ‘government in waiting’. Right now the Party that is acting like a ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’ knows how to play this game.

    just how long is it going to take before the other parties catch
    on ?

  2. David J. Climenhaga says:

    While I certainly agree with Anonymous that Alberta's Conservatives have been in power much longer than is healthy, my own view is that strong leadership is of paramount importance in determining the success of political parties. One of the great strengths of "natural governing parties" like the Alberta Conservatives and the federal Liberals is their ability to consistently identify, groom and in a timely fashion appoint effective leaders. Both seem to have lost their way for the moment. One of the factors that springboard new parties to power is effective leadership, viz. William Aberhart and Peter Lougheed. The jury remains out, of course, on Danielle Smith.

  3. Buddie Dharma says:

    As Malcolm Rifkind, a Conservative Cabinet minister under British PMs Margaret Thatcher and John Major, observed in 1996: "We are a party whose sole purpose through the centuries has been to win and retain political power."

    It's only been 40 years in Alberta, but, other than that, the same can be said here as in the UK.

    Don't count the Conservatives out, with our without Ed Stelmach.


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