March 24, 2006

Night of the long pitchforks

Sadly, my entire 12 years in Alberta have been lived under the regime of Tory Premier Ralph Klein, whose enormous political missteps (from turning up drunk at a homeless shelter and lambasting the residents to gutting the health care system to eliminate the debt, and now that we're rolling in money planning not to fix health care but to privatize it) have always vanished in an Unsinkable Molly Brown routine that makes Ronald Reagan in his Teflon suit look like a piker.

Last night, after a three-and-a-half hour emergency caucus meeting, Alberta politician Lyle Oberg, who made some recent intemperate and not particularly politically savvy comments, was not only stripped of his cabinet post (Infrastructure & Transportation) but also suspended from caucus. Earlier this month after much too much coy dithering, Klein finally made some formal plans about his departure, saying he'd leave in October 2007. Okay, here's your bag, don't let the door hit you on the way out! Bye-by--- But then he moved that date into 2008, depending on the results of next weekend's leadership review. Which of course means the official campaign to replace him won't begin for a year and a half, but Klein has directed that any leadership hopefuls in cabinet resign their posts by June 1 of this year, to ensure a "level playing field." Makes me think of the neighborhood kids no-one ever wanted to play with because they made up the rules as they went along, so that they always won, and you...didn't. Not helped by the fact that they were always the ones with all the marbles or the baseball bats.

Why the big emergency? Because Oberg recently told a meeting of his constituency association back in Brooks, Alberta, that he wouldn't ask members to support Klein during the leadership review. According to an Edmonton Journal report on the meeting, Oberg said "there is a leadership vote coming up, and a week ago I was ready to come up here and say that you should support Ralph. Today I am going to stand here and say you must vote with your conscience [note to American readers: voting your conscience, if it means voting against caucus, is a huge no-no in Canadian politics, even more so in Alberta; not, however, that this makes Oberg any kind of political hero]. I will not stand here and say you must support Ralph." According to another reporter present, "at that point the constituency members burst into cheers and applause." Oberg also called Klein's directive that ministers wishing to succeed him leave cabinet by June 1 was "a bombshell" and could backfire, and added, "When I take off the gloves, my gloves come off completely...Everything is fair ball now, everything is open. It's going to be very interesting what happens in the next while." He also warned that "if I were the premier, I wouldn't want me sitting as a backbencher... I know where all the skeletons are."

Interestingly, Klein missed yesterday's meeting because of a convenient previous engagement and on Wednesday had said through a spokeswoman that he had no plans to fire Oberg because of his remarks: "The premier said sometimes people say things they shouldn't and they regret it and he accepts that, but he's part of this team and they will get through it."

So who pulled the pin? As I see it, the responsibility can be doled out three ways. Oberg obviously made some unwise comments and got carried away much too early. The Tory caucus also had all ten fingers in the pie; after Oberg was booted from caucus last night, its chairman announced, "In our PC caucus, we work as a team. We have informed the Premier of our caucus decision and he supports what caucus has decided"; apparently the team didn't much care for the idea about Oberg knowing whereall of their skeletons are hidden. Though I do find both scenarios -- caucus is acting on its own, presenting a fait accompli to the premier, or caucus doing his dirty work, while he gets to stand around innocently, with a "Who, me?" expression on his face -- rather disconcerting. But the biggest blame goes to Klein (yes, you) who started playing this "long goodbye" game two years ago, when he first announced his intentions to retire. With any luck, enough responsible Tories next week will tell Klein with their votes what they think about his Cher-style farewell tour, and bring his childish fits, strongarm tactics, and long goodbye to a swift and merciful end. And with even more luck, when the election finally does roll around, Albertans will decide they've had enough of the Tory Team's games and machinations and elect a party that actually has a reasonable plan for the province's future. But then what do I know? I'm just an American-born home educating housewife...

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