It probably came as no surprise to many Albertans that former federal cabinet minister Jim Prentice secured the leadership of the provincial Progressive Conservative (PC) Party on Saturday.
Prentice is the province’s new premier-designate by an apparent one ballot landslide (77 per cent of ballots cast) over his fellow candidates Ric McIvor and Thomas Lukaszuk, both of whom probably suffered from the taint of being associated with the previous regime of Alison Redford.
And while it might have been all celebrations in the Prentice camp, the further one delves into voter turnout numbers, the more one realizes that Prentice’s victory was anything but an all-consuming endorsement of his bona fides as party leader by members of the PC party — not to mention Albertans.
According to party figures, only a dismal 23,386 members in total voted in the leadership convention. This is well below previous PC voter turnouts which saw 100,000 members cast a ballot in 2006, and 60,000 members in 2011.
Dwindling numbers like that should be a powerful warning sign that today’s PC party is a far cry from the political juggernaut it once was in the province.
And while PC party members across the province have anointed yet another mid-stream premier for us, let us hope that they bear in mind just how precarious a premier and party leader without a new mandate actually is. Selecting a “premier-designate” half way through a party’s mandate strictly by the vote of party membership has the whiff of disenfranchisement about it, and won’t sit well with provincial voters should Prentice choose to hang on to the bitter end of the party’s current mandate in 2016.
To put that into perspective for a moment: If the province’s population has reached the four million mark, then it only takes simple arithmetic to calculate the percentage of Albertans — not just card-carrying PC party members — who have selected Alberta’s newest premier.
With only 23,000 voting, that represents a little over half a per cent of Alberta’s total population.
Even considering only the percentage of eligible voters in the province, the numbers are still tragi-comically low.
To suggest Prentice’s victory represents any kind of endorsement from a majority of Alberta’s eligible voters is little more than statistical sleight of hand.
And this is only the beginning of a long, dark road to tred for the one-time federal Environment minister. Prentice inherits a shattered party from his progenitors, whose previous internal infighting forced a now-disgraced premier from office.
Seemingly unresolvable fiscal problems and a spending addiction continue to plague the current government, driving up annual deficits and growing the provincial debt.
Allegations of entitlement and corruption swirl incessantly around a party that has been steering an unswerving path towards armageddon at the polls for at least the last two years.
It is a task that would daunt even the most stalwart of party leaders, and may be all for naught — there is a growing sense that Alberta voters may have had enough of the PC party’s 43-year grasp on the throat of provincial politics.
Even if Prentice is able to walk on water and perform miracles in the next 12 months, Alberta’s voters may still show him the door as delayed revenge for the broken promises and fiscal betrayals of Alison Redford.
At the same time, there is hope that Prentice — viewed as something of an outsider in Edmonton, having cut his political teeth on the federal scene in Ottawa — may be able to usher in a whirlwind of change for the PC party that can help them perform one last Houdini act before the eyes of voters prior to a provincial election.
Any “whirlwind” would be a welcome change to the bladder of hot air voters were subjected to under Alison Redford during the past election campaign.
And Jim Prentice will have to do a lot more than pull a rabbit out of his hat before disaffected PCs and Wildrose faithful flock to his banner of gilded future prosperity and fundamental change.
The real problem for Jim Prentice is we’ve heard all of these promises once before. But this time, conservative voters may no longer be listening.