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Alberta Diary

djclimenhaga's picture
David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Toronto Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. His 1995 book, A Poke in the Public Eye, explores the relationships among Canadian journalists, public relations people and politicians. He left journalism after the strike at the Calgary Herald in 1999 and 2000 to work for the trade union movement. Alberta Diary focuses on Alberta politics and social issues.

Forget what you've heard: Here's why Danielle Smith will soon get her cabinet post

| December 19, 2014
Danielle Smith

Don't worry, Danielle Smith will soon be deputy premier of Alberta or occupy a similarly influential post.

Likewise, Rob Anderson will be finance minister or something similar, if not by next week, as soon as Christmas and New Year are out of the way. Perhaps one or two of the other Wildrose Party defectors will join the cabinet of Premier Jim Prentice as well.

Nothing is absolutely certain, of course, especially when all the important business of Canada's "most ethical and transparent government" is conducted behind locked doors as far as possible from the prying eyes and ears of taxpaying citizens and smart aleck bloggers. Prentice certainly doesn't phone me up and tell me what his plans are.

Still, the man himself is already dropping hints, and when you think about it, this is the only future narrative that makes any sense.

A deal was made in Edmonton in a dark and secret place, and the terms of that deal are going to have to be kept or the wronged party could do serious damage.

And this wasn't just some handshake agreement with a smooth-talking sales guy either. As befits a group of people whose promises aren't necessarily made to be kept forever, there was a detailed written document, some of which at least we have seen. Somewhere there may even be a signed copy with all the fine print.

Preston Manning, the godfather of the Canadian right, not only came down from on high in Calgary to bless the union, but played a role in brokering the secret deal. He's now using his soothing persona to evangelize on its behalf.

So you can also count on it that there was a quid pro quo, with the imprimatur of Manning himself and the solemn agreement of both parties, plus a certain amount of strategic leaking to well-placed reporters just in case. What the media reported thereafter was that Smith and Anderson have portfolios waiting for them.

Right now, while they work their way through the (perhaps to them surprisingly) intense public reaction to the unprecedented and breathtakingly cynical deal for the opposition to quit en masse and join the government party, both groups have the power to make trouble for the other if the deal goes south, and neither has anything to gain from that happening.

Remember, Smith is now not powerless in caucus. She has a rump of at least 10 supporters there, former members of her former party, and probably more.

Finally, the closed-door deal -- from which you, Ms. and Mr. Voter, were completely excluded -- has to include cabinet posts for key Wildrosers or, to be blunt about it, they simply wouldn't have come across.

So the logical conclusion is that Ms. Smith's cabinet appointment and the others are a done deal, and the deal will be completed sooner than later.

If I were one of Prentice's more vulnerable current cabinet members -- say, like Finance Minister Robin Campbell, Minister of Licence Plates Stephen Khan or Tourism Minister Maureen Kubinec -- I'd be quite worried about this. Cabinet must remain small to present the right image during the short-lived austerity opportunity provided by temporarily low oil prices, so a couple of loyal Tories will have to go over the side, and those three are all candidates for the high jump.

As for Prentice's claim during Wednesday's news conference that any such appointments had been delayed because of resistance in his own caucus, this hardly seems credible.

At the moment -- at least until the full integration of Smith and the rest of the Mudville Nine into the caucus -- Prentice is a premier in complete and total control.

He may have been presented during his leadership campaign as a candidate gently akin to former prime minister Joe Clark, to whom he bears an occasional passing resemblance, but he turns out to be a leader more in the style of current Prime Minister Stephen Harper. So the PC caucus will do what he tells them, when he tells them, with very little backchat.

No, the problem is the blowback in Southern Alberta from the jaw-dropping cynicism and outrageous careerism of an opposition party folding its tent to join a government of convenience with a 43-year-old behemoth that's hardly had a good idea since Don Getty took over in 1985. This is as the Wildrosers themselves regularly reminded us until just days ago, it must be remembered.

The dealmakers may also need a little time to solve the problem of recalcitrant Wildrose Party executives determined to hang onto the party's bank account, and furious members cutting up their membership cards with chainsaws and posting recall petitions on social media

No doubt Manning will help with those problems, pouring some grandfatherly unguent on the troubled waters, as may a couple of the MLAs left in the five-member Wildrump Opposition party who for practical tactical reasons of their own need to delay their departure for Tory Nirvana for a spell.

Meanwhile, the key participants in this carefully staged production all sound a little like David Emerson, the Liberal cabinet minister from the Vancouver-Kingsway riding who in 2006 switched teams to Harper's victorious Conservatives two weeks after the federal election didn't turn out as he hoped.

Like this week's Wildrose defection, that deal too was hatched in secret.

Soon afterward, Emerson claimed to be "flabbergasted" that anyone would have been upset, telling the CBC: "I am pursuing the very agenda that I got involved to pursue when I was in the Liberal Party supporting Paul Martin. I'm continuing to pursue it." What could be more reasonable?

Or, as Smith put it on Wednesday afternoon, "if you look at our statement of principles, our aligned values, it's very clear that the lion's share of Wildrose policy is contained in those shared values."

This may take a few days to blow over, but, when it does, count on it, Smith will get her influential cabinet post.

This post also appears on David CLimenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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