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Zwozdesky's in, Kowalski's out and all’s right with the Tory universe

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Alberta Speaker Gene Zwozdesky

This compliment may come out sounding a little more backhanded than intended, but the Alberta Legislature could have done a lot worse than choose someone like Gene Zwozdesky to wear the Speaker’s three-cornered hat, as its MLAs did yesterday.

This concludes the principal business of this otherwise silly six-day legislative session: naming a replacement for former speaker Ken Kowalski, who is no longer a member of the House and whose influence, rest assured Premier Alison Redford long ago concluded, needed to end forthwith.

That goal has now been achieved, Kowalski has passed into history taking his embarrassing $1.2-million transition allowance and remaining influence with him. The Legislature’s 87 MLAs can now get on with the Speech from the Throne later today, passing Bill 1 and whatever other insubstantial matters require their immediate attention before political Alberta lapses into a restful summer slumber with the Conservatives back in driver's seat as God and the Tory Patriarch Peter Lougheed clearly intended.

Like any Speaker in a modern Canadian legislature where the governing party enjoys a substantial majority, Zwozdesky is certain to exhibit a degree of partisanship. But he will likely be fairer than most Tory MLAs from the Caucus of 2012 would have been in his shoes, and he has a smoothly diplomatic way about him.

As a former Liberal in the House, moreover, he knows what it’s like to sit across from the government, and one can hope this will inform his rulings as the arbiter of what may and may not be said and done in that chamber.

Indeed, the chief knock at Zwozdesky as a minister was that he would never make up his mind, opting forever for more study. But the Speaker of the Legislature is like the referee in a hockey game – indecisiveness is not an option! One suspects Zwozdesky will quickly learn how to be decisive – at least, decisive enough.

Finally, as a former professional crooner, Zwozdesky can continue Kowalski's harmless tradition of encouraging rip-roaring performances of the national anthem in the public galleries at the opening of each Legislative session. By these small notes do we measure the progress of democracy in Alberta!

In the end yesterday, none of the rumoured Progressive Conservative candidates for the job other than Zwozdesky came forward in the actual contest. As suggested by Edmonton Journal political columnist Graham Thomson, this no doubt reflected the will of Premier Redford that there not be a non-Conservative in this crucial position.

The whips then presumably cracked, and those Tories who might have dreamed of occupying the Speaker's chair quietly faded into the woodwork to await another favour, or perhaps another day.

As for Liberal Laurie Blakeman, her candidacy -- though she pursued it with the vigour of the truly desperate -- had no hope once the ballots had been counted back on election night, April 23.

The Legislature would only have chosen someone like Blakeman, who not so long ago was a credible candidate for the Liberal leadership, if the Wildrose Opposition and the Progressive Conservative caucuses had been in a dead heat in seats, or very close to it, after the election night dust had cleared. That is likely why she was already running hard for the job before the election.

Alas or her, and for all who enjoy politics as pure entertainment without much thought to its consequences, that was not to be.

As a veteran MLA like Blakeman surely realized, her valiant effort was doomed the moment Redford's PCs posted a clear majority.

Having hung in and won re-election, then lost her bid to be Speaker, there's not much for Blakeman to do but soldier on painfully under the leadership of the mercurial former Tory, Dr. Raj Sherman, and be ready to shoulder the responsibilities of leadership should Sherman spontaneously burst into flames.

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

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