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Alberta's shattered Tories have a tougher task ahead than the 'inexperienced' NDP

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Sarah Hoffman

A lot of ink has been spilled lately on the lack of experience among Alberta's New Democratic Party government caucus, but if you think about it, no one in the Legislature has a steeper learning curve ahead of them than the members of the shell-shocked third party, the once mighty Progressive Conservatives.

While supposedly inexperienced NDP ministers turn in some pretty credible first performances -- I am thinking, for example, of Health and Seniors Minister Sarah Hoffman's effective reassurances yesterday the government will end the chaos endemic to Alberta's health-care system -- the 10 remaining Tories under interim leader Ric McIver seem to have been shocked into silence by the can of whup-ass they were handed May 5 by Alberta's fed-up voters.

But then, all the New Democrats have to do is learn how to govern -- and they have a significant edge when it comes to health care because the policies they've been advocating from the get-go and still seem determined to implement stand a good chance of quickly and visibly improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the system.

This is particularly true of the NDP plan to get on with the job of building long-term-care beds in the public sector, which every expert without an axe to grind has been saying for a decade is the key to swiftly easing access to acute-care and emergency room beds, which have become filled by what Tory insiders dismissively called "bed blockers" who needed desperately to be placed in long-term care.

The PC problem with this fairly obvious solution was that they were ideologically opposed to public-sector solutions and early on identified seniors' care and long-term care as great places for stealthy privatization.

So New Democrats stand a far better chance of fixing the system's worst problem quickly because they have no ideological blind spot about implementing the most obvious solution.

As for their roles in the Legislature, it'll be easier for the government to answer questions if there's no need to camouflage what they’re up to. Moreover, they'll have less need to dodge and weave if the solutions they're implementing seem to be working and cost about the same as what the previous government was doing -- which is the likely prognosis.

As for the Tories, they're going to have to learn how to be an opposition party -- and not even the opposition party with pride of place in the Legislature -- and that is going to be very hard indeed after nearly 44 years as the top legislative dogs of this province.

To do that, they're going to require a degree of humility -- which won't come easily to a group of people who have been in charge for so long they started to think they were entitled to the perks

Regardless of what they tell themselves, the situation the PCs now face is that they will not automatically become the government again even if the NDP fails for some reason.

No, that will be the Wildrose Party, which the Tories thought they'd destroyed in former premier Jim Prentice's devastatingly clever/devastatingly stupid takeover of the Wildrose caucus in December 2014.

Oh yeah, the Prentice PCs did make it pretty hard for the Wildrose Party to recover in time for the election, which they called soon after for May 5, but they did so by adopting a manoeuvre that disgusted and offended voters, they thereby opened the door a crack to an NDP victory.

Premier Rachel Notley kicked it the rest of the way open on April 23 with her commanding performance in the televised leaders' debate.

So even if the NDP eventually fails, the way is not clear for the PCs to return. They can only supplant the Wildrose as Alberta's "government in waiting" -- the traditional theoretical role of the opposition, which the NDP has just proved doesn't require a huge caucus -- if they give voters a reason to vote for them.

That's going to be tough when their own loyalists are throwing up their hands and wondering, "Why bother?"

Under Prentice's deeply flawed leadership, the Tories spent the last months of their long reign giving voters many reasons to doubt their sanity, let alone their competence, and additional reasons to fear what they would do to health care and education if left in power.

So to survive as a political entity, they're going to have to reinvent themselves as a political movement that gives voters a compelling reason to support them.

That, it's said here, is going to be a far harder task than the challenge faced by the reputed dilettantes in the NDP caucus.

Bill Moore-Kilgannon named health minister's chief of staff, likely among first of many

Hoffman will be ably assisted in her efforts by her new chief of staff, Bill Moore-Kilgannon, who until last week had served for more than a decade as the executive director of Public Interest Alberta, a vocal and effective advocate of public services.

As PIA head, probably no one in Alberta was better at getting the media out to respectfully cover a news conference than was Moore-Kilgannon, a talent that may help him in his new position as well. No matter how small the town, he also always seemed to be able to get out a crowd for a town-hall meeting.

Before playing a key role in founding PIA back in 2004, Moore-Kilgannon was campaigns and communications director of the Council of Canadians in Ottawa and served as a spell as the director of the Parkland Institute at the University of Alberta.

The big surprise to me was that Moore-Kilgannon didn't run himself in the last election. Regardless, he is one of the first in what is likely to become a serious drain of brains and talent from progressive civil society groups in Alberta to the political level of the NDP government. This, of course, will create many opportunities for bright young progressives.

Brad Lafortune, late of the Alberta Federation of Labour, is now working in the premier's office, and judging from his Facebook postings, AFL researcher Tony Clark now has a chief-of-staff-type office with a nice view not unadjacent to the offices of Human Services Minister Irfan Sabir.

There are others, and there will doubtless be many more.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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