By Sheila Pratt, Edmonton Journal
EDMONTON—The next Conservative leader should keep a wary eye on Alberta’s big cities where progressive mayors are taking bolder steps on social issues, says an Edmonton advocacy group.
Bill Moore-Kilgannon of Public Interest Alberta says Edmonton and Calgary each launched a poverty reduction task force this week and expected some financial assistance in the province budget. But there was nothing “to show they are serious,” he said.
“Whoever becomes the new leader, that person needs to look at bold new plans by cities like Calgary, Edmonton and Red Deer to deal with poverty.
“That was a commitment of the PC party — Premier Redford opened that door (in the last election) and we are calling on the Tories to follow through,” said Moore-Kilgannon.
Redford, who announced this week that she will step down Sunday after facing a caucus revolt, won the party leadership and an election with support from progressive voters who often voted Liberal in the past or stayed home.
But her failure to follow through on the promises to those groups was one major cause of her fall in the polls, say political analysts.
Dave Taras of Mount Royal University says Redford ran into trouble right after the 2012 election when she could not convince the Tory caucus to support her centrist policies in the face of the rise of the Wildrose party.
As an outsider, “she had no way to implement her agenda,” said Taras. “It was never her party.”
Instead, the caucus veered right to meet the threat from the Wildrose and many of Redford’s promises were dropped, starting in last year’s tight-fisted budget based on the promise the “bitumen bubble” was depleting the treasury.
“Redford laid out a winning strategy (to move to the centre) but it was rejected by the party,” said Taras.
There’s talk of an alliance among mayors of the bigger cities, possibly centred on former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel, to push forward an urban agenda. “That would be a reset” for Alberta politics, but it’s a risky strategy, he added.
John Soroski, political scientist at MacEwan University, said the next Tory leader would have trouble getting those progressive voters back into the Tory fold.
In fact, the next Tory leader will have trouble convincing people that he or she offers any real change — given Redford’s failure to implement her agenda.
“A sensible progressive voter won’t give them a second chance,” said Soroski.
Redford never had a coherent agenda, especially on the fiscal side, and did not address the tax and revenue issue as she promised, said Soroski.
Her draconian labour legislation, which imposed a wage settlement on public sector workers and is now held up in the courts, must have been shocking to a progressive coalition, he added.
Moore-Kilgannon said Redford’s commitment to social issues fell too low on the agenda.
But the next leader will also have to be aware there’s a big appetite for a major review of seniors care that saw major disruptions in the last year, including disruptive changes to longtime home-care contracts.