Dear Danielle Smith

If you find yourself premier this fall you are going to have to pivot to winning the next election - and you only have two options: campaigning while doing as little as possible to disturb the course of government or pushing immediate change through caucus.

Doing nothing in Alberta while campaigning against Trudeau gets you leadership votes because it's all happening inside the conservative echo chamber; but it won't work in a provincial election because the majority of Albertans just don't care enough - the usual wisemen are saying Kenney got fired because he didn't follow through against the feds, but that's wrong: he lost because much of his natural constituency sat out the vote rather than support the man they think responsible for the fiscal and organizational messes the McKinnon report led to in healthcare and education.

Remember: Notley worked with Trudeau to shut down Energy East, Trans Mountain, and Keystone - and the public cares so little that most quietly accept the media's presentation of her as Alberta's own Tamara Lich bravely standing up to overwhelming federal power.

Bottom line: you either make waves or make way for Notley to campaign against the UCP as the rural yokels who screwed up the pandemic response, health care, and education while demonstrating a complete lack of ethics in government. They'll call Kenney's firing a good start and picture themselves as the contrasting party of good conservative government - and the all out media support they'll get for this nonsense will give them a massive majority. What winning the leadership gets you, in other words, is about six months to either go big or plan on getting sent home - and while taking real action is both scary and difficult the upside is that even a good try will rip the shroud of invisibility off NDP policies while forcing Notley et al to campaign on going backwards, on working with Trudeau, and against you rather than against Kenney.

The number one problem you will have in forcing change arises from the confluence of interests between the bureaucracy, the media, the NDP, and a lot of deeply embedded careerist conservatives - all of whom, for their own reasons, want you to fail. Mr. Kenney didn't see Sir Humphery's acolytes behind every suicidal McKinnon/Henshaw recommendation - and now he's gone. Don't be him; and don't be Redford either: this will come down to getting them, before they get you: remember who sharpened the knife the Prentice people put in your back? - right, now mostly in the Jean and Toews camps, but win and they'll swear eternal loyalty to you with all the sincerity they showed Redford.

You must know all this, so I assume you have people out looking for the core 200 or so executives you need to run the bureaucracy; but I'm willing to bet real money your people are looking in the wrong places. First, donors seeking jobs for themselves or inner circles aren't usually good choices; second, mid to upper level management in businesses and institutions may be qualified to hold jobs in bureaucracies, but not to run hostile bureaucracies with the media on speed dial; and, third, the guys who build businesses aren't qualified either: they might make good cabinet members or policy advisors; but they're decision makers, not consensus builders and not team players.

The people you should be going after understand bureaucracy but don't like it - meaning that they can take over a bureaucracy and implement policy, but won't become bureaucrats. So where do you find hundreds of them? among the retired, or nearing retirement, partners in engineering, geophysics, and accounting firms. In general the senior partners in those businesses are sales people first and foremost, but I've never met one who didn't also have broad general knowledge, genuine professional skills, deep commitments to traditional Alberta values, and automatic loyalty to the client. There are bad apples: particularly among the management consultants and HR people where sociopathy is practically a job requirement, but someone who has managed difficult audits, run a receivership practice, or provided engineering support for many large construction projects is someone who can who can sell your vision to a roomful of hostile faces and then ram the thing through without letting anyone emplace embarrassing failures uniquely attributable to the arrogance and ignorance of the policy makers.

In general those people will not want to serve for long - a year is about the best you can expect, but a year is all you need. Get them in place as quickly as you can express the crown's displeasure with the incumbents, make a thunderous start on things you can do pending a new budget and then landsliding the next election will give you the credibility to attract and hold longer term replacements.

 


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