Gold mining and politics have one thing in common. Sometimes it’s best to take a distant view of the field and look for patterns that might indicate a rich vein. We’re down to the final days of the PC leadership race. The candidates are all from the same party, they appear to share the same basic values, how do we find the gold buried in the clay?
Step back, take the distant view. What do you see?
I see Gary Mar, a candidate so mired in PC groupthink that he appeared at the Global TV debate behind a podium covered with scraps of paper and stickie notes–no doubt to remind him of his stance on the controversial issues in case he forgets. I see Doug Horner who’s moved a little outside the PC groupthink bubble but is not as articulate or clear thinking about the issues as you would expect from a candidate at this point in the campaign. Finally I see Alison Redford, focused and confident, who addressed the issues crisply without reading from a cheat sheet to keep her facts straight.
The worry that non-PCs have about any PC leadership candidate is that 40 years of power has created a groupthink mindset that no candidate, regardless of their intelligence or integrity, can overcome. Let’s examine that proposition.
Groupthink is “a pattern of thought that is characterized by self-deception, forced manufacture of consent, and conformity to group values and ethics.”* It’s elements are: pressure to conform (those who disagree are excluded—Raj Sherman springs to mind), closed-mindedness and an overestimation of the group’s strength, intelligence and moral superiority.
Mr Mar’s campaign is replete with examples of groupthink. Listen to his justification for taking his $478,500 severance package after he said he’d defer it. His rationale: “I did say I would defer it to some point in the future. I didn’t say when.” Mr Mar buttressed his explanation with the comment that he did what every other MLA would do. What he conveniently forgets to mention is that the other MLAs did not make a public pledge implying that they’d defer their packages until after they’d completed their new assignments.
Mr Mar’s explanation of the Charlebois affair isn’t any better. He paid $390,000 to Kelly Charlebois, his former executive assistant, for consulting advice. Apparently it was terrific advice, given over the course of 2 years, in connection with rolling up the 17 health regions into nine. There’s just one teensy little problem—there isn’t a report, document or shred of written evidence that any advice was given at all.
At first Mr Mar was defiantly unapologetic about the Charlebois affair. Later he admitted that it was a mistake to issue an untendered contract to Mr Charlebois. Note that this admission was for the failure to put the contract to public tender, not the failure to document any of the advice he’d been given. Later still Mr Mar backtracked on the admission of error by saying that that was how things were done back then but the rules had changed since. The auditor general at that time disagreed. He found that Mr Mar failed to follow his own ministry’s policies when he issued the contract to his friend.
Hmmm…no wonder Mr Mar’s podium was bristling with sheets of paper and stickie notes. Any politician so trapped in self-deception and conformity to group values and ethics (that’s how we did it then, that’s what everyone else would do) needs all the help he can get because he’s not espousing his own position but rather that of the group. In Mr Mar’s case, the group is the caucus created by Ralph Klein and augmented by his new best friends Ted Morton and Rick Orman. And that is downright scary.
Doug Horner is more difficult to peg. From a distance he appears sincere and aligned with many of Ms Redford’s views. He supports public healthcare and does not favour increased privatization. However on the question of whether he’d support a judicial inquiry into political interference in the delivery of healthcare, Mr Horner is sticking to the PC party line—the Health Quality Council of Alberta has all the power it needs to conduct a fulsome investigation. This is troubling because the call for a judicial inquiry is based on the need for greater transparency and accountability. Mr Horner’s failure to recognize that fact demonstrates that he hasn’t ventured far from PC group values and ethics.
Alison Redford on the other hand burst the PC groupthink bubble the day she started her leadership campaign. She declared her support for a judicial inquiry five months ago and has never wavered. Not even in the face of Ed Stelmach’s disdainful attack that Ms Redford was no better than the NDP. Apparently daring to challenge the PC’s official position results in expulsion from the PC party figuratively as well as literally.
Ms Redford has been crystal clear in her support for public healthcare. In her view “privatization of healthcare is the thin edge of the wedge that begins to undermine public confidence in our most important public service”.** She is fighting for the honour of serving Albertans and recognizes that those who hold public office must be worthy of the public trust. She’s demonstrated leadership and courage as she coped with the passing of her mother in the final days of the campaign.
So step back, what do you see? I look at Alison Redford and I see gold sparkling in the clay.
I’m not a PC party member, but I purchased a PC membership and voted for Alison Redford to be the next premier of Alberta. You might want to consider it.
* The Perfect Swarm, by Len Fisher, PhD, pp 93, 94.
** Calgary Herald On-Line, Sept 28, 2011