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Speech to the Edmonton Leader's Dinner

February 16th, 2012

I was talking to a colleague of mine a while ago.

He’s friends with a bunch of long-time Liberal supporters. 

I know, a colleague who’s friends with a bunch of Liberals?  What the heck?

Hey, it’s a free world. Thank goodness.

But this was last September, and his buddies were very excited.

Very excited – about the PC Leadership race.

And you heard that correctly: His Liberal friends were excited about the PC Leadership race.

Hell wasn’t freezing over.

Not a flying pig in sight.

“The reason is simple,” he said, “Alison Redford.”

He went on:

“My friends, and their friends and their friends, they’re buying $5 memberships as fast as they can.  NDs too.”

“They’re all joining the PCs? Really?”

He explained:

“It’s Alberta: Liberals and NDs. They never get to vote for Premier.  Ever!  So for the first time in their lives, they think they have a candidate they can support!  They get to vote for Premier. All my friends.”

And so: the PC Leadership “election.” He says his friends were happy.

And then the speech from the Throne. Happier.

And then the Budget. Happiest yet.  ‘Cause they say it’s a Liberal budget; very liberal.

And I get it.  I do.

For the first time in – oh – about 90 years, many Liberals believe that Alberta has finally elected their own Premier.

The new premier says she’s neither right nor left.  She’s “pragmatic.”

Pragmatic’s not a philosophy; it’s not a clear vision. It’s a character trait.

And the Progressive Conservative Party – which has been anything but conservative for much of the last decade – is heading further and further in the wrong direction, every single day.

This is not your father’s PC Party.

And it’s certainly not mine.

I don’t know whose it is.

But whatever it is, it’s not good for the province.

Ironically, though it’s good for us – good for the fortunes of our party – which means ultimately it’s going to be very good for the province.

It’s just going to take something called an election. When? When the Premier decides. But, it’s going to take a real election. And this one the Liberal friends of my colleague, well , they may not like it as much.

But I think we’ll like it. A lot.

Because an awful lot of Albertans just don’t get what she’s up to.

I don’t get it.

I’m guessing you don’t either.

Business as usual, which is not good for business at all.

The politics of divide and conquer.

The politics of this against that, one interest group against another.

And look how well we’ve been played.

North against South.

Rural against Urban.

Small town against big city.

Education vs. Health Care.

Transit vs. Roads.

Them against us, or us against them.

And for the most cynical of reasons: divide and conquer isn’t just a phrase; it’s their only political philosophy, born of cynicism and an in- born sense of entitlement to power.

If they can keep us arguing amongst ourselves, we’re lost.

And it’s Got. To. Stop.

And the fight that bugs me most:

Edmonton vs. Calgary, Calgary vs. Edmonton.

Two great Alberta cities.

Two great Western cities.

Two great Canadian cities.

Fourth and fifth largest in the land.

And this rivalry is the most cynically manipulated of them all.

I’m not talking hockey or football. That’s just fun.

I’m talking about Health Care.  I’m talking about Transportation.  I’m talking about Municipalities.

Because I’m a Calgarian who spends a lot of time here, and I’m proud of Edmonton.

Yes: Proud.

I’m not kidding: I’m proud of The Fringe, and the U of A.  I’m proud of the service industries and the amazing Heritage Days. I’m proud of Grant MacEwan, both the person and the University (even if he was a Liberal).

And honest Flames fans have to admit that the young guns on the Oilers are amazing to watch. I love watching Eberle.  And Taylor Hall. And Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, though I worry about his shoulder; I do.

But beyond Hockey and Theatre and Art and Education, what really makes Alberta tick?

What really brings people to our province?

What’s our beating heart?

Wildrose knows – and just like one US president once said – it’s the economy stupid.

That’s what ties us together. That’s our real strength. Our real connection. That’s what we have to fight for! Together!

That economy, when it’s humming – that’s what makes everything else possible. Everything.

And these two cities, Edmonton and Calgary, together make up a resource hub, second to no other in the world.

That’s not just rhetoric:

I was talking with philanthropist and businessman Brett Wilson just last week and without a boast in his tone or a hint of irony, he asserted the exact same thing: Edmonton and Calgary together make a resource centre that’s the envy of the world. The “world.”  And he would know.

So we have to stop letting them manipulate us; we can’t keep fighting – we have to work together. Now.

We have to say no to a government which dangles one end of a carrot to the north, the other end to the south, and keeps us bickering long into the night.

A government that says if you don’t vote for us, we’ll help the community that did.

That’s why pigs can’t fly, when it’s pork in the barrel.  Put there by a partisan government that loves to pit one region against the other; loves picking winners and losers.

Can we not save that for hockey?

For football?

We need Alberta to win: period.

The PCs cling desperately to power by keeping us at each other, just for the sake of staying in power.

Consider their legacy:

We are one of the richest places in the World and we’re always in debt!

We’re the province of Mavericks and afraid of simple change.

We’re conservatives with a premier who’s anything but.

And if we don’t fix it, and soon, we’ll lose that advantage, that Alberta Advantage. If divide and conquer prevails, the infighting will tear us apart.

In the mid 1970s, Coke and Pepsi decided to take each other on.

Pepsi had taste tests.

Coke had the Real Thing.

The commercials; endless.

The boasting; non-stop.

The gloves were off.

And the fight involved the public; people talked about their favourites, made fun of those who chose the “other,” and on and on. We still do.

Not unlike Calgary sniping at Edmonton and vice versa.

But where the PCs are happy to keep us at each other’s throats, Coke and Pepsi was different.

‘Cause if you look real closely, it’s not so much that Coke beat Pepsi or Pepsi hurt Coke.

The real lesson to ask yourself is, where are the others?

What happened to the “other” competitors:  the “other” colas.

What happened to Royal Crown; RC Cola?

What happened to KIK Cola or Cott?

And that’s the lesson.

If it’s for fun, if it’s for sports, let’s have at it. Edmonton versus Calgary.

But while we’re beating each other up on the ice or on the gridiron, let’s have leadership!  Let’s actually work together to move the market in our favour. It’s in all of our interests.

Pepsi knew, Coke knew how to take advantage of the rivalry. Have fun with it out front, but behind the scenes, work together to corner the market.

‘Cause our dark liquid isn’t cola; it’s oil. It’s gas. It’s energy.

The stakes are too high for a real rivalry, the potential too great; we can’t allow the PCs’ divide-and-conquer strategy to keep us from reaching our goals.

I look around our province and I see pent-up achievement, pent-up potential, pent-up demand, and a government oh-so-happy to pick a winner and a loser north or south and keep the fight alive.

Instead, we need a level playing field for everyone; cooperation to make Alberta not just “that place with the resources,” but the place where potential gets converted to action and action turns into reward.  Market domination from Alberta Incorporated and the Alberta Advantage must rise again.

Remember the “Alberta Advantage?”

Me too:  I’m old enough to remember when it wasn’t just a slogan but a true reflection of who and what we once were, and what we need to be again.

There’s a code to living in Alberta; an idea called the Cowboy Code. Top three?

1. A cowboy never takes unfair advantage – even of an enemy.

2. A cowboy always tells the truth.

3. And a cowboy never betrays a trust. He never goes back on his word.

Pretty darn simple, isn’t it? Play fair. Speak the truth. Keep your promise.

It’s called integrity, but they’ve replaced it with pragmatism; what someone else might call “situational ethics.” Where right or wrong shifts and changes depending on which way the wind blows.

The PC’s “Liberal” Leader says there’s no such thing as left and right; that a government ought to be “pragmatic.” Well what does pragmatic mean?

It means promising a judicial inquiry of our health care system, then weaselling out.

It means promising open and transparent government, then consulting on the budget behind closed doors.

It means promising to review property rights, then having police seize the cars of people who aren’t legally impaired.

It means promising to stand up for our industry, then siding with Chiquita Bananas’ in their oilsands boycott.

It means promising $107 million from “efficiencies” to hire more teachers, then raiding our savings fund instead.

It means promising a balanced budget by 2013, then saying “never mind” and hinting she may simply raise taxes.

It means supporting the Prime Minister to end the long-gun registry, then supporting Premier Charest’s bid to keep it in Quebec. Cher Madame Redford: Ici on parle Francais. We read the translation.

It means touting a National Energy Program, but when asked what that means, shrugging: we haven’t worked it out yet.

It means announcing zero-base budgeting, then taking off to Jasper with your MLAs for a luxury retreat  and sticking taxpayers with the $70,000 tab.

It means saying you’re keeping Government separate from the PC Party, then having a pre-election Cabinet tour for a cool hundred grand. Not PC Party money: taxpayer money.

The money that should go to schools and hospitals and roads wasn’t meant for room service.

They just don’t get it. And they just don’t care.

Some people wonder why we get so hot about them soliciting donations from municipalities and public institutions.

Here’s why:

Our Government represents us all. Whether you vote PC or Liberal, or NDP or even Wildrose, it’s still supposed to be our government.  They spend our tax dollars for every Albertan.

Political parties are different: they’re private organizations with paid membership.  PC Party; private. Liberals; private. NDP, private, but all with a great tax deal. You give 200 bucks to the Wildrose Party – a pretty good idea, by the way – you get to reduce your taxes by $150. Pretty cool, right?

You’re investing in a private organization called a party, which tries to get its candidates elected.

But when the government says it might be a good idea to take public government money earmarked for your school or your hospital or your roads and redirect that tax money to the PC Party, well: it’s wrong.

You can’t funnel government money through – say – a University to then support the private political party. It’s illegal. Ask yourself this: do you ever hear of those universities or town councils funnelling institutional money to the other parties? Of course not.

Here’s the implication that lies just below the surface: you want that new hospital bed, or that school fixed, or that road paved better redirect some of your funding back to the private political party.

It’s illegal. It’s unethical. It’s immoral. And it’s got to stop.

I don’t think you’re just looking for a leader who’s pragmatic. I think you’re looking one who’s principled. Pragmatic means expedient; doing what’s easiest to sell; what’s likely to get you elected, no matter the real cost.

Principled means doing what’s right.

In these dying months of the PC era, we see how badly they behave when they feel beyond accountability. When they insist they know better.

Our party’s foundation is grassroots democracy and accountability. I said it when I became Wildrose leader and I’ll say it again: My number one job is turn Alberta back into a real democracy.

One that strengthens our common-sense values, deeply-rooted in personal liberty: Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of association, freedom of assembly and economic freedom.

Pragmatic means “do what’s easiest,” Principled means “do what’s right.”

As Premier, I will restore our democracy, champion our true environmental record, fix health care, entrench property rights, affirm parents’ right to choose the education they want for their kids, and balance the books.

Government overspending does not make countries prosperous.

We’ll also embark on building a new relationship with our federal and provincial counterparts; one that respects the Constitution and leaves us free to chart our own course.

Government’s not there to tell you what to do; you’re here to tell the government what to do.

Or to tell this government where to go.

Too long in power makes you lose sight. Alberta isn’t the tired PC Party.

No: we are Alberta.

This is what I believe. It’s what most Albertans believe. It’s why people come here, and why they always will. It’s what they want. And it’s why it’s time for a Wildrose government.

Albertans elect governments for a very long time, but we throw them out when they lose touch with the people they’re supposed to serve. And we do it without hesitation.

The PCs are thick with backroom lobbyists and political cronies, but folks are looking for a party to step up and represent their interests.  Looking for a vision that makes us better than we are today.

We’re Albertans:

We work hard for what we have.

We’re generous to those in need.

We’re proud of who we are.

Which is why we in the Wildrose are not running for opposition. We’re running ‘cause we’re ready to govern.

As a strong, compassionate and united party, we challenge the status quo.

Other parties have. Our difference? We. Can. Win.

We know the PCs are running around the province – on our tax dollars – trying to spend their way back into government.

But we will fight for what’s right.

We will fight for every vote.

We’re ready to go head to head into battle – the likes of which this province has not seen in decades.

And the choice could not be clearer:

Them or us.

A “Liberal” Premier or a Wildrose conservative one.

I’m ready. Our MLAs are ready. Our campaign team is ready.

Are you ready?

The stakes could not be higher.

Only We. Can. Win.