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Welcome to Ralph Klein's hell
Ralph will discover winning elections isn't everything
By Hamish MacAulay
On Tuesday, Ralph Klein won first prize in a $10 beauty contest. Winning elections is what Conservatives do in Alberta. To be a premier, however, Klein must prove he can run the government with the ambitious political chameleons, pork-barrelers and demagogues known collectively as Conservative MLAs hanging around his neck.
This strange concoction of Reform-wannabes and bandwagon jumpers will make the next four years the hardest of Ralph Klein's political life. Governments with large majorities and no mandate other than staying in power tend to self-destruct. Ralph Klein's gut, seasoned with a term as premier, should already know this. What Klein should also see are the other circumstances conspiring to make his political denouement a harsh one.
A victim of his own persuasive skills, Klein must maintain the status quo for the next four years. He cannot cut spending as long as the surpluses rage. He cannot spend more because he has convinced Albertans that government spending is bad. He cannot react to political opportunities because three-year department plans and "getting out the way of Albertans" have reduced the Alberta government's ability to respond quickly to its political master's whim.
With nothing to do, nowhere to go and no opposition, the Conservatives are the only enemy the Conservatives face. Klein's little helpers will grow restless, and the government will begin to spin in many directions.
What compounds Klein's problem are those little helpers, the ambitious politicians in his cabinet and on his backbenches. And, as he ought to know, ambitious politicians without principles are attracted to the Conservative party the same way flies are attracted to flypaper.
The cast of characters that Klein will have to direct must surely scare him more than the lonely critics that stand on the other side of the house. Stockwell Day and Steve West, social conservatives with few redeeming political characteristics outside of loyalty, will feel the urge to speak on behalf of their true constituents. Ken Kowalski and Peter Trynchy, the last original Alberta Conservatives, will lurk the corridors of the legislature with malice for the Conservative upstart that put an end to their ministerial gravy trains. Jon Havelock and Murray Smith, hungry politicians looking for more crumbs than Ralph's calorie-reduced cabinet can give, will do what it takes to get the media attention needed to soothe their political ambitions.
Finding work for these idle hands will take the same energy Klein needed to make the cuts. This time around, Klein might not have the motivation and will to control the government the way he did in his first term. He will have to suffer his slings and arrows in private - and being a public man gives Klein his strength. There is no external threat, no adrenaline from a good fight, just the daily nicks and scratches of caucus debates.
Klein must also realize that his political career has hit its apex. Despite persistent rumors, Klein has no chance to be Prime Minister. Premiers do not go on to be Prime Minister. Furthermore, the federal Conservatives know they must win in Quebec to become the government. Unfortunately, for some long forgotten reason, those bums and scums might not vote for Klein.
It all adds up to a tough sophomore term for Premier Klein. Fighting to maintain control of a rudderless ship with too many captains is probably not Ralph's idea of leadership. It is, however, the reality he now faces. Fortunately, Albertans will be able to watch the tragic tale of this tiny ship on the six o'clock news every night. Welcome to Ralph Klein's hell and happy viewing.
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