Electing a new premier

September 15, 2011

The premier of Alberta has resigned. That means that his party, the Conservatives, needs to elect a new leader. The new leader will automatically become the next premier.

On the surface, this may make sense. However, one has to remember that the only people that can elect a new leader of a party are the members of that party. In other words, the next premier of Alberta will be elected by a specific group of individuals. Individuals who are willing to buy a membership into the party. This premier will not be elected by all Albertans of voting age. This premier will be elected only by those Albertans, over the age of 18, that are members of the Conservative party.

This method of electing a new leader of a party, while that party is in power, clearly answers the question many Canadians are faced with each election: do I vote for the party or do I vote for the person? Obviously, the leader of the party at election time is not necessarily going to be the same leader in power until the next election. The pattern of resignations in the Conservative party clearly illustrates this.

Peter Lougheed won the election for premier in 1971, taking the power away from the Social Credit party. This was the start of the Conservative reign. When he resigned in 1985, Don Getty was elected as the new leader of the Conservative party. As such, he was designated as the premier. Even though Getty had not been “elected” the first time around, at least not in a vote that could involve all adult Albertans, he was considered as being “re-elected” seven months later when the provincial election was held.

Don Getty resigned in 1992. His successor, Ralph Klein, was designated as premier. Again, even though Klein was “elected” into office only by the members of the Conservative party, he was considered to be “re-elected” six months later at the provincial election.

When Ralph Klein retired in 2006, the new Conservative leader, Ed Stelmach, was designated as premier. This time, the provincial election was not held until 15 months after Stelmach’s designation. Now that Stelmach is resigning, once again, the members of the Conservative party are the privileged group to elect the new premier.

Since the Conservatives’ reign started in 1971, the only premier to be elected into office for the first time by all adult Albertans was Peter Lougheed. All premiers since were first designated into the position.

Granted, even if the current premier got into office only through a designation, he or she could be voted out of the office at the next provincial election. I wonder if the term “re-elect” helps to sway the voters’ minds at election time? Is it possible that many people will re-elect the current leader simply because it is easier than doing the homework?

I also wonder if people purchase memberships into a party only to have a say into who will be the new leader, particularly if that leader is going to be the next premier? And, does this membership have any influence over the voting results in the next provincial election? Can a party use the number of card-carrying members as a way to say, “Look at us, we must be good, look at how many members we have”?

Interesting questions to think about as Albertans await the news of who the new premier will be.

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