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DebraW
02-01-2007, 09:24 AM
Will 2007 be The Year of Elections?

The Edmonton Journal
Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Now that we've all digested the New Year's feasting, exercise is on the agenda: political as well as physical.

A third federal election in three years is in the offing; Edmonton's civic election is slated for October; and Alberta's new premier may also choose to seek a mandate before 2007 comes to an end.

WILL HARPER TRY TO HEAD OFF DION?

Let's look at Stephen Harper first, since his government seems likely to be first on the block. The prime minister's round of old-style pre-election politicking just before Christmas -- $345 million for biofuel development for Western farmers and land given back to Quebec farmers around the now defunct Mirabel airport -- all suggest the government may resist the temptation to wait until it tables a February budget.

Budget Day, with all the attendant news coverage, gives Harper the best opportunity to position himself as champion of an overtaxed middle class. There's plenty of surplus cash that could be used to finance tax cuts, while throwing a little something at both the debt and the provinces. But he may be loath to wait that many weeks, giving Stephane Dion's newly minted Liberal team time to prepare. Also, waiting until Parliament resumes would give the opposition a chance to engineer a defeat. The Clean Air Act, a Tory centrepiece disliked by the other parties, is just one possibility.

Harper still needs a good issue to take to the people. This time, bashing the tired, old Martin Liberals won't be enough; he'll have to run partly on his record, and that's decidedly mixed.

As promised, he cut the GST, put child-care cheques into people's pockets, passed the Accountability Act and held a vote on same-sex marriage. But Harper bungled the environment issue and muddied the waters in the West with his support for Quebec as a nation; his Senate package has little traction beyond Alberta; and so far there's no progress on hospital wait lists.

Dion, meanwhile, has shown surprising skill, taking the environment issue for his own and adroitly uniting the Liberal Party. That could jeopardize Harper's hoped-for breakthrough in Quebec.

Jack Layton's New Democrats, meanwhile, may find themselves in the worst position in 2006: squeezed on the left by a reinvigorated Green Party, but with little to gain politically by propping up the Tories.

MUCH TO DO AT CITY HALL

Mayor Stephen Mandel and Edmonton's city council have just 10 months left in their mandate, and there are hefty items left on the to-do list.

Late last year, Mandel launched one of his most ambitious projects: finding a better model for relations with metro-area towns and cities. He pulled Edmonton of out the largely dysfunctional Alberta Capital Region Alliance, and with some success began to work on a new grouping. Eleven of the 23 municipalities have so far joined his discussion about alternatives.

The stakes have never been higher, with massive construction projects in upgrader alley set to begin this year. The 4,500 workers who will be busy for about a decade need homes and schools for their families.

This is also the year that council will have to find new ways to revitalize older communities as development pressures increase. Without a better planning process, the city is faced with constant community battles.

Last year, municipalities watched helplessly as construction inflation ate into budgets. Premier Ed Stelmach offers a 10-year, $1.4-billion plan to help, but will that be enough?

What was Mandel's most popular move in 2006?

Getting the streets plowed. And his most important leadership move? Getting some housing for first-time homebuyers on surplus school sites.

A NEW PREMIER IN SEARCH OF A MANDATE?

Stelmach doesn't have to seek a mandate for his new government until at least 2008. But he's heading out on a tour this month to take the pulse of Albertans, and that may influence his election timing.

He's bound to find a lot of uneasiness among Albertans struggling with some aspects of the overheated economy: the lack of housing and its high cost, the shortage of workers and and the desperate need for infrastructure dollars.

Stelmach's low-key, consultative approach is a change in style, but many voters will also be looking for new policy directions. If they don't see any, they may assume the Stelmach Tories are more of the same old government-on-autopilot.

Stelmach has to somehow lure back the 210,000 Tory voters who stayed home in the 2004 election, and he must also worry about a newly revitalized right-wing under former rival and now cabinet minister Ted Morton. Will some of those Morton supporters go to the Alliance? There's also work to be done healing the rifts in the party, especially in Calgary where the PC establishment feels jilted, left out and, well, not in charge anymore. Stelmach's new cabinet puts his northern, rural base front and centre. But it is short on talent from the two big cities. That may leave him vulnerable to the urban-based Liberals and New Democrats.

--30ó

DebraW
02-01-2007, 09:30 AM
What was Mandel's most popular move in 2006?

Getting the streets plowed.

Am I the only person who thinks it is a sad commentary that Mandelís most popular move (as per the Edmonton Journals Editorial) is getting the streets plowed?

ThomasH
02-01-2007, 08:18 PM
^ I feel the same way.