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Klein not worried but he should be - Monday, October 06, 2003 at 15:20

October 5, 2003
Klein not worried but he should be
By NEIL WAUGH -- Edmonton Sun
A wily old political survivor like Ralph Klein didn't need an election result to read the writing on the wall in Ontario.

"It's not looking good for the Conservative party," the premier winced coming out of last week's caucus meeting, many hours before the provincial election ballots were counted on Thursday night.

"That's going to be disappointing."

He tried to paint a happy face on the earlier result in Prince Edward Island where Pat Binns's PCs swept back to power.

Klein called it "gratifying" and said that in coming elections, he's pulling for the Saskatchewan party and the Conservatives in Newfoundland.

But Pat Binns is no Mike Harris - although he may be an Ernie Eves.

And any thoughts the former Ontario premier, and staunch Klein ally and copycat, may have of taking his political magic to the national scene received a sharp punch in the stomach on Thursday.

Mike Harris's Common Sense Revolution, or the watered-down version that Eves was trying to sell, got shot down in flames. And the Ontario Tories never did get around to privatizing liquor stores.

Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty's 72-seat romp was of Klein-like proportions. To use the Alberta premier's analysis, Ontario Tory Ernie Eves clearly did get "fired" by the people who obviously figured that if given a choice between a Liberal and a wannabe-Liberal they may as well go for the real deal.

"These things come and these things go," Klein sighed. "I've been around and I've had to deal with Liberal governments, ND governments and Conservative governments in Ontario. I've managed to survive."

Then a moment of concern and anxiety came over the premier. "Maybe Mike Harris's fiscal policies didn't sit as well," Klein said.

Harris's economic plan was pretty much a ripoff of the ambitious Ralphanomics experiment that the Alberta PCs embarked on a couple of years earlier.

"Although Mike tried to do many of the same things, I think it's much more difficult in that province to do the kind of things we did," he concluded.

Maybe it's the entrenched power of the unions. Or maybe it's something Klein described as a mindset. "I don't sense there is the sense of free enterprise to the extent there is here," the premier spat.

Certainly, Eves was hardly Alberta's best buddy and backer. Several times at last summer's premiers conference it was Ralph Klein versus the rest.

And the old Ralph-Mike tag team ended when Harris quit.

When asked if the Ontario result means anything to the Alberta PCs, Klein insisted, "Not at all."

But still you have to wonder.

Last week Klein made a political speech at his annual Red Deer fundraising dinner, where he talked about the Tories's 20-year plan.

The details will be released in next spring's budget. That budget, and you have to assume the 20-year plan, will form the basis of the premier's 2005 election campaign.

"The strategy will recognize that Alberta's success is not due to what government does." Klein said. "It's due to what Albertans do.

"It's Albertans who build businesses, raise families, teach in our schools, care for patients in our hospitals and build communities where people feel safe, respected and free."

This sounds like yet another huge expansion of the government's already bloated budget to me. Not to mention yet another attempt to diminish and discredit what made the Alberta Tories an international success in those magical days of the mid-'90s.

Certainly Klein's attempt to put his feet up and basically let the province and the government run itself has had mixed results.

It's allowed the bureaucrats and the special interests to once again seize control of the agenda and allow subversive Red Tory forces within his own caucus to lead the dance.

You only have to click on Justice Minister Dave Hancock's website (which he calls "Virtual Whitemud") to see where one of his top ministers is going.

Hancock's vision talks of an Alberta "where all its citizens are caring, compassionate individuals willing to help those less fortunate in a manner that recognizes the pride and dignity of the human spirit."

ND Leader Raj Pannu couldn't have said it better.

With the Ontario Tories no longer on the scene, the premier will have a hard time stopping the Alberta Tories' ongoing lurch to the left from turning into a lunge.

Especially if Klein loses his nerve and his political compass because of the Ernie Eves debacle.