I can say many things about the character of Progressive Conservative leadership contender Jim Dinning.
One of the foremost is he likes frank talk.
Soon after I became the editor of the Calgary Sun in late 1989, Dinning asked me to speak at his annual meeting and tell his membership and constituents what voters thought had gone wrong with Premier Don Getty’s government.
Dinning knew I had been a Conservative all my life, and also that I, too, had become extremely disillusioned with the Getty government.
To get straight to the point, it was a shambles.
Runaway spending even after oil prices collapsed, a rising deficit, no leadership.
I even pointed out that on the federal scene, after being a member of the PC party since 1965 when I first met former prime minister John Diefenbaker, I had swung my support towards Preston Manning’s fledgling Reform party.
That was despite my longterm friendship with Brian Mulroney—in retrospect Canada’s greatest prime minister since the Second World War.
My conclusion had been British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was right in her assessment that when it came to the Progressive Conservative parties both federally and provincially in Canada and Alberta, there was far, far too much emphasis on the adjective and far, far too little on the noun!
Jim took my criticisms good naturedly.
Personally, I believe he thought I was right on—and we have been friends ever since.
Dinning is such a likable individual, always a smile, always a witty comment, always quietly well-mannered, but he is no back-slapping glad-hander.
When it comes down to it, he can be as steadfast as the times call for.
That’s why, after Ralph Klein won the party leadership and the premiership in 1992, he became provincial treasurer and was faced with an accumulated debt of almost $30 billion.
Alberta was suffering the shame of being declared a “debtor province” for the first time since the Great Depression, billions of the taxpayers’ dollars had been lost in crazy business schemes, and one hand did not know what the other hand was doing.
Dinning was appalled at the extent of the morass he had inherited.
He knew it was time for the toughest action possible.
If he took a go-slow policy of gradually trying to right the ship, so as not to upset too many people, the ship would simply take on more water.
That would mean eventually the government would have to take even more drastic action.
When a top-notch business executive has been called in to perform a turnaround job on a corporation whose sales are disintegrating, he doesn’t ponder the issues for months on end.
Action is immediate.
So Dinning went to work.
He took a huge axe to spending.
There were howls.
There were demonstrations that were close to riots.
But guess what?
He righted the ship.
The ship that had been leaking, that had been going on the shoals and taking its crew and passengers with it, was now sailing to a bright new future.
Klein, really the figurehead of the ship, was praised internationally in the financial capitals of the world from New York to London.
Our province was now the model to follow in fiscal responsibility and economic vision.
Today we live in very different times, with very different challenges, but once again it seems to me Jim Dinning is the man to handle the job.
He’s already shown his mettle.