Tag Archives: Alberta Government

Alberta and Polls: Never Again

The Calgary Flames are preparing to host their first playoff game since 2009 in a matter of days. While the Flames are working hard to even up their series, the politicians are working the doors. The province of Alberta may be preparing to elect a new party to power for the first time since 1971.

Does this sound familiar? Just three years ago I was responsible for the following assumption:

Danielle Smith is likely to be the next premier of Alberta

It doesn’t sound like a terrible statement, but this type of statement reveals a foolish reliance on poor polling data taken immediately before election day. Alison Redford, not Danielle Smith, became Premier of Alberta. Furthermore, the results were not close; Redford retained her majority. I will defend myself by demonstrating that I was a member of a mob making misguided assumptions. For example, following the 2012 Alberta election, Andrew Coyne promptly wrote an article after titled “Why I’m no longer making election predictions after Alberta.”

On May 5th, Albertans are headed back to the polls to decide whether the Progressive Conservatives should be given another opportunity to lead. There are three angles of the story that I am interested in following as election day draws nearer

Can Jim Prentice Gain a Mandate?

Prentice took over as Progressive Conservative leader and Premier seven months ago. His election as leader came on the heels of Alison Redford’s disgraceful resignation. Alberta’s Auditor General released a serious report condemning Alison Redford, finding that her office used public resources inappropriately. Additionally, Redford’s style of leadership made her an unattractive leader for the ruling caucus. The Auditor General concluded that “the aura of power around premier Redford and her office and the perception that the influence of the office should not be questioned.”

Image Stolen From the Edmonton Journal

The caucus and membership demanded Redford’s resignation, and they received it. and Prentice’s subsequent appointment was an opportunity for the party to move in a new direction with a new leader. Leaders need to demonstrate that they carry the confidence of the electorate. Thus far Prentice has won nothing other than his leadership. Redford, on the other hand, managed to surprise the province (really, the entire country) and win an election she was supposed to lose. Prentice’s ability to convince Albertans that the PCs are capable of leading the province once again is worth watching.

Alberta’s Economic Position

Ideally, as the incumbent Prentice should be heading into an election with a profound lead over his opponents, but this election may be different. As global oil prices fell earlier in the year, Alberta’s economic position was profoundly weakened. The province has been hounded by skeptics for being over-reliant on revenues from the oil and gas sector. The drop in prices caused a budget gap of $4.99 billion this fiscal year.

In short, the Premier’s timing was not ideal. He had to act quickly to salvage a responsible budget in the wake of this spending gap. To Prentice’s credit, he actually has taken steps to solve the issue rather than exploding further into debt. His budget raised provincial income taxes, and raising fees for insurance, permits, tobacco, alcohol and gasoline. The economy will likely play the critical role in the debates. Will the progressive parties (the Alberta Party, Alberta NDP, Alberta Liberals) capitalize as showing themselves to be better stewards of the economy?

The Wildrose Party

Danielle Smith was supposed to be the one to stop the Progressive Conservative leadership dynasty. Now she’s a part of it. This was an extraordinary development because just weeks before Smith crossed the floor, she was chastising other members of her caucus for doing the very same thing.

If you thought the timing was bad for Prentice, it might have been worst for Smith. The Wildrose is seen to be a viable alternative to the Progressive Conservatives (again). Now they have a new leader, Brian Jean, who has taken an extremely active role in candidate selection, purging one individual who espoused homophobic views on a blog 8 years ago. I am curious to see whether Jean can shed the Wildrose’s reputation for far-right wing ideology and position himself as the “government in waiting.”

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Wildrose Modernization of Democracy

The majority of Albertans are finding themselves dissatisfied with a Redford government they see as wasteful and bulky, and are savouring the opportunity for change. The last time citizens were upset to this degree with the Progressive Conservatives, they seriously considered a Liberal government in 1993, boosting the Grit seat count from eight to thirty-two, and the vote share from 28% to 40%.

Smith is Looking at a Big Win | Source: Chris Bolin, Globe and Mail

Instead of looking left, this year Albertan conservatives have found an alternative to the right of Redford’s PCs: The Wildrose Party. In most ways the two parties have the markings of the Steven Harper center-right populist package. In other ways, however, the Wildrose pose a serious threat to the social welfare net in the province. Danielle Smith recently asserted that climate change may not actually be occurring, she has candidates alleging that homosexuals will be burning in hell for eternity, and has flirted with pulling out of the Canadian public pension plan.

I would rather see an Alberta Party or Alberta Liberal government, but the reality is that Alberta is likely to welcome Danielle Smith as their next premier. Aside from the negative baggage she will bring with her to Edmonton, there are certain benefits that accompany a fresh breath in politics, and I think four are especially worth noting:

  • First, Smith is campaigning on allowing her caucus to vote however they please on apparently everything, including confidence motions that could topple her government. If there is anything I hate more than blind partisanship, it is forced partisanship. At every political level in Canada, an elected official either votes with their party or no longer belongs to the party. Smith is seemingly open to allowing her caucus vote as an Albertan, rather than as a Wildrose caucus member.
  • Second, Smith has called for fixed election dates. As it stands now, the Government of the day can decide when to call an election. This gives an unfair edge to the Government, allowing them to decide when the most advantageous time to call an election is. This evens the playing field, granting equal preparation time for every party in advance of an election, while making sure the Government doesn’t stall until more fortuitous poll numbers come their way.
  • Third, and most controversial, citizen referendum. In order to force a referendum on any issue, the sponsors would need half a million Albertans to sign a petition, then find half the province willing to vote in favour. Most worries about the referendum center around divisive issues like invalidating gay marriage and delisting abortion. Both are protected by the charter, but even if they somehow were not, I have faith at least half of Alberta supports gay marriages and a woman’s right to choose. The Wildrose leader, I might add, is on record as favouring both. What this does is allow citizens to recall measures (or MLAs) they do not agree with, and I am behind the intention of increasing democratic participation.
  • Finally, Smith has pledged to cut salaries of all elected members, and eliminate the bulk of the severance plan. The new plan would give retiring members exactly one-year of full pay, no more or less, ending the tradition of bloated severance packages, including $1-million that went to Ken Kowalski and Ed Stelmach. The Alberta Liberals, Alberta Party and NDP have also vowed to roll back pay, the Liberals going so far to argue for the elimination of some of the 87 MLA posts, something I would call “a no brainer”.

Smith is likely to be the next premier, and if she is, Albertans must keep her honest in regards to improving their democracy. I hope the Wildrose serves as a model to other provinces as to how proper politics works. The emphasis, of course, is on hope.

A blooming wildrose | Source: http://www.pictureworldbd.com