Tag Archives: Andrew Coyne

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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Why the F-35 Scandal Matters

If the 65 F-35 fighter jets are purchased by the Canadian Government, they will cost Canadians $25 billion dollars over a span of 20 years. Minister of Defense Peter Mackay has argued the jets price tag is closer to $9 billion, contrary to the findings of government watchdogs. What he has apparently forgotten, whether purposely or not, is that $16 billion is required for fuel, maintenance, and the overall operations of the jets. Those are funds provided by the taxpayer for a contract that did not seem to follow any established policy, but was streamlined by officials with vested interests in the F-35’s purchase.

$25 billion dollars over 20 years is a hefty fee; however, as Andrew Coyne points out, that assumed sum of money is actually on the low end of the spectrum. The projected life of the F-35 is 36 years. Even if it was only in operation for 33 years, the total cost to the tax payer would be $40 billion. As a frame of reference, the Conservatives accounted for $40 billion for all Canadian healthcare and social programs in their budget, while the Nation’s overall deficit stands at $21.1 billion.

A Rough Outline of the 2012 Budget | Graphic From http://www.theglobeandmail.com

When you spend billions of taxpayer dollars, you need to do the deal right. The Conservatives have hacked and slashed social programs in Canada, and as I’ve stated before, I would be more sympathetic to cutting programs, like one that provides internet access to libraries and community centers costing $15 million. By abusing the trust of Canadians, the Conservatives have taken that benefit of the doubt away. There can be no streamlining contracts, no hiding $10 billion in accounting measures, and no hiding from the public when you decide to undertake a project as colossal as these 65 jets.

This Government proceeded with acquiring these jets haphazardly, either arrogantly or ignorantly. While Mr. Mackay backtracks and claims the $10 billion disparagement is the result of different accounting procedures Canadians ought to demand more of the Government. If our country considers this contract a theft or fraud, and we don’t want to see it happen again, then as Canadians, we ought to do something about it. We need to put Governments on notice that this kind of abuse will cost them more than their jobs, but their integrity and public image. Canadians need to pay attention, and voice their displeasure at the ballot box. If we want Ottawa to treat Canadians differently, then we need to notice.

To put it simply, if someone took your money under false pretenses, you would seek punishment. Why should a government that does the same be treated any differently? This Government is prepared to spend $40 billion without proper procedure. Are you comfortable with that?

Getting Robbed Can be This Comfortable


Harper Eats Cake, Has Cake

After Stephen Harper’s majority victory on May 2nd fear-mongering over his presumed extreme right-wing agenda which was only restrained by a minority government ran high. With a majority government and a full mandate, the true ambitions of the Prime Minister would presumably become unleashed on the Canadian public.

So far, we’ve seen glimpses of the right-wing extremism Michael Ignatieff had spent weeks warning against. The long-gun registry issue, the omnibus crime bill with its overwhelming super-prison promotion, Bill C-30, the Enbridge pipeline, the list goes on. While I certainly think the country is headed in the wrong direction, I hardly think Mr. Harper has been a “dystopian” ruler as he has been made out to be. Same-sex marriage, abortion and wearing hijabs are all still legal (not without pressure mind you, but I digress), while the death penalty and nuclear weapons are not on the table.

I think Andrew Coyne is correct in asserting this first Conservative majority budget was a great opportunity for the true (small-c) conservatives to make their presence on Parliament Hill known. The budget was, with some select exceptions, universally classified as a moderate one, something Liberals might even consider backing had someone named John Turner proposed it. I think Michael den Tandt goes too far when he suggests that the budget is something a social Liberal like Jean Chretien might have passed, but he too observes the non-conservative nature of the Conservative budget. With a majority mandate and no real opposition to his desires, why is it that the Conservatives persist with record-high levels of spending, the prolonged isolation of social conservative issues, and the play-nice policies of someone who is acting less like a Reform party member, and more like a 1980’s  “business-Liberal”?

I believe it is because the Prime Minister wants to stay in power, and he wisely holds his position more dearly than his values. He has managed to make centrist Canadians (also known as your average Canadian voter) think he can handle the economy better than anyone else, and that he is trustworthy to keep our social programs in good conditions. Meanwhile, he has convinced his base that he is the best person to move Canada right, that taxpayer waste will not be acceptable under his watch. If you look purely at his record, six years as Prime Minister, three electoral wins and the destruction of three consecutive Liberal leaderships (each by a larger margin than the last), it is hard to debate Mr. Harper’s incredible cunning and skill. If you want any real indication of how politically prudent Stephen Harper is, consider his successes have been in spite of any charisma, humor, or personality. Yes, he is that good.

I have told anyone willing to listen that the Conservatives are in line for another majority in three years time. There are four possibilities I see as potentially disrupting his success. First, Stephen Harper could take off the camouflaged mask to reveal his right-wing extremism and scare average, centrist voters away. Second,  if social and fiscal conservatives, the base of Harper’s support, discover that Mr. Harper has no mask on at all, a portion of the party may either force him further right or (more a more damaging alternative) launch a Wildrose-esque rebellion against him. Third, the progressive parties could form a cooperative pact. These three are incredibly unlikely. The fourth possibility is that there is a scandal so large (one involving electoral fraud, for example), that the Conservatives lose the trust of the Canadian voters. Mr. Harper is already on this, however, and I believe will do whatever it takes to prevent this burden from falling on him in three years time.

I suppose there is a fifth option. Justin Trudeau could settle political differences in the boxing ring. Judging by Saturday night’s result, at least this way the Liberals would have a fighting chance. I don’t know if Trudeau’s back is broad enough to carry progressives back to 24 Sussex, but that smile he wore after he beat down Brazeau just might be.