In less than 70 days Albertans will decide whether Daniel Smith’s UCP or Rachel Notley’s NDP will form the next government.
Political junkies like me have pretty much made up our minds about who’s getting our vote, but we’re always interested in what others are thinking. which was why I tuned into a presentation by political scientist, Lisa Young, and journalist, Graham Thomson.
Young provided a summary of the values of the two parties.
The UCP value freedom (cue the UCP MLAs supporting the truckers and Smith’s pledge to make anti-vaxxers a protected class under the Human Rights Act), the private delivery of public services, staunch support for oil and gas—after three long unproductive years the War Room is still up and running—and “Albertanism,” (Young described this as the belief that the Alberta government can meet Albertans’ needs better than the feds can). Not surprisingly the UCP’s relationship with the feds is marred by confrontation and performative measures like the Sovereignty Act, the referendum on equalization and numerous court challenges.
Young described the NDP as pragmatic. They’re deeply committed to the public delivery of public services, want legislated standards for healthcare, an increase in the number of primary care offices and publicly funded birth control. They support oil, gas and renewables, and value equity, diversity and inclusion (we saw this in Notley’s cabinet choices). While Notley opposed some federal energy policies, she’s more cooperative with the feds than the UCP.
Stranger than fiction
Graham Thomson reflected that in all his years covering Alberta politics it’s never been crazier than this. Kenney was ousted by the far right and moderate conservatives who felt he was too dictatorial and didn’t deliver the grassroots democracy he’d promised.
Smith who should have been un-electable after she crossed the floor to join the Prentice PCs (in return for the promise of cabinet posts that failed to materialize) made an amazing recovery.
Thomson said this was because the other leadership candidates focused on May 2023—which one of them was best positioned to beat Notley in the next election; while Smith focused on Oct 2022, how could she get enough votes to win the leadership.
Smith succeeded (barely) by winning over the Free Alberta/Take Back Alberta crowd by promising her Sovereignty Act would rid Alberta of Ottawa once and for all. The fact it couldn’t deliver didn’t matter as long as enough voters thought it could.
Thomson says Smith is using the “goodies for everyone” budget in the same way. It’s a fragile budget that will collapse if oil drops below $75 per barrel. But this doesn’t matter, the only purpose for the budget is to carry Smith to victory on May 29, 2023.
The one thing Young and Thomson didn’t discuss was trust. Who do the voters trust to be the better leader? To do a better job for all Albertans?
Leaving aside the fact that Smith can’t open her mouth without sticking her foot in it, consider Smith’s election strategy to date. It’s a combination of:
- Buying our votes with temporary programs that will literally expire right after the election.
- Refusing to discuss issues Albertans care deeply about, such as:
- losing their CPP (the government report on whether this is a good idea won’t be released until after the election, but a preview of what we can expect can be found in the Free Alberta Strategy coauthored by Smith’s right hand man, Rob Anderson
- spending millions on a provincial tax collection agency (thereby forcing Albertans to file their taxes twice, but hey, what’s a little more red tape among friends) spending millions on a provincial police force (despite the fact that most Albertans don’t want one) and
- RStar, a $20 billion handout to deadbeat companies that refuse to obey the law and clean up their own mess.
- Gaslighting Albertans by:
- asserting AHS was responsible for the crisis in healthcare. Smith fired the AHS board and appointed an administrator who tinkered with the system for 90 days and declared the crisis had passed.
- ‘modernizing’ the education curriculum and ‘investing’ in education. And yet teachers don’t support the new curriculum, post secondary institutions are struggling and Calgary, the largest city in Alberta with 8000 more students attending school this fall will get one new school and one modernized school.
- insisting Alberta has the best environmental and oil and gas regulations on the planet and the feds are wrong to interfere but turning a blind eye to unreported tailings leaks and resorting to bailouts like RStar to make oil and gas companies comply with the law.
It’s hard to trust a candidate who buys votes, hides their true agenda and gaslights the public. Nevertheless Smith is confident she’s got the rural vote and enough Calgary votes to win.
I’m not so sure.
This week I attended a fund raiser for Samir Kayandegat, the NDP candidate for Calgary-Elbow, and when I spotted a die-hard conservative in the room, I wondered whether Smith might be taking Calgary for granted.