Excuse me, your ideology is showing

When conservative politicians run out of meaningful things to say about Alberta’s NDP government they whip out the “ideology” card and last week’s debate featuring candidates vying for the seat left vacant by Jim “all-or-nothing” Prentice was no exception.

The Wildrose candidate, Prasad Panda, accused the NDP of carrying out “risky ideological experiments”. The Tory candidate, Blair Houston, slammed the NDP’s decision to raise taxes and increase the minimum wage arguing the free market “trickle-down effect” would correct any inequities.

Their position appears to be: my party’s policies are better than the NDP’s “ideologically” driven policies because…well…because they’re not ideologically driven.

All this anti-ideology lip curling is puzzling given that “ideology” is defined as a system of ideas and ideals that forms the basis of an economic or political theory.  Surely every political party, with the exception of the Rhino Party, is ideologically driven to some degree.

Thatcher’s ideology

It’s time for Alberta’s conservative parties to re-examine their roots…which brings us to Margaret Thatcher. (The conservatives have many idols, but none stands taller than the Iron Lady).

Journalist Sunder Katwala described Mrs Thatcher as “…an ideological politician who headed…the most ideologically-motivated British government in the 20th century”.

She believed that “government should create the right framework of sound money, low taxes, light regulation and flexible markets…to allow prosperity and employment to grow”. All this sounds good until we get to the end of the quote where she says the market is a more powerful and reliable “liberating force” than government ever can be.

The Iron Lady

Her ideology was founded on a few simple principles which have been adopted by Alberta conservatives lock, stock and barrel. These are:

Strengthen the free market, reduce the state (privatize, privatize, privatize): The Wildrose and the Tories say the government can provide world class public services by getting its spending under control.

The Wildrose provides no game plan on how to accomplish this other than directing the NDP to “change course from its ideological direction to a more pragmatic and reasonable approach”.

The Tories (when they were in power) paid lip service to publicly delivered public services and privatized everything they could get away with. The $3 billion superlab contract which was utterly unsupported by a compelling business case is the most extreme example of the privatization principle run wild.

Mobilize the base by showing them who their enemies are: The “here’s your enemy” principle is clearly illustrated by the conservatives’ relationship with the energy industry.

The Wildrose and Tories lash out at the NDP’s suggestion that it’s time to conduct a royalty review, increase the carbon tax or tighten environmental oversight, arguing that any policies that may impact the industry’s balance sheet is a job-killer. Consequently anyone advocating such policies is the enemy and open to vilification.

Sadly in this case the “enemy” is the people who own the resources, not the industry that takes excessive profits from it.

Work hard between elections to shift the electorate to the right: Alberta’s Tories slashed funding for publicly delivered services like healthcare to the point where the public demanded the private sector be allowed to fill in the gaps. Critics who argue Health Minister Hoffman cancelled the superlab RFP for ideological reasons believe the private sector does everything better than the government ever could because it’s motivated by “the pursuit of profit”.

The free market ideology

Is the conservatives’ faith in the free market rational?

In a recent Daily Oil Bulletin article about the global markets for oil, coal and other commodities, analysts predict that commodity prices will continue to languish—not because of a lack of demand but rather a “structural surplus” caused by producers continuing to oversupply the market “in the hope that their rivals will go bankrupt before they do.”

Did you get that? The commodities market (including oil) is oversupplied. Producers will continue to oversupply hoping that the other guy will go belly-up before they do.  

Martin King, an analyst at FirstEnergyCapital, highlights this irrationality another way. He says oil will continue to drop until it reaches its “emotional exhaustion point” and characterizes the process as “very much a psychological, emotional play.”

So back to our conservative friends. Rather than putting their faith in the NDP’s “ideological” policies which are based on acting in the best interest of the public, they’d rather cling to The Market which is having a nervous breakdown.

Perhaps, it’s not that conservatives abhor ideologically based political parties, it’s just that they can’t tolerate an ideology that is more rational (and compassionate) than their own.

Either that or they’re bananas.

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27 Responses to Excuse me, your ideology is showing

  1. Frank Horvath says:

    Really great analysis, Susan. This could be my favourite.

  2. Brilliant piece Susan; and a most valuable history lesson for the new generation of politicians at all levels of government. Gracias 🙂 LCA

    • You’re very welcome LCA. I suppose young politicians are a lot like young people everywhere–they seem to think they’re the first to discover a “new” way of thinking when in fact, the ideals they profess with such vigor have been around for generations.

  3. alvinfinkel says:

    Nicely put, Susan. This captures an important argument about as concisely and pointedly as anything I’ve read.

  4. Tom McPherson says:

    I just have to add Susan tho it may be straying from the subject a bit-I was listening to 630’s reporter having a interview with the lady who is the energy and power minister in the Alberta gov’t. and I was impressed beyond my wildest expectations. I forget her name but she is from the Peace river country and she just seemed so capable and had such a good grasp of the reporters questioning. I had read a article in the Calgary herald about how ineffective she was and bla, bla, bla. I takes me back to a few years ago when Mr. Klein was being interviewed about power deregulation and he stated I quote “I do not really understand this power deregulation thing” and I nearly fell of my chair. I think it is possible to get recordings of the interviews from radio station and if anyone is interested in what this lady had to say it would be well worth there time to hear it. I should say that I was able to listen to it because I had taken my wife for Dr. apt and was waiting for her in car.

    Keep up the good work Susan.

    • Thanks Tom. I believe you’re referring to Margaret McCuaig-Boyd. From what I’ve read, McCuaig-Boyd is taking a thoughtful approach to the royalty review. She’s enlisted the help of smart people like energy economist Peter Tertzakian and banker David Mowat. Mowat says an important part of the review will be to ensure Alberta stays competitive and that the royalty framework works equally well at $30/bbl and $100/bbl.

      Sounds a lot more reasonable to me than Ralph Klein’s approach to power deregulation.

      • jerrymacgp says:

        And she is indeed from the Peace Country; from Fairview, which dubs itself “The Heart of the Peace”. Fairview, by the way, also happens to be the town where the Premier, Rachel Notley, grew up…

        For those of your readers who aren’t really sure where Fairview is, it’s about an hour & a quarter northeast of Grande Prairie, along Hwy 2 between Grande Prairie and Peace River. The drive north from Grande Prairie, where I live, is a very pleasant one, punctuated by the spectacular Dunvegan Bridge across the Peace River. Fairview is just a few minutes north from the bridge. The Peace Country is a hotbed of conventional oil and natural gas activity.

  5. GoinFawr says:

    Maggie Thatcher once famously said,

    “The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.”

    If the Iron Maiden’s correct then just who are these “other people” the Norwegians have been stealing their oil revenues from?

  6. ronmac says:

    Hate to break it to you the but these warm and fuzzy NDPers are in reality secret Stalinists. Number one on their agenda is the forced collectivization of Alberta’s agricultural sector. Here’s a leaked video just produced by the newly formed (but yet to be announced) Minstry of Happiness.

    • GoinFawr says:

      Look we’ve all heard your newspeak song oh so many times before:

      “The newspapers said we were going to socialize everything, that the government would own the farms, the corner store, the barber-shop, and the beauty parlor, and that everybody would be working for the state. When that didn’t happen, they had to give some explanation. So the explanation was that we had betrayed our principles, we were no longer Socialists and we were now reactionaries, having departed from our original ideals. In effect, we were now traitors, because we didn’t do the horrible things they promised we would. They had built up a straw man and now they were knocking it down.”
      Thomas Douglas

      and nobody is buying your misrepresentations anymore ronman, because these days it’s so much easier to FIND OUT.

      Eg.
      The NDP, Thomas Douglas said regarding the October crisis, was “not prepared to use the preservation of law and order as a smokescreen to destroy the liberties and freedoms of the people of Canada.”

      Now ask yourself ronman, which party has been demonstrably more than willing to use law and order as a smokescreen to destroy the liberties of the people of Canada?

      Because the rest of us all know the answer to that one.

    • Carlos Beca says:

      My goodness Ronmac, when are we going to be able to have a serious discussion about our province’s resources without this McCarthy’s idiotic, repetitive, old song about social democracy? We are in 2015 and it is time that we stop this horribly annoying way of dismissing people and avoiding any real exchange of ideas.
      Harper is the master on this and avoids anything that does not follow his archaic beliefs. I am sorry to say this is a very immature way of discussing anything and it is about time that as Canadians we start evolving as human beings with respect for others and allow a good discussion. Without this we are just slowly destroying any possibility of making this country greater. My goodness am I tired of this garbage.

  7. Sam says:

    The current ideology of the WRP and of PCs, long ago parted company with the Progressive Conservatism of Lougheed and Joe Clarke.

    With regard to the royalty review here’s some Lougheed history the speaks to the attacks on the NDP now.

    http://www.torontosun.com/2012/09/13/alberta-lucky-to-have-lougheed

    excerpt: A year after taking office, Lougheed set his sights on the taxpayers’ share of Alberta’s energy revenues, picking a fight with the industry many insiders now consider unthinkable today.

    Public hearings were held, where industry officials railed at the notion of granting owners of the resource — Albertans — higher energy royalties.

    “I think of all the flak and abuse from all of the corporate suits — they were as totally wrong as they could possibly be,” says Warrack, adding Albertans soon received far more of the corporate profits than they’d been accustomed.

    “We essentially doubled it from 17% — when you achieve economic justice for the owners, they you have the capacity to do other things that cry out like the medical and mental health fields,” said Warrack.

    Those tumultuous energy royalty hearings, recalls Ghitter, were also something that’s since become alien to Albertans.

    “I don’t think there’s been a public hearing since … the oil industry continues to do very well,” he says.

    He, too, recalls the industry push-back.

    “They called him sheikh and red Tory, the last one I’d wear proudly as a badge,” says Ghitter.

  8. Sam Gunsch says:

    Lougheed’s approach was to think and act like an owner because the citizens are actually the owners and elect politicians to the get best deal for our non-renewable resources.
    Actual small-c conservatives wouldn’t have blown our resources out the door at fire-sale rent collection rates that Klein did. Stelmach tried to fix the siutation.

    Now WRP is trying to do the same constant negative campaign on the NDP.

    Citizens should ask:
    What might be the WRP/B. Jean/D. Fildebrandt target share of non-renewable resource revenue?

    What do they think is an owner’s fair share?
    What are the citizens permitted to ask for?

    Does WRP want Lougheed average share of revenue from Albertan’s non-renewable resources?
    27%
    Or Redford level? 9.1%
    Or Klein level? 15.2 %
    Or Socred? 17.8%

    Historical record/source is below by Marc Anielski from this spring.

    http://www.anielski.com/alberta-continues-to-have-a-revenue-problem/

    excerpt: ‘During Lougheed’s tenure (1971-1985) an average of 27.0% of the value of oil and gas was collected in royalties when oil averaged US$20.52 per barrel. The year 1977 was the peak in royalty collections reaching 37.7% of the value of oil and gas production at a time when oil was trading at US$14 per barrel. During Ralph Klein’s tenure (1992-2006) an average 15.2% of the value of production was collected in net royalties when oil prices averaged US$25.52 per barrel.

    excerpt: This week’s budget was disappointing because Prentice missed an important opportunity to open a new chapter in Alberta’s economic future by being as bold as Peter Lougheed was in the 1970s when he brought in a oil and gas royalty regime that collected a fair share of industry revenues while at the same time saving 30% of more of those revenues in Alberta’s Heritage Savings Fund.

    excerpt: During the Socred era (1962-1971) Alberta collected an average of 17.8% of the value of oil and gas produced when oil prices averaged $3.15 per barrel. During Lougheed’s tenure (1971-1985) an average of 27.0% of the value of oil and gas was collected in royalties when oil averaged US$20.52 per barrel. The year 1977 was the peak in royalty collections reaching 37.7% of the value of oil and gas production at a time when oil was trading at US$14 per barrel.

    During Ralph Klein’s tenure (1992-2006) an average 15.2% of the value of production was collected in net royalties when oil prices averaged US$25.52 per barrel.

    Under Premier Alison Redford the lowest royalty return on oil and gas produced in Alberta’s history was reached in 2012 with a mere 9.1% of the value of Alberta’s oil and gas sales collected. This was at a time when oil was trading at record highs of US$92 per barrel and the total value of oil and gas production was $83.6 billion. The numbers aren’t available yet for 2014 but they are likely to be at or below a 10% capture rate. Estimated net royalties collected by the Alberta Government for 2014 are forecast to be $9.6 billion collected with an estimated 2.6 million barrels per day (972.7 million barrels) of conventional and bitumen (oilsands) production.

    By contrast Norway in 2012 collected US$68 billion in royalties and other taxes or 72.4% of the total of Norway’s oil and gas sales of US$94.2 billion. The majority of these revenues were in turn invested in Norway’s Government Pension Fund that in 2014 was estimated at US$857 billion). In contrast Alberta’s Heritage Fund, which was founded by Lougheed in the late 1970s, many years before Norway’s fund, was worth only $17.4 billion in 2014.

  9. Ronmac, GoinFawr is correct–it’s important to get the facts. He and Sam provided many that don’t support the contention that the NDP are secret Stalinists or commie pinkos or whatever. However as long as conservatives, particularly WRP leader Brian Jean, continue to make comments like the NDP have “a work ethic that clearly indicates they’re not in it for Albertans,” or the NDP doesn’t have a mandate to bring in their platform (if Jean believed a majority of the entire population eligible to vote was required for a mandate he should have urged Harper to resign years ago) we won’t get very far.

  10. Jonathan says:

    I find myself (amused? perplexed? appalled? I’ll stick with ‘amused’ for now) at the WIldrose suggestion that ‘ideology’ and ‘pragmatic and reasonable’ must be viewed as mutually exclusive. However, in the spirit of fairness, I am willing to accept the assertion for the time being. Given that I see the actions of the current government as generally the most pragmatic and reasonable directions taken by any governing party in Alberta since at least the early 1990s, I am left to assume that the Wildrose (with undoubtedly good intentions) has let itself be blinded by a misguided ideology. I do look forward to them ultimately agreeing with my understanding of pragmatism and reasonableness. I expect I will need to be (reasonably?) patient in awaiting their agreement.

    • Jonathan, we’ll have to be patient for a very long time because in its attack on ideology-driven parties the WR comes off as dogmatic. Oxford defines dogma as a principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true. In the Calgary Foothills by-election Mr Panda, the WR candidate, distributed pamphlets written in Cantonese which said the NDs are bad because they’re pushing communism and socialism onto Albertans. He positioned the WR as good because it is pushing job creation. What happens if the ND’s aren’t pushing communism/socialsim and The Market melts down? How will Mr Panda and the WR define themselves then? When dogma breaks, everything breaks.
      Having said that I admire your patience and reasonableness 🙂

  11. jvandervlugt says:

    Good blog Susan. The Conservatives have no compassion. I’m also straying from your topic too. I saw a news clip last night where Mulclair said he was going devote dollars to missing women investigations and shelters for women. Harper then said that the Conservatives are already supporting shelters for women. I say, “You lie Mr. Harper.” In my previous job I remember an independent lengthy report had come down the pipes with regards to support for missing and abused women. Changes were to be made so more support was available. Then I also heard a few weeks later that in Vancouver shelters were being shut down because of no financial support. Mr. Harper should take a stroll through the Downtown East Side.

    I’m trying not to get emotional about this election, but …. Mr. Harper annoys me as much as George Bush annoyed me. The spouse has to change the chanel.

    Keep doing what you’re doing Susan. You are doing a great job.

    • Joanna, I’ll join you in your “You lie, Mr Harper” comment. His concern for social issues is evidenced in his reaction to the Syrian refuge crisis. He’s taking no steps to cut through the red-tape imposed by his government which slowed the movement of refugees into Canada to a trickle, but he’s fine with stepping up Canada’s involvement in the war machine. He may think he’s going to walk away from the Duffy scandal but Canadians aren’t going to forget his response to the images of the little boy found dead on the beach in Turkey.

  12. Carlos Beca says:

    Anyone that believes that the markets are a God send concept that will resolve all our problems and should override intelligent decisions has a severe case of mental diahrrea and should consult a psychiatrist. Our WRP boss is in advance stages and has already turned into a zombie that can only say one phrase ‘We do not raise taxes’.

  13. Carlos, I too don’t understand how people can place their faith in politicians who place their faith in The Market–this thing that turns into a “volatile”, “frothy” and “churning” mess before it experiences a “correction” and all is rosy again. It is supremely fitting that Black Monday occurred on Oct 19, 1987 and Canadians will go to the polls exactly 28 years later to decide whether to return the economist and career politician Mr Harper to power.

    • Carlos Beca says:

      Susan we in general are very poorly educated socially and politically. This is also a consequence of a market oriented society where the only important thing is consuming and be a milionaire in waiting. We have consumed alright and we now have a consuming habit that is not easy to get rid of and when slowed down will cause a major problem in the economy which depends on us being obcessive buyers. Furthermore, there are 7 billion of us all in the same boat. In my office, where every single one of us is a professional, there are people that do not know the name of our premier. This is not just a Canadian problem by the way. We are now what Margaret Tatcher wanted us to be – a bunch of individual consumers. Not a society, just individuals competing for more and more consumption. With the population growing by leaps and bounds the results are starting to bubble up. This migrant crisis in Europe is just the beginning.

  14. David Grant says:

    Great analysis on the effects of ideology. I think that the reason that the right-wing free market ideology is so effective is that it is based on the Horatio Alger story which is based on the idea of the self-made man or person. It appeals to a lot of people because they believe that they can live the lives of the rich and famous even though the facts dispute it. This thinking is found in the political parties, the media, the universities and the think tanks. If those of us who profess to stand for progressive political policies have to confront this ideology on all fronts. We should support labour unions, social justice groups, and others who are trying to face this ideology. I also think that Dave Climenhaga, creator of AlbertaPolitics.ca, that unions, the NDP and others have to do a better job of communicating their message against the disinformation that comes from those on the other side.

    • David, your comments are bang on! An American friend once told me that the reason why Americans vote for the Republicans is because everyone in the US is a millionaire, some just haven’t made it yet.
      I follow Dave Climenhaga, I think he does a pretty good job of getting the word out given that the breadth of issues he’s trying to cover. The challenge of being a blogger is to find a way of presenting the information without sounding like you’re in the pocket of this party or that. Also, we need to keep it short and pithy or no one will read us. BTW: Your short analysis was perfect…have you thought about starting a blog? 🙂

  15. David Grant says:

    Thanks Susan, I will consider your compliments about starting one. I am not sure EVERYONE in the United States is a millionaire, but there are lots of them and there are people who believe that they will become one. Canadians aren’t as vulnerable, but there are many Canadians who watched the Apprentice and the other business shows that venerate these values. When these people come upon hardship, they begin to wonder where the safety net and where the social programs are to help them. I think these changes come in waves and while the 80s and 90s the right wing ideas of austerity and privatization were in vogue, since 2008, they aren’t so popular. One of the things I don’t blame Harper and Flaherty for was not worrying about balancing the budget and try to stimulate the economy. There are plenty of things to criticize, but that isn’t one of them.

  16. Raj says:

    ” Alberta’s Tories slashed funding for publicly delivered services like healthcare ” This is completely inconsistent with the reality of health care costs that have grown far more rapidly than GDP growth + inflation. This private lab situation is such a scapegoat–“See how the Tories have ruined healthcare! A private company was going to run lab services!.” Nonsense. The Canadian healthcare system as designed does not work . It’s annoying that the debate is hijacked both by those who see privitization as a solution (the Unites States shows the folly of this), and those that feel that more money is the solution (decades in Canada have shown this doesn’t work).

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