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.
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.
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.