Brian Jean, leader of the Wildrose party, has a vision for uniting Alberta’s conservatives.
It’s based on “the best elements” of Peter Lougheed and Ralph Klein’s legacies and rejects the “liberal drift” and “questionable ethics” that forced Wildrose members out of the Progressive Conservative party years ago.
And with that Mr Jean wedged himself on the horns of a dilemma because the “best elements” of the Lougheed legacy and the Klein legacy are utterly incompatible.
For starters, Peter Lougheed supported higher royalties, progressive taxation and a value-added, diversified economy. Ralph Klein did not. He reduced royalties, introduced a 10% flat tax and sold off public assets, like the Alberta Energy Company, that were designed to diversify the economy.
Mr Jean says his vision is based on seven principles that will grow the conservative movement.
A review of these principles reveals nothing more than a confusing pastiche of existing legal rights and political platitudes.
One: Individual freedom
It is unclear just what Mr Jean has in mind given that individual rights and freedoms are already protected by Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Alberta Human Rights Act.
Perhaps he wants to go even further than he did when he voted in favour of the NDP’s Bill 7 which amended the Alberta Human Rights Act by adding gender identity and gender expression to protect Alberta’s trans and gender-variant communities from discrimination.
Mr Jean said “We need to stand up for all people of Alberta…We have to protect each and every one of them the same way: with passion, with vigour and with common sense.”*
Ms Soapbox thinks it’s laudable that Mr Jean and four members of his 22 member caucus showed up to vote in favour of Bill 7, but she wonders how Mr Jean’s support of Bill 7 aligns with his warning to avoid “the liberal drift” that caused Wildrose members to leave the PC party in the first place.
Two: Fiscal responsibility
This principle is founded on the assumption that the NDP government is happy taking on debt and running a deficit, instead of being forced to do so to remedy the damage caused in the PC years by low tax and royalty revenues and an economy tethered to volatile oil prices.
It’s a nice campaign slogan but Klein’s austerity budgets didn’t set the PCs up for success when oil prices soared to $100/bbl and the Wildrose’s austerity budget won’t fare any better as we fight our way through an economic slump.
Three: Religious liberty
Freedom of religion is a fundamental right under the Charter and Alberta’s human rights legislation.
So what exactly is Mr Jean proposing?
One possibility (in fact the only one Ms Soapbox can think of) is that Mr Jean wants to create exceptions to existing legislation that would allow religious organizations to access government funding to provide education or healthcare without having to comply with the laws governing how such services are provided.
We’ve seen examples of this in the past.
The Wildrose opposed legislation requiring faith-based schools to support students who wanted to form gay-straight alliances (GSAs). They argued that forcing faith-based schools to “sanction” GSAs which promote ideas that contradict the schools’ religious beliefs was disrespectful to a faith-based school board, teachers and students.
Four: Equality of opportunity and the greatness of Alberta
Equality of opportunity is enshrined in the Charter and the Alberta Human Rights Act. This principle is nothing more than a campaign slogan along the lines of Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again.”
Five: Welcome Albertans of all backgrounds
The Alberta Human Rights Act ensures everyone is welcome regardless of race, religion, colour, gender, gender identity, gender expression, physical or mental disability, age, ancestry, place of origin, marital or family status, source of income or sexual orientation.
Consequently Ms Soapbox is confused by the use of the term “background” which is more commonly used to describe one’s education, experience or social circumstances and is less specific than the classes protected by the law.
Six: Take a principled stand, even if it’s unpopular
Wildrose politicians have never been afraid to take an unpopular stand; principled or not.
Last week the Minister of Service, Stephanie McLean, introduced Bill 15 which would reduce the interest rate (which can be as high as 600%) on payday loans from $23 per $100 borrowed to $15 per $100 borrowed.
Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt opposed the bill because (1) the high rate reflects the credit risk to the lender, these people have low credit scores, right? (2) borrowers might turn to loan sharks if payday loans aren’t available and (3) what payday loan borrowers really need is a course in financial literacy.**
Another Wildrose MLA, Jason Nixon, supported Bill 15 on the grounds that a 600% interest rate was indeed predatory.
So back to Mr Jean’s sixth principle: which Wildrose MLA took a principled, albeit, unpopular stand, Mr Fildebrandt or Mr Nixon?
Seven: Commitment to accountable and ethical government
Great principle. Huzzahs all around!!!
If Mr Jean hopes to make the Wildrose party the party of choice for all conservatives, including progressive conservatives, he’ll have to do better than float a muddled vision that pussy foots around social issues.
As PC MLA Sandra Jansen pointed out during the debate on Bill 15, the Wildrose “have a difficult time talking about social issues…they’re bootstraps people, they think everybody should be able to pick themselves up and that we don’t actually have to have a social safety net because everybody has the ability to go out and get a job and take care of themselves…if there’s anyone shocked at the idea that our two parties might not be simpatico, well, here’s a perfect example of where we differ…”***
Is anyone surprised?
*Hansard, Dec 1, 2015, p 703
**Hansard, May 19, 2016, starting at 1062
***Hansard, May 19, 2016, p 1066