What Would the Romans Do?

It’s a pity Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt hadn’t read Jane Jacobs’ Dark Age Ahead before he launched into his description of how the ancient Romans dealt with governments that were, in his words, “beyond redemption”.  

Fildebrandt said the NDP’s “scorched earth policy of hyperregulation, waste of tax dollars and blind ideology” destroyed the “great pillars of the Alberta advantage:  balanced budgets, low taxes and accountable government”.

He predicted a united conservative party will trounce the NDP in the next election and then, like the ancient Romans, declare damnatio memoriae (the Roman practice of dishonouring past leaders by destroying all traces of them and their government) to restore the Alberta advantage by cutting taxes and reducing spending to magically balance the budget.

Sadly, Fildebrandt failed to recognize that the Roman practice of erasing past governments ultimately led to the fall of the Roman Empire.


Derek Fildebrandt Wildrose Shadow Minister for Finance

Jane Jacobs says when cultures are buffeted by radical jolts they either change their institutions or cling to the past.  Institutions that fail to adapt will collapse.  The collapse of one institution weakens the rest.  Eventually internal rot sets in and cultures shift from a faith in reason (“logos”) and a future-orientation to “mythos” or a conservatism that looks backwards for answers.

A better plan

Instead of trying to recreate Klein’s glory days (mythos), Albertans would be better served by a government that takes stock of where we are and figures out how to move forward into the future (logos).

Trevor Tombe, assistant professor of economics at the U of C and research fellow at the School of Public Policy, made some observations that are relevant.

In a recent article in the Globe & Mail Tombe said:

  • Yes, the oil shock hurt tens of thousands of Albertans, but Alberta’s economy remains the strongest in Canada
  • The economy has contracted but is not likely to contract further.
  • Employment, manufacturing, retail and wholesale trade, exports, oil production, drilling and many other measures are higher now than in 2016
  • By Tombe’s assessment, Alberta’s economic growth is at its highest rate since 2012 (yes, 2012, that’s not a typo!)
  • Job losses in the resource sector are deeper than in other sectors; supporting displaced workers should be a priority (he suggests efforts to diversify or stimulate the economy may be misplaced or counterproductive)
  • The budget deficit, while large, is not due to a weak economy (Alberta’s ability to raise revenue remains the highest in Canada) but rather Alberta’s reliance on royalty revenue

Tombe says politicians from all sides distort our view of the province, painting it out as weaker and more dependent on oil than it really is.  He concludes Alberta’s economy is strong and growing.

Dial back the drama 

The NDP government is at the half-way point in their first term.  It has made many institutional changes—eliminating the flat tax, modernizing royalty structures, and adopting the climate leadership plan for example.  Premier Notley says the question her government asks every step of the way is whether a proposed change will “make life better for everyday Albertans?”

Notley appears to be following Jacob’s advice to rely on “logos” not “mythos” to adapt to the jolts to the economy that have plagued her government from the day it took office.

The conservatives, on the other hand, react to these jolts by retreating into “mythos”.  They’ve lost track of their agenda.  One day they’re berating the Premier for “ignoring” the US by focusing on China and Japan (the second and third largest economies after the US); the next day they’re castigating her for not attacking Donald Trump with “every tool at her disposal” à la Christie Clark.

It’s time to dial back the drama.

Let’s start by reminding Mr Fildebrandt of another history lesson from Jane Jacobs:  when the Roman emperors failed to pay the army, the elite guard took matters into their own hands.  They chose emperors they thought would pay them.  This military despotism created havoc and budgetary policy became such a mess that in the 50 years from 235 CE to 285 CE all but one of the 26 emperors acclaimed by the army was murdered or assassinated.

Disgruntled Albertans won’t take such drastic measures when their mythos-based conservative leaders fail to deliver the “Alberta advantage” (which incidentally means different things to different people) however the end of their political careers will be just as ignominious.

Sources:  Hansard, May 2, 2017, p 772; May 4, 2017, p 868

Dark Age Ahead by Jane Jacobs, pp 7 – 22

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29 Responses to What Would the Romans Do?

  1. Linda Pushor says:

    Interestingly, the PC’s ousted their final three premiers/leaders, that being Klein, Stelmach and Redford, none of who left of their own accord. That is over 11 years of the party overthrowing the leader that they elected.

  2. That is an excellent point Linda!

  3. Baldwin says:

    Hasn’t Fildebrandt been wrong before, perhaps more than once, right?

    • Douglas Taylor says:

      Wrong, is not a term Hildebrandt would ever acknowledge, let alone admit to.

      • Baldwin and Douglas: Fildebrandt has been wrong many many times starting with his comment that social issues are not relevant (does he think government is a taxpayer funded economic enterprise?) and moving on to attacking Premier Wynne when Notley invited Wynne to attend a session in the Legislature. Fildebrandt shouted at Notley in Question Period demanding that she invite Sask Premier Wall instead. Interestingly, Fildebrandt stopped touting his hero Brad Wall ever since Wall raised taxes in Saskatchewan. So much for conservative loyalty.

  4. Douglas Taylor says:

    Fildebrandt is such a perpetual drama queen. ” redemption…, hyper…, low taxes…, accountable…” the snarly, pious, egotistical rhetoric of a blowhard in love with his own bombast. This pompous man couldn’t manage a government if his life depended on it.
    It’s likely a waste of time to try to respond to him with economic and public policy science. But thanks for trying.

    • You’re right Douglas. I considered posting Fildebrandt’s entire speech but it was so over the top I couldn’t do it. Suffice it to say a Member’s Statement peppered with comments about deposing the government (instead of replacing it through the democratic process of free elections), and tearing down “ideological monuments to socialism” (and replacing them with what, ideological monuments to free enterprise and trickle down economics?) and patting oneself on the back because “formerly bitter enemies” are now united and will “sow the fields of socialism with salt” so a government like this can never grow again…are not worthy of repeating in a blog post.

  5. tom mcpherson says:

    With Fildebrandt isn’t there someone in there party can silence him, he is doing them great harm with his utterences and with him on board they will never be able to mount a creditable opposition.

    • Tom, you raise an interesting point…Fildebrandt is betting his political future on Jason Kenney becoming the leader of the united conservatives; it remains to be seen whether Jason Kenney is prepared to bet his political future on Derek Fildebrandt.

  6. J.E. Molnar says:

    Speaking of Romans…wasn’t it inglorious gladiator Maximus Claudius Fildebrandt who once said, “I came. I saw, I conquered nothing?” I wonder if Maximus Claudius is related to anyone on the Wildrose bench?

    • J.E.M.: what a delightful comment. I googled Maximus Claudius and learned that he had so little impact on the Roman Empire that no one really knows who he was. I suppose it would be more accurate to call him Minimus Claudius. Certainly his namesake Fildebrandt would merit that moniker.

      • carlosbeca says:

        OMG this is really funny. I wished I had that sense of humour.
        Thank you

        By the way Judy I apologize if my comment about centrists was offensive. I was referring to centrists in general and not what it seems you are working for. I wish you the best. I just personally have no hope for centrism because they can fall to any side depending on convenience that seems to be what is happening lately. I think what we need is a Transparency Party. Does anyone care about integrity, honesty and respect anymore?

  7. Carlos Beca says:

    Derek Fildebrandt is one of those adults that was never able to grow up. He was never able to get over his primitive basic instincts of selfishness and egocentrism. A serious case of immaturity.
    If he ever takes over the finances of this province we can definitely starting making plans for a move because it is hard to predict anything positive other than for his class of owners who he seems to serve very religiously.

    The NDP, on the other hand could be investing all the money it is making on the carbon tax into renewable energy but it chose the replacing lights and water tanks for people. That is important but it should have been some kind of a program with a percentage subsidized by the government. It is way more important to invest heavily for example on Geothermal which could become an important source of energy in Alberta. They could also build more wind farms. I am sure companies like bullfrog would be more than interested in getting into partnership with the provincial government. It just seems that the social democratic side of Rachel Notley is very underdeveloped.
    Not sure what is the fear of getting the government investing and building.The opposition keeps saying that it should all be run like a business. Well if that is the case then run it like a business, do not just leave the profitable part to the private interests and run those that cannot make any money. Instead she is on the oil band wagon, and industry that could very well stay where it is. It is not going anywhere in the near future.
    So it all goes – no matter who is in there nothing changes just cosmetics.

    • Great comments Carlos. I’d be interested in hearing more about your point that Notley’s social democratic side is underdeveloped. I really don’t understand this issue as well as I should.
      Your point about making more effective use of the revenue received from the carbon tax is well taken…I suspect its a case of taking baby steps before branching out in a bigger way.
      Your point about the government continuing to rely on oil is also accurate. Economists like Trevor Tombe make two important points: (1) Albertans are overly reliant on resource revenue and need to reconfigure our fiscal structure so we’re not at the mercy of the boom/bust cycle and (2) Albertans’ perception of the importance of oil industry is overstated. Both of these are areas the government should take on.

  8. Judy J. Johnson says:

    Thanks Susan for the nice little jaunt through history. What would [will] Albertan’s do? I’d like to see us form an Alberta Centrist Party, whose logos unites progressive, open-minded, inclusive thinkers from those who, regardless of current political orientation, would develop policies that borrow from the best evidence-based research on sound fiscal management, social policies, and environmental stewardship. Currently, there’s one candidate for leadership of the Alberta Liberal Party who wants to reach out to members and do just that. Her name is Kerry Cundal. Jane Jacobs would love her!

  9. Judy, I’ve been following the provincial Liberals leadership race as well. I’ve received notes from the Cundal campaign in which Kerry says she wants to reach out to all centrists regardless of party labels. What I’m not clear about is whether Kerry is advocating a merger of centrists under one party banner and if so which banner. I’ve also received notes from David Khan, the other leadership candidate, who’s been very clear that he’s not advocating a merger and wants to rebuild the Liberals from the ground up. Sounds like a great topic for discussion over lunch, yes?

    • Carlos Beca says:

      I really like when politicians talk about centrists. Even socialists become neo liberals once elected never mind centrists. This to me just means more neo-liberal politics. I think that we are done with that by now. We know what it does, we have the scars. Furthermore once implemented no one changes it. 99% of politicians today are in the pocket or under the influence of big money so why change it.

    • Judy J. Johnson says:

      Lunch was great, Susan–conversation even better! On Kerry Cundal’s website, she wrote:
      “No major decisions will happen without the consent of the majority of members. Maybe this co-operation means as little as an agreement to not speak negatively about each other in public. Maybe it means rebranding ourselves. But my goal, as leader, would be to bring about cooperation, for the good of the Province. I can’t tell you what our members and what other people are going to propose. What I can tell you is that I’ll be willing to listen to people, gather the best ideas and present them back to you. I want to lead our party, not dictate to it. I don’t believe that as leader it is my role to behave as if I have a magic wand to create policy or force the party to undergo massive changes.”
      Some nay-sayers might interpret this comment as dithering (to use Chris Hedges’ term in “Death of the Liberal Class”), but having met with Kerry, I’m confident that her intent is sincere and her energy to do what the membership decides is best for Albertans is remarkably impressive. She’s a self-assured, respectful listener who’s intelligent and dynamic, IMO.
      Her website’s at: http://www.kerrycundal.com/unite_the_centre.
      Keep up the good posts, Susan!

      • Judy you raise an interesting point with your reference to Chris Hedges’ comment about dithering. Much has been written about the democrats abandoning the working class and ultimately being responsible for Trump’s victory. Writers pin this ideological change on Bill Clinton and his decision to make friends on Wall Street by repealing the Glass Steagall Act (which tore down the barriers between investment banks and commercial banks and exacerbated the financial crisis.)
        The question of whether any mainstream political party can reorient itself and focus on what’s good for the working/middle class is surely going to be the key issue of this decade. One might speculate that the Alberta Liberals have nothing to lose by taking a clear position in support of the working class. This could include defending unions and proposing a sales tax to wean us off royalty revenues. Kerry could differentiate herself from David Khan by making this a key plank in her leadership campaign.
        Like I said, I’m watching this leadership race very closely! 🙂

      • carlosbeca says:

        The Liberals defending Unions? I doubt this will happen even in Alberta with David Swann at the helm.

  10. ronmac says:

    So if Fildebrandt does manage to unite the right, win the next election and then declare “damnatio memoriae” will this include Peter Lougheed? After all, Notley seems to be channeling Peter Lougheed these days.

    Will Lougheed’s portrait in the Ledge be removed? His name stripped from all the history books in the province’s schools? Will the Peter Lougheed Hospital benamed the Preston Manning Hospital? Or the Stephen Harper Hospital?

    Anyways, if Fildebrandt or whoever wins the next election let’s hope they doesn’t slip into a Nero frame of mind.


    • carlosbeca says:

      Well Ronmac I would not be surprised with any of the changes you suggest. That is what the Russian and Chinese Communists (the other extreme) did in Africa in the 70s. Actually they did more than that, a lot more. Not the first time anyway.
      Fildebrandt if left unattended could very well be a modern Nero.

    • Ronmac and Carlos: I’m beginning to think that instead of reading biographies of great men to understand what led them to do great things we’d be better off reading biographies of horrible men so we can recognize them before they come into power.

      We have access to 24/7 news outlets and social media which provide a real time account of what these morons are thinking (usually in their own words). While it’s important is to call out their destructive beliefs and not gloss over them with excuses like “he’s just using exaggeration to make a point”, the dilemma we face is calling out bad actors in real time makes us sound like we’re in 24 hour outrage mode. Eventually people become numb to it all. A numb populace tunes out moronic leaders and the despotism and suffering continues.

      • Carlos Beca says:

        I agree.
        It seems that there are so many variables involved in what is happening. Especially the overwhelming sense that we are in a roller coaster and until it stops nothing can be done.
        We are definitely in an age that defies common sense and I now truly believe that we will have to ride it out if we actually make it to the end.

        By the way it is not just Trump. Look at our own prime minister that started with phrases like ‘ …..because it is 2017’ and now suddenly it seems 2008 again. The only difference really is presentation. Trump just does not have the ‘Trudeau’ upbringing but they all lie through their brains.

        Susan it is not individuals in my opinion, it is the whole framework. Capitalism is hitting the wall and it is taking Democracy with it. Sooner or later there will be no more way out of this mess whether or not the optimists accept it. Sometimes situations are truly dyer and we in the West are experts on avoiding reality.

      • Carlos, I think you’re right. It’s not just Trump. It’s our political systems and institutions. Jane Jacobs suggests that the best place to create change is at the community level. She told Paul Martin when he was finance minister that he should explore giving large cities the same powers that provincial governments enjoy. He said it was impossible under the Constitution. She said the Constitution is silent on the point (I think she’s right). Martin replied that the provinces wouldn’t like it (true, but you’ll never change things if you don’t start somewhere).

      • ronmac says:

        “We have access to 24/7 news outlets and social media …” I myself have grown increasingly mistrustful 24/7 news outlets. They have become the PR dept of the military industrial complex. They are mainly in the business of selling fear and paranoia. When somebody like Donald Trump stumbles into the White House advocating normalized relations with Russia the groupthink media has gone haywire. The Russians have stolen our election!!! The Russians are sending secret messages to Trump!!!

        I’m probably being selfish when I say nuclear war is not a good idea because the resulting radiation fallout will not be good for my career options.

      • Ronmac, I’m not sure it’s the fact Donald Trump stumbled into the White House or what he’s done since he landed there that’s getting people all riled up, but I’d certainly agree with your last sentence, nuclear war would be bad for my career options as well!
        PS One of the best descriptions I’ve seen of Trump’s performance to date comes from John Ibbitson of the Globe and Mail. He said Trump is banging around the White House like a brick in a washing machine.

  11. Brent McFadyen says:

    What fine discourse in this week’s comment section. It was pleasant to see well written comments and opinions by Susan and her readers. A little refuge from the maddening crowd that has not found “Susan on the Soapbox”

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