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.
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