This week Preston Manning, former leader of the Reform Party, offered some advice to the yet to be formed United Conservative Party (or whatever it’s going to call itself after the Wildrose and the Progressive Conservatives merge).
A vision of sorts
Since neither Brian Jean nor Jason Kenney have offered a vision for the UCP Mr Manning created one for them. (For the record, “Beat the NDP” is not a vision it’s a mission statement like Pepsi’s “Beat Coke” and Nike’s “Crush Reebok”, catchy but not enough to bet the farm for anyone but their base).
Mr Manning says the old paradigm of left-centre-right political parties is outdated and should be replaced by a vision of a Sustainable Alberta. This vision is founded on four sustainability “dimensions” (stop me if you’ve heard this one before).
- Financial and economic – cut costs, improve productivity, implement measures to ease budget balancing and develop an economic strategy to constrain spending in good times in order to save for the bad times. Ah yes, Ralph Klein with a dash of Peter Lougheed thrown in at the end.
- Environmental – create a market-based approach to environmental sustainability by identifying the negative environmental impacts of economic activity and devising measures to avoid or ameliorate them. Incorporate the costs of these measures into the price of the goods and services produced. Economists say putting a price on carbon is the most effective market mechanism to reduce negative environmental impacts but given Mr Kenney’s views on climate change and Mr Kenney and Mr Jean’s promise to repeal the carbon levy, a market-based approach to environmental protection (in the true economic sense) is a non-starter.
- Social services – the government’s rate of spending is growing faster than the economy. Implement measures to make social services financially sustainable. This is a fancy way of saying increase the privatization of public services. Mr Kenney and Mr Jean will love it.
- Employment – create a job sustainability plan using job-focused education, training for future jobs, job sharing and improve labour force mobility. Good idea, that’s why the NDP is doing it; Mr Jean and Mr Kenney just don’t like to admit it.
Sadly for Mr Jean and Mr Kenney, Mr Manning’s Sustainable Alberta vision is hardly a bold new vision that will drive voters (other than their base) into the arms of the UCP.
But wait, there’s more.
A new political paradigm?
Mr Manning says the “right wing’, “centrist”, “left wing” political paradigm is passé and a new political party that hopes to present a principled and competent alternative to the NDP could attract voters by helping them identify where they fall on eight political “axes” (the plural of “axis” but they read like nasty hatchet things).
None of these axes are new, they ask the voter to position himself/herself on a spectrum with individual choice and the free market at one end and big government at the other. However, the language used to describe the axes dealing with social issues is deeply disturbing.
Abortion, same-sex marriage and euthanasia are lumped into a “lifestyle choice” axis. The voter can position himself along a spectrum that ranges from “unrestricted freedom of choice at one end and freedom of choice limited by traditions, religious principles and cultural norms at the other”.
Access to the social safety net is buried in an axis called “responsibility for personal choices”. This axis concerns people “whose lifestyle choices prove to be personally destructive” (presumably addicts, alcoholics, the homeless, and others on the fringes of society). The voter is asked who should be responsible for these people, themselves and their families or the government and taxpayers.
Characterizing social issues as “choices” indicates a profound lack of understanding and empathy. Suggesting that these axes are preferable to the admittedly broad brush but fairly accurate right-centre-left political paradigm perpetuates misconceptions and is not worthy of any political party let alone one that addresses social issues by ignoring them.
Over to you UCP
This week Mr Jean told Wildrose party members the party would not tolerate homophobia.
Next week Mr Jean and Mr Kenney should take a moment to distance themselves from everything Mr Manning has said about the merged Wildrose/Progressive Conservative party and its place in the political spectrum.
Failure to do will confirm what many Albertans fear–that Mr Manning got it right and Mr Jean and Kenney are simply saying what they need to say to broaden their base and get elected in 2019.
Over to you Brian and Jason…