When Greg Clark stepped down as the leader of the Alberta Party Ms Soapbox wondered whether the party had lost its mind.
When Rick Fraser and Stephen Mandel, two former Progressive Conservatives, entered the AP leadership race, Ms Soapbox wondered whether the party had been taken over by the Progressive Conservatives.
She soon realized such idle speculation was pointless. Gone were the days of Boss Tweed and Tammany Hall when cigar-chomping party bosses pulled strings to deliver candidates acceptable to their well-heeled patrons. And gone are the days when Albertans would vote “blue” because that’s what they’d done for the last 44 years.
Ms Soapbox isn’t saying the Alberta Party will lead Alberta to the promised land (she thinks Notley’s NDP are doing a fine job) however she wants to recognize the AP’s leadership candidates for pointing out that in this age of memes, Twitter spats, and an 8 second attention span, policies still matter.
Like the pre-Kenney politicians who went before them, the AP leadership candidates are putting policies in front of their membership because they respect their members and are willing to stick their necks out. Most importantly, they’re not expecting their supporters to jump on the boo/hiss bandwagon just because they say so.
Assuming Ms Soapbox is right and it’s the thoughtful Albertans, not the boo/hissers who’ll determine the outcome of the 2019 election what should we be thinking about between now and then?
Here’s a preliminary list:
Divisive politics are dangerous: Rick Fraser put it well when he said we need to return to civil discourse because the “old political playbook” won’t cut it anymore. Albertans will not find solutions to complex problems if they’re at each others’ throats. Politicians who insist that the path to victory is paved with divisive rhetoric are dangerous and don’t deserve our support.
Show us your policies or get off the air: Running on a no-policy platform is dangerous because hard-core supporters will fill in the blanks, leaving their leader in the peculiar position of trying to back away from a promise he never made or engaging in backroom machinations to deliver the results he secretly wants.
The UCP is already grappling with this problem.
Apparently, Jason Kenney said he’d cut spending by 1% to 2% not 20%. That’s 10 times less than his base expects. His base is confused and the rest of us don’t trust him.
Kenney also said his government would focus on economic issues, not social ones; however, when the NDP tabled Bill 24, an amendment to the School Act to ensure an LBGTQ student’s privacy rights were respected, Rick Fraser says the UCP caucus was whipped into voting against, notwithstanding Kenney’s comment that his MLAs were free to vote their conscience.
Are your policies better than the government’s policies, if so why?*
It’s not enough to unveil a policy, a politician needs to show us why his/her policy is better than the government’s position.
AP leadership candidate Rick Fraser has taken this to heart. He says one way to ensure Alberta has the revenue it needs to provide the services people want is to implement a provincial sales tax. He didn’t say he would implement a PST but he’s raised the topic for discussion (remember what I said about sticking your neck out).
The NDP’s solution to creating more revenue is to diversify the economy so the reduction in fossil fuel revenues won’t leave a gaping hole in the budget. This is a long term solution that needs to be weighed against the risk of continued low oil prices and the immediate benefit a new PST would bring.
The UCP offer no solutions. In fact, they’d like to bring back the 10% flat tax which will make the revenue gap at least $700 million worse (but it would make the top 10% of Albertans who make more than $128,145 very happy, so that’s a consideration).
What is your policy rationale and is it appropriate?
The best example of this issue is the debate over publicly funded “choice”.
The NDP believe publicly funded services should be publicly delivered and is moving services like long term care, lab services and laundry services in house. The goal is to avoid the conflict that arises when a for-profit corporation that wants to increase costs (in order to increase profits) enters into a contract with a government trying to reduce costs so it can reduce its revenue requirements.
AP leadership candidate Stephen Mandel supports some level of privatization but hasn’t provided a helpful rationale. He objects to the NDP’s decision to spend $325 million on new lab services saying it should have been outsourced to an Australian company. (The Sonic contract under consideration by the PC government was worth $3 billion, there may be more to Mandel’s rationale, but he has not yet explained it).
The UCP supports increased privatization of services like healthcare and education on the rationale of “choice” but has yet to explain why the public should fund the lion’s share of someone’s “choice” to move to a for-profit or religious service provider.
These are complex policy decisions that deserve thoughtful debate.
The Alberta Party is a little party that punches well above its weight. It will have achieved something remarkable if it manages to pull polarized Albertans out of their respective corners so they can engage in meaningful dialogue.
And for that the Alberta Party deserves our thanks, regardless of which political party we support.
*The discussion of UCP policies is based on media reports of the draft policy going to the UCP policy convention in May 2018.