Why are people loyal to a brand that guarantees austerity today in return for the promise of prosperity tomorrow with no plan setting out how and when austerity will morph into prosperity and despite overwhelming evidence that similar promises failed to deliver prosperity in the past?
It’s a mystery, but part of the explanation has to be that people are blinded by the brand, especially if it sets up black hats and white hats and is easy to express in memes.
For example, if the UCP stands for righteous austerity, then the NDP must stand for frivolous spending. If the UCP believes in trickle-down economics, then the NDP are rampant socialists.
There is nothing in between.
But here’s where loyalty to the brand becomes problematic. People who say they support the UCP because they believe economic pain today will bring economic prosperity tomorrow fail to understand that the UCP brand is more than an economic ideology, it extends to a discriminatory position on social issues that is attractive to homophobes, Islamophobes, pro-lifers, alt-rightists and nutbars who will run roughshod over the rule of law and democratic norms if it’s necessary to implement their conservative agenda.
UCP supporters argue they can’t be tarred with the same brush as the UCP lunatic fringe, they insist they’re fiscally conservative and socially progressive.
This brings us to what Timothy Snyder describes in his book On Tyranny as the renunciation of the difference between what you want to hear and what actually is the case.
Snyder says the truth dies in four ways. His analysis is set in the context of tyranny but in this post-Trump era it is equally applicable to the conservative movement as espoused by Jason Kenney.
Presenting lies as facts: Jason Kenney has convinced many Albertans that Alberta is on the rocks and only he and the UCP can save it, however, Bloomberg reports Alberta led the country in 2017 with GDP growth at 4.9 percent. GDP growth is expected to be 2.7 percent in 2018 and many economic indicators including exports, manufacturing, rig activity and wholesale trade have seen gains. The labour market is improving, and corporate profits are expected to be higher in 2018.
Even Mr Kenney knows this to be true. He didn’t describe Alberta as a sad sack province when he traveled to India on a bizarre little junket. Instead he told government and industry representatives that Alberta was a low tax province with one of the best educated work forces, efficient power prices and lots of strategic advantages for investment.
Shamanistic incantation to make the fictional plausible: If there’s one thing Kenney and the UCP are adamant about it’s that the NDP are a bunch of raving socialists. The comment section of any article describing anything the NDP government does demonstrates this fiction has taken hold with UCP supporters who are convinced the socialists are using any means possible, including farm safety legislation and the curriculum re-write, to spread their socialist ideology to the unsuspecting masses.
If Mr Kenney and his supporters knew anything about political and economy theory or simply paid attention to the Notley government’s relationship with the business sector (particularly energy) they’d know this isn’t true.
Magical thinking to embrace contradiction: Mr Kenney insists that cutting taxes and implementing austerity will not negatively impact public services. He refers to the Klein era as the golden age of balanced budgets but never acknowledges the devastating impact Klein’s cuts had on education, healthcare and infrastructure. Short-term and long-term beds were cut by 50%, nurses and teachers left the province in droves, and the infrastructure deficit is now over $16 billion.
No amount of magical thinking will reconcile a 10% flat tax with the expectation that public services will continue to be provided at today’s standards.
Misplaced faith: Snyder says when a politician presents himself as the saviour of [insert favourite ideology here] evidence is irrelevant, his followers will support him based on faith.
UCP supporters believe Mr Kenney when he says he’s interested in economic issues, not social ones. They believe Mr Kenney when he says the UCP rejects those who express hateful views of entire groups of people and that such people are not welcome to run for the party. They have faith that Mr Kenney will not support policies that discriminate against certain Albertans, notwithstanding the regressive beliefs of the lunatic fringe who’ve found a home in the UCP.
And yet not a week goes by without the discovery of a UCP nominee whose social media pages are rife with Islamophobic, homophobic, racist and anti-Semitic content. Some of these nominees are removed from the nomination process, others remain in the race. Their supporters continue to spout the same discriminatory beliefs Mr Kenney says are abhorrent to him and the party.
UCP supporters who insist Mr Kenney will separate his fiscally conservative agenda from his socially regressive agenda* are kidding themselves.
In their desire to become wealthy at some undefined point in the future, they’ve renounced the difference between what they want to hear and what the UCP has been broadcasting in dog-whistles and overt appeals to those who want him to implement economic and social policies straight out of the 1950s.
They’ve allowed themselves to be blinded by the brand.
*See Kyle Morrow’s well researched account of Mr Kenney’s 30-year fight against women’s reproductive rights