Last week Ms Soapbox had the pleasure of appearing on a panel with economist Trevor Tombe and naturalist Kevin Van Tighem to discuss our perspectives on the upcoming provincial election. The event was moderated by Shelley Youngblut and presented by Alberta Views magazine and Wordfest.
We focused on two questions: what issue will decide the election outcome and what issue should decide the election outcome.
Dr Tombe and Mr Van Tighem made brilliant comments and you’ll have a chance to hear them when the event is posted on social media. Meanwhile here are some of my thoughts.
What issue WILL decide the election outcome?
The election will boil down to an epic battle between Rachel Notley and Jason Kenney who will duke it out like Godzilla and King Kong…um, no disrespect intended!
Albertans will be asked who do you trust? Their answer will depend on how they view the role of government and whether they feel victimized or optimistic about the challenges they’re facing.
Albertans who believe we must have a prosperous economy before we can build a caring society will vote for Kenney because he portrays himself as more agressive than Notley—he’s made it clear he’s on war footing with Notley’s BFF Justin Trudeau, Notley’s comrades, the BC NDP, the US conspirators who he says are killing Canada’s energy sector and just about everything else including equalization, Confederation, Quebec, and people who fly private jets to Davos.
Kenney is pushing a “me first” agenda: fix the economy translates into give me a job that pays as well as the job I had in the boom and I’ll worry about everyone else later.
Albertans who believe a prosperous economy and a caring society are two sides of the same coin will vote for Notley because they trust her to deliver quality education, healthcare, seniors care, and infrastructure, while at the same time looking after the environment and diversifying and greening-up the economy. They trust she’ll balance the budget when things improve.
Notley’s message is it’s government’s job to address economic and social issues because “we’re all in this together.” We can walk and chew gum at the same time.
What issue SHOULD decide the election outcome?
The election should be decided on the basis of what an engaged and knowledgeable electorate says is important to them.
Sadly, not everyone has the time nor the inclination to cut through the noise, the OMG tweets and skewed media reports to figure out what politicians are promising and let alone whether they have the power to deliver.
The electorate can test Notley’s ability to deliver on her promises by reviewing her government’s record and deciding whether the results were worth the cost.
It’s more difficult with Kenney who is new to Alberta politics. In his case the electorate must look to his record as an activist, as a federal MP, and as the leader of the UCP to figure out his priorities and decide whether he’ll keep the promises he’s made.
Kenney has made a few promises so far; these in particular cry out for an explanation:
- A “job creation tax cut”: What is this? It’s not a cut in personal income taxes because corporations, not individuals, are the biggest job creators. If it’s a corporate tax cut, why doesn’t Kenney say so? Is it because in the 15 years Alberta corporations paid Klein’s 10% corporate tax, it was the price oil and natural gas, not the tax rate, that fueled the boom and created jobs?
- A “public health guarantee”: This sounds like Klein’s Third Way—a plan to publicly fund and privately deliver healthcare to those who can afford it. If this is the case Kenney needs to explain how he’ll avoid the roadblock Klein ran into when the federal government threatened to withhold transfer payments if Klein deviated from the principles of the Canada Health Act. Kenney also needs to demonstrate that privatization reduces public wait times because experience with private cataract surgeries and MRIs doesn’t bear this out.
- “Open for Business Act”: Kenney promises to cut “job killing” policies and red tape. He’s said his cabinet will meet as soon as they’re elected to get this show on the road. He either doesn’t know or doesn’t care that this process takes time and should include consultation with affected parties. The Klein government overhauled the regulatory regime as it relates to the energy sector. The process took 10 months and involved consultation with 24 stakeholder groups, 47 First Nations and 19 government departments. It wasn’t something a bunch of MLAs whipped up over a weekend.
- Cancellation of contracts: Kenney said he’d review any contracts signed by the government between Feb 1, 2019 and Election Day and decide whether they were signed in good faith, serve the public interest, and represent value for taxpayers’ money. He recently said if he’s elected he’ll cancel two contracts signed by CN and CP with the Alberta Petroleum Marketing Commission (a crown corporation created in 1974). He admits he doesn’t have any details of these contracts, but based on his review of lord knows what he believes “the contracts are well above market value and address a need that doesn’t exist.” Given he doesn’t have any contractual details and CAPP (an organization representing oil producers) says the crude-by-rail contracts are a legitimate public policy measure to address market failure, this is a bizarre decision. Furthermore, it degrades the democratic process by impairing the government’s ability to enter into agreements and creates uncertainty in the market place because no one knows who’s next on Kenney’s chopping block.
Democracy is a conversation
Someone once said democracy is a conversation between leaders and the people and it’s up to the politicians to break the ice.
The issues that should decide this election are those that are raised by an informed engaged electorate having thoughtful honest conversations with political leaders. They may include a discussion about how to position Alberta’s economy for the future, a review of the social services we hold dear and what we’re prepared to pay for them, and what we can do to mitigate the impact of climate change on the environment and society.
I’d rather have this conversation with Rachel Notley who has shown a willingness to discuss such issues than Jason Kenney who is so busy doing whatever it is he’s doing that he’ll stomp me and my family into the ground. (Cue Godzilla).