The 2019 Provincial Election: What it will be about and what it should be about

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!


Kenney vs Notley

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).

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15 Responses to The 2019 Provincial Election: What it will be about and what it should be about

  1. ed henderson says:

    I’m glad you appear to mistrust and dislike Mr Kenney. But I’m disappointed that you appear to like and trust Premier Notley. They are both facades designed to fool and confuse Albertan’s,
    Prior to the last election a discussion of the top contending political party’s would not have included any mention of the actual winner, the NDP. Are we doing the same this time around?

    • Ed, you’re right, I do like and trust Premier Notley, but you raise a valid point, namely that no one was talking about the NDP leader in the last election and yet she and her party formed government with a majority. The same thing happened with Trudeau federally so who knows how this might turn out in the end. So far the Alberta Party and the Liberals are trailing in the polls but as we learned from the last few elections polls mean less and less these days. It’s going to be quite a race.

      • Dwayne says:

        Susan. The election polls are as accurate as a broken thermometer. One polling company got into trouble, for misleading people, with poll results. How did Bill Smith’s election results go, in the Calgary municipal election? There we have it. I do think that polling companies also have political ties, just like the media in Canada does, which I mentioned to you.

  2. Dwayne says:

    Susan: I must thank you for another great blog. I have thoughts on this issue. What I have been seeing, starting since before the last provincial election in Alberta, was the NDP were being painted in a bad light. There was the media (like Postmedia), trying their hardest to discredit the NDP, and make the Alberta PCs, and Wildrose look good. There were also misinformed people also giving lies about the NDP, in letters to newspapers, stating things such as how they wrecked every province they governed in, when in fact the NDP holds the record for having the most balanced budgets of any government in Canada. In newspapers, like The Sun, (who is now part of Postmedia), massive Alberta PC scandals, like the $35 billion in total, that was blown on a petrochemical (bitumen) upgrader, were not given front page headlines, but was buried in a small article, a few pages into the paper, shortly before the last provincial election in Alberta. When anyone writes a letter to The Sun, and challenges or discredits the Conservative parties, like the UCP, their letter is not even published, or if it is, it is highly edited. I know from history that Peter Lougheed was a principled politician, with vision. When he wanted to unseat the long ruling Social Credit Party, he did it in a sound way. He focused on what the Alberta PCs would do. He was the only good Alberta PC premier. He knew how to save money, not let oil companies take advantage of Alberta, build things up, and plan ahead. He had very little scandals. The other Alberta PCs were the exact opposite, and left a big mess for the NDP to fix. Again, there are people who are blaming the NDP for this, including the UCP. When letters to The Sun discredit the NDP, or the Liberals, they are not edited. With Jason Kenney and the UCP, what I see is a threefold mistake. He is looking at the so called “mistakes” of the NDP, and also is interested in regurgitating the bad polices of the Alberta PCs, from the Ralph Klein era, like the return to the flat tax failure, and strong austerity measures. The austerity measures from Ralph Klein, which also were started by Don Getty, did not get Alberta debt free. Then, Jason Kenney is contradicting himself. He is against the carbon tax one minute, (Alberta already has a carbon tax, courtesy of the Alberta PCs), and the next minute he supports it. He says he is against corporate welfare, (like he called the oil by railcar deal), yet Jason Kenney was in the CPC, and supported the multi billion dollar auto sector bailouts. Jason Kenney has also shown his support for the federal government buying the pipeline. The bizarre, and insensitive neo-Stalinist remark he made, about Peter Lougheed and Don Getty, with their make work projects were brushed off by Jason Kenney. He does what he accuses others of doing. A former Alberta PC MLA, Thomas Lukaszuk, took Jason Kenney to task for this bad remark and for contradicting himself. Thomas Lukaszuk also took Jason Kenney to task for saying that Alberta’s oilsands production needs to be halted, or slowed down, to help increase the price of Alberta’s oil. He was wondering how Jason Kenney favours a policy he would normally be against. I do not trust the UCP, with all of their bad antics. Jason Kenney has been acting, (on more than one occasion), like he is the premier of Alberta. He is not the premier. The trip to India, and saying he will cancel the oil by railcar deal, are two examples. The NDP have been doing good for Alberta, with the hand they were dealt with, such as low oil prices, which went down before they were in power. They also have to fix the decades long mess, left by the Alberta PCs, including upgrading and repairing our infrastructure. I’m not aware of the NDP doing scandals like the Alberta PCs were doing for decades. I’d like to see them continue to govern Alberta. I would compare Rachel Notley to Peter Lougheed. What happened in between, these two great premiers was horrible. The UCP will be a return to the worst.

    • Alex says:

      I liked reading your comment, analysing what made/makes a good Premier from either side of a political divide. I’m a new Canadian (arrived in 2012) and my vision of the Conservative after 44 years in power was rather abismal, it’s nice to know they had principaled people at some point, I’ll read about him on wiki. As for the NDP, I was laughing my head off when they got elected in as old school Albertans were telling me the province would go to pot as the commies took power… (Seriously) :-/

      • Dwayne says:

        Alex: The Alberta PCs did have only good premier Peter Lougheed. The rest of the Alberta PCs, were very bad. Jason Kenney was not so good in the CPC, who were not that great. One other thing the CPC did, was make people’s life savings disappear instantly, in an income trust scandal, that was around $35 billion. Jason Kenney had a role in that too.

      • Alex, thanks for giving us your perspective as a new Canadian. It’s always interesting to hear from people who haven’t been immersed (stewed?) in Alberta’s hard core political narrative for so long that they can’t imagine any government but a conservative government. Albertans have a 44 year history of blindly voting conservative because they’re loyal to the brand. A friend of mine says a brand is something you find on cattle not people and it’s time we starting thinking for ourselves.
        I wholeheartedly agree with your comment that the fear the NDP are “commies” is grossly overblown. It’s shocking how many people still believe it; Jason Kenney and the UCP push that point as hard as they can every chance they get. The Legislative record is chock a block with speeches by UCP MLAs saying the farm safety bill will force farm workers to unionize and kids who join 4H clubs to get Worker’s Compensation coverage, etc. It was ridiculous.

    • Dwayne, thank you for your comments. Your list of inconsistent and incoherent positions Kenney has taken in the run up to the election is illuminating and reinforces my point that the election should be decided on issues that matter to an engaged and knowledgeable electorate, and not a bunch of malarkey thrown at the public in the hope that they’ll be too angry and emotional to check whether (a) what Kenney says is true and (b) even if it is true whether a provincial premier can do anything about it.
      When Trevor, Kevin and I finished our presentations at the Alberta Views/Wordfest event we had a Q and A session. One fellow asked whether it was possible to make it illegal for politicians to lie or mislead the public. He suggested that at the very least a politicians caught in a lie should be fined. It’s an interesting point given that corporate and securities laws punish corporations and directors/officers who misrepresent how the company is doing and truth in advertising laws nail people selling snake oil to a gullible public. The tricky part would be trying to make sure a government in power doesn’t abuse this new law to squash all opposition. Anyway, there’s no easy answer which leads me back to where I started, the onus is on the electorate to take the time to become informed and speak up when it catches politicians misleading the public.

  3. J.E. Molnar says:

    The majority of mainstream voters will require policy/platform information by the respective parties to make intelligent voting decisions — the sooner the better. A 28 day window for provincial elections leaves very little time for serious evaluation. All parties need to be transparent and fulsome.

    In addition, full access to all candidates through All-Candidates forums is paramount. Let’s hope Jason Kenney makes his available for these forums (seeking safe passage to re-election, Stephen Harper didn’t during the last federal election). As a new party without a political baseline, the UCP’s platform will need to be transparent, fulsome and easily understood, by both candidates and voters. That includes Jason Kenney engaging Rachel Notley and other party leaders in a televised debate. The more debates — the better. On so many fronts, it really comes down to “voter beware” this election, more so than ever before.

    • Jerrymacgp says:

      You know, Sir, that all-candidates forums are constituency-by-constituency, and so the only voters who will get to see Mr Kenney in one are those in his Calgary riding … ? Similarly for Premier Notley in Edm.-Strathcona.

      If we want to see Ms Notley & Mr Kenney go at each other head-to-head, it’ll have to be in a TV debate, if one is held.

      • J.E. and Jerrymacgp I agree with you both. All-candidate forums are a great way to see how local candidates stack up against each other, if nothing else constituents get to see how the candidates respond to a local issue. Any candidate who regurgitates the party’s talking points without addressing the specific issue should be viewed with caution. Even if they promise to “fix it”, constituents should understand that one MLA can’t do anything unless the premier decides it’s a priority.
        I love televised debates if they’re properly moderated. I believe it’s important to include all of the party leaders because even those with a snowball’s chance in hell can offer interesting ideas that might ignite the public’s imagination, and if Alberta goes the way of BC a fringe party leader may hold the balance of power.
        A lot has been written about the use of language in debates and in politicking in general. Some experts say Trump’s use of little words and short sentences made him more “accessible” to ordinary voters (whoever they are). I don’t know if this is true but it will be interesting to see whether Kenney who is naturally prone to using words like “bellicose” and “noblesse oblige” changes the way he talks. If so he’ll be talking down to his base in order to appear like “the guy in a blue pickup” who came to Alberta to save us from…well…something.

  4. Carlos Beca says:

    This is a proud day for Canadian politics. We finally made it to third world status. If this does not convince us that we have to change our political system then the next stage is doom.
    Trump was right for once – Trudeau is a dishonest man. He should go to jail just like any other Canadian would.
    Democracy? Is that what our system is called?
    I cannot wait for the next crook from the Conservative party.
    My vote never counts so this time there will be no vote. Those that believe in this system can fight for it, I will be joining Anonymous.

  5. Carlos, I agree that the last few weeks have been a gong show. That said I think things are more nuanced than what we’ve been reading in the media. I’m going to think about this some more and hopefully do a post on it this weekend. The challenge will be to have a conversation about what happened without people jumping to the conclusion I’m siding with Trudeau and the PMO.

    • Carlos Beca says:

      I am not jumping to conclusions at all, but just the fact that this kind of pressure even happens is a good indication of the health of the system as a whole.
      We are not a young democracy and we understand the rule of law. That someone has the guts to even say anything to the attorney general outside of possible meetings that are organized to discuss the issue, is to me unreal. The fact that a person with her experience feels being pressured and the top civil service person saying there was no pressure at all is just bizarre to me.
      The worst is that now we will begin a period of spin and we end up not really knowing what really happened. So goes the wheel of distrust. I personally have had enough.
      Participating in this system to me is supporting a cancer that is slowly taking us to the abyss. The US is already there and I am curious to see how this Trump circus show is going to end.

  6. Brian Janz says:

    I trust Jason Kenney because he is going to cut the most out of bloated union salaries and stop borrowing against our children!

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