It’s the last day of the Calgary Stampede.
It’s also the last day for politicians to dress up as cowboys for one last photo-op before getting back to business of politics.
The issue we have with this photo isn’t that these men aren’t real cowboys but that they’re not real conservatives.
Yes, Mr Kenney says he’s leading the charge to renew conservatism but unfortunately for conservatives he doesn’t represent traditional conservatism. He represents something The Economist calls the New Right, a movement created by a bunch of aggrieved pessimists and reactionaries who are shredding traditional conservatism to gain power.
Conservatism then and now
Traditional conservatives are cautious by nature. They expect the authority imbued in the family, church, and tradition to control and slow down change. Mr Kenney on the other hand promises to move with great haste because “speed creates its own momentum” and is more difficult to oppose.
Traditional conservatives are pragmatists, not zealots who play fast and loose with the truth. They don’t enflame wild-eyed western separatists with misinformation about the equalization formula, they don’t double down on allegations that the deficit was a billion dollars higher than the NDP said, when in fact it was $2 billion lower than the NDP had projected; or to put it another way $3 billion less than Mr Kenney alleged.
Traditional conservatives cherish institutions, they don’t abuse them. They don’t create $30 million taxpayer funded propaganda centres and call them “war rooms”. They don’t set up $2.5 million taxpayer funded witch hunts and call them public inquiries into foreign-funded conspiracies to kill the energy industry. They don’t disregard the rule of law by promising to rip up billion dollar contracts before they’ve laid eyes on them. They don’t make a mockery of democracy by running roughshod over the Opposition and plugging their ears and jumping into reflecting pools because no stunt is too juvenile for our elected representatives.
Most importantly, they don’t manipulate the population with the promise of prosperity to gain power.
Wealth and prosperity
Mr Kenney described his Stampede breakfast as an “…informal get-together of some like-minded premiers to talk about jobs, growth and prosperity.” Mr Ford said it was the first time in a long time that “like-minded premiers that want their provinces to thrive” had a chance to get together. Mr. Moe said it wasn’t an ideological gathering but one of “mutual interest on how we can continue to create wealth in the communities we represent.”
In case you missed it, the common thread there was wealth not ideology. Prosperity in and of itself isn’t a bad thing, but under Mr Kenney’s New Right government it takes precedence over absolutely everything else.
Mr Kenney’s government moved quickly to ensure corporations were happy even if this required underfunding public services to prop up failing businesses. The government just announced a one-time 35% cut in property taxes for selected shallow gas companies. This translates into a $23 million hit to revenue earmarked for education and is in addition to corporate tax cuts that will reduce business taxes from 12% to 8% over the next four years.
All government ministries understand the “economy first” priority.
Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer says increasing employment and restoring Alberta’s reputation as a place to do business will be a big part of his ministry’s “fight-back strategy”. If economic development is part of the Justice Minister’s mandate what are the premier and the ministers of economic development & trade, energy, natural gas, labour and treasury & finance doing…justice?
Traditional conservatives have always been small government, pro-business types, but the progressive ones like Peter Lougheed understood the need to balance economic development with funding public services through taxation.
Sadly, the Lougheed conservatives have been outflanked by New Right politicians like Mr Kenney and his cowboy cronies. They’ve discovered a two-pronged path to power: (1) fan the fear and insecurity created in the aftermath of 9/11 and the financial crisis and (2) promise prosperity through austerity (why that one works is beyond me).
Rhinestone cowboys are fun, but New Right politicians masquerading as traditional conservatives are dangerous.
Five “like-minded” premiers showed up for the Stampede this year, if a “like-minded” prime minister joins them next year we’re in big trouble.