Sunday, April 08, 2012

Alison Redford's Change versus Wildrose Reaction

" I think she[Premier Redford]'s wrong... I don't think Alberta has changed  and I don't think it needs to be changed."  ---Wildrose Alliance leader Danielle Smith.

I have done a pretty good job of predicting political outcomes lately, mainly just by being as cynical and pessimistic as possible.  The sheer audacity of Wildrose TV commercials boldly proclaiming "New Ideas"--when the new ideas are the recycling of Klein bucks (resource dividends) as "Danni Dollars" and the Wildrose "Family Pack"--a set of nothing more than  tax incentives and tax expenditures substituting for social policy. Could anything be more tired?  The divorce between image and substance in our politics  is now complete; and that is why Wildrose will win.

To say that these policies are superior because "you know better how to spend your money than the government does" does not stand up to reflection.  Does Ms. Smith think that the building of 50 new schools and the replenishing of the Alberta Heritage Trust Fund--both moves that would secure wealth for future generations of long-term residents--are just bureaucratic confiscations, while using revenue from non-renewable resource wealth to subsidize and pander to current consumption--including that of a great many transients--is somehow more respectful of citizens?  Today's TV leaders are masters of the false dichotomy and the misleading example.

While a Wildrose victory  would represent the most fundamental change in the party system since the early 1970s, that purely political fact merely disguises the underlying truth about Alberta's policy and society: that Wildrose represents outworn and simplistic approaches as well as vested interests. It is a reaction against change, not a balanced and more nuanced engagement with the new and more complicated economic, environmental and demographic realities of the twenty-first century.

And while Danielle Smith  explicitly invokes Ernest Manning  and implicitly evokes Ralph Klein as the best premiers in Alberta history, it is time for Premier Redford to make the case for Peter Lougheed.  Lougheed has been a voice of common sense in the Alberta wilderness for many years now--arguing for paced and value-added development of the oilsands, the  rebuilding of the Heritage Trust Fund, for "thinking like an owner" about the oil resource, and --like the Royalty reviews, Jack Mintz and David Emerson--serving as a sensible reminder that we should stop being so reliant on revenue from non-renewable sources to subsidize our current consumption and taxation practices.

Alberta's conservative ethos is largely built around a myth is that it has been a bastion of rugged individualism that chooses to live with less government and less taxation. The truth about Alberta is that  it is a jurisdiction that uses depleting oil wealth to avoid making that choice. The sooner we honestly face up to that  reality, the better off future generations of  Albertans and Canadians will be.  And that would be the real change that Alberta truly needs.

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