Alberta election 2015 – change is better than more of the same

The Spur Calgary Festival has just wrapped up with a panel discussion I wish I could have taken in. (Note to organizers: think livestreaming and/or Youtube.)

Danielle Smith, former Wild Rose M.L.A., Leader of the Wild Rose Party, and Leader of the Opposition (also former P.C. M.L.A.) presented a solid case that Albertans can absorb a change of government. (As far as I know, she didn’t go so far as to say they should engineer the change.)

I agree with her, and I would go on to say that Albertans should make the change.

Like Danielle, I have an unusual, but perhaps not unique, perspective. (We are almost bookends in our time perspective.)

I worked for the P.C. Party and the P.C. Caucus before it formed the government in 1971. I was elected as a P.C. M.L.A. in 1971, served five years as Premier Lougheed’s Legislative Secretary, and seven years as a P.C. Cabinet Minister. I am a progressive conservation, in a position to compare the P.C. Party of today with the P.C. Party as it began and as it first governed.

Today’s P.C. Party is the same as the Party of the Lougheed era in name only. To-day’s P.C. Party is corrupt: that is, it is in an advanced state of decay (the P.C. Party of Alberta — a many-headed hydra). The election is not about Jim Prentice alone: it is about the P.C. Party as a whole. It is not only about the candidates; it is also about the Party staff, and the campaign organization, and culture of entitlement that permeates the Party.

As someone who labored hard, for 29 years (from 1965 – ’94), on behalf of the P.C. Party, it seems clear to me that Alberta is long past the time that a change of government should have happened. Since the change can’t happen any earlier than May 5th, it should happen on that day.

But some people are suggesting that the unknown is worse than known, no matter how tired and disgusted Albertans may be: Albertans are told that the unknown is a disaster waiting to happen.

The first argument is that we can’t know the character of the unknown, so we should stick with the known. If the P.C.s are not returned, would the result be a Wild Rose minority, or an N.D.P. minority? Whichever of the three parties has the greatest number of seats, in which direction would they have to lean (or choose to lean) in order to win a vote of confidence in the Legislature? What other party (parties) would they choose to (or have to) negotiate with in order to govern?  What commitments would be made?

Left of centre voters are being urged to vote P.C. for fear of a Wild Rose minority. Right of centre voters are being urged to vote P.C. for fear of an N.D.P. minority.

If either the N.D.P. or the Wild Rose Party is at the centre of a new government (either as a minority or as part of a coalition), it is very unlikely that the sky will fall. The campaign suggests that neither party is ideological, although a case can be made that both of them have intemperate elements with a bias toward the left or the right.  History demonstrates that new governments tend to be very cautious in their first term, and careful about their signature initiatives. (There are many reasons for this, including:  they need to master the learning curve; they want to be well-received, to conserve and build up their political capital; they don’t want to make enemies.)

The second argument is that only the P.C.s have the experience to govern. Given the difficult times ahead, it is said, we will all be more or less rocked by circumstances in the next few years, but we will be less shaken with the P.C.s at the helm rather than any other party.  (In other words, don’t make a bad situation worse by taking a chance on the unknown.)   Or, it is suggested, the public service is so thoroughly in the pocket of the P.C.s that it (the public service) will be unmanageable by any party except the P.C.s.

The second argument is simply not borne out by out historic experience. A previous post addresses the bigger part of this issue. (Should voters fear new and untested parties?).

Regarding the public service, my contacts and experience suggest that the public service is almost entirely demoralized and disorganized (partly because of constant re-organization). Even so, the public service still understands the importance of advising and working in a very professional way. Because they will be professional and because they are demoralized, the public service is looking forward to a new government, not a new mandate for a worse than tired government.

The suspense that is building in the course of this campaign is around how many seats each party will win, and what combination of seats will total 44 or more. In the current situation, voters should ‘diversify their investment’ in the Legislature, and the best basis for doing this is to go with character (hot link here).

One of the implications of this is that Albertans should elect some first class candidates from the parties working at the second tier of this campaign. The outcome of the election will be determined, in part, by the range of freedom that the ‘big’ parties have to negotiate creatively after the election. If the negotiations are limited to the ‘big 3’ then the negotiations are going to be defensive and brittle rather than creative and dynamic. Hopefully the big 3 will be joined by a number of well-qualified Alberta Party and Liberal Party M.L.A.s, and, perhaps, Green Party M.L.A.s. The more diversity there is in the post-election Legislature, the better Albertans will be served.




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