Alberta Diary

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David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Toronto Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. His 1995 book, A Poke in the Public Eye, explores the relationships among Canadian journalists, public relations people and politicians. He left journalism after the strike at the Calgary Herald in 1999 and 2000 to work for the trade union movement. Alberta Diary focuses on Alberta politics and social issues.

A Tale of Two Provinces: B.C. NDP and Alberta Wild Rosehip Tea Party show why opposition matters

| February 20, 2013

British Columbia and Alberta, Canada's two westernmost provinces, have lots in common.

Both have economies that rely heavily on volatile natural resources, well-educated, diverse and generally socially progressive populations, and Westminster-style parliamentary legislatures in beautiful old buildings.

Both are also governed by irresponsible neoconservative coalitions with misleading names that have been in power far too long, each of which has an obsession with balanced budgets and also faces a problem balancing the darned things.

The B.C. neoconservatives are called Liberals and are led by Premier Christy Clark. The Alberta neoconservatives are called Progressive Conservatives and are led by Premier Alison Redford. Apparently Clark and Redford can't stand one another, owing to Clark's refusal to commit political suicide to help Redford -- but that will have to be a topic for another day.

There are big differences, too, of course, and I’m not just talking about the West Coast weather forecast. 

Chief among them in the political arena is that there's an opposition party in the B.C. Legislature. It's called the New Democratic Party led by a fellow named Adrian Dix and we're told it could very well win the next provincial general election that's now just 12 weeks away, God willing and the crick don't rise. 

Hoist on its own petard, the B.C. Liberals must hold the election on May 14, thanks to the party's own un-Canadian fixed-election-date legislation. The reliably neoconservative Vancouver Sun begged yesterday for the vote to be pushed back to a more convenient date, say, one when there's a more popular neocon premier at the helm. 

Here in Alberta, by contrast, we have for an "opposition" one of the offshoots of the American Tea Party -- which I like to think of as the Wild Rosehip Tea Party -- which acts as a cheerleading section for all the worst instincts of the governing party, the unprogressive Progressive Conservatives of Premier Alison Redford.

The Wild Rosehipsters, officially known as the Wildrose Party, are led by Danielle Smith, who used to be an intern for the Vancouver-based Fraser Institute. They believe in everything the PC Party led by Redford does, and more! Woo-hoo!

This difference is important because while the New Democratic Party in B.C. most certainly acts as a brake on the worst instincts of the neoconservative B.C. Liberals, and occasionally even pushes them in the right direction, which is the left direction, the Wild Rosehip Tea Party in Alberta always pushes the neoliberal Conservative Party in the wrong direction, which is to say politically speaking the right direction.

Still with me? I’m trying to make a serious point here.

We saw examples of this yesterday in both provinces.

In British Columbia, pushed by the NDP, Clark's neoconservative Liberals tabled a budget that, while rich in flaws, did at least one sensible thing -- to wit, it included a modest increase in business taxes to help the government meet its commitments.

The mainstream media in B.C. was crowing with delight at how the Liberals had outmaneuvered the NDP, who have been calling for a similar tax increase. (Clark also sort of outmaneuvered Redford, by actually managing to put together a budget she could claim, however fancifully, to be balanced.)

The B.C. Liberal budget, which also included a modest (and temporary) increase in income taxes among higher income earners, "captures some of the political territory that has long been occupied by the New Democratic Party opposition, by turning to corporations … to help put the budget back into black," raved the Toronto Globe and Mail.

Personally, I think this sells B.C. voters short. Those who support a more sensible and sustainable taxation policy have to know that these increases will be out the window the instant the Liberals manage to squeak back into power, if they do, and will likely behave accordingly in the polling booth. Regardless of that, we’ll presumably know soon enough.

Meanwhile, back here in Alberta, we were having a holy-cowflops moment yesterday with the realization the latest analysis of the government’s resource-dependent revenue misestimates mean the looming budget deficit could be as high as $4 billion.

Since Ralph Klein was premier, the province has made an obsession of avoiding both tax increases and deficits, no matter the cost in crumbling infrastructure or flagging services. As a result, the Richest Place on Earth ™ exists in a perpetual state of economic crisis, and this entirely self-inflicted injury now has the potential to become a major embarrassment for Redford.

But with the Wild Rosehip Tea Party pulling the whistle cord and sitting in the driver's seat of the province’s ideological locomotive, there's absolutely no danger we'll smooth out the wild fluctuations in resource prices with the application of sensibly progressive taxes.

Hell no! We'll drive this train right off the bridge if we have to before we'll raise the lowest business taxes in the country by even a single percentage point or give up our "flat tax" -- ensuring that more cash can all head south across the U.S. border in the form of massive corporate profits. And when it comes to petroleum royalties, we won't even collect the money we say we’re owed!

So yesterday we had the unedifying spectacle of Finance Minister Doug Horner getting up on his hind legs and telling us that public service managers were going to have a haircut, and anyone who is negotiating a collective agreement with the public sector -- which is pretty well all the public employees in the province -- had better get ready for a trim as well.

Remember, these public employees are in many cases the very same naïve voters who flocked to the PCs’ side last April to keep the WRTP out of power, thereby saving the government's sorry keester in its darkest hour.

If nothing else, this should tell us all we need to know about the importance of having the right opposition here in Alberta.

If we had Adrian Dix and the B.C. NDP as the opposition, we could probably expect Redford's Progressive Conservatives to behave like grownups. Hell, that might even be true if we have Brian Mason and his Alberta NDP as opposition.

Instead we have the Wild Rosehipsters and so the government's key strategy is to sell out the people who saved it and reward the people who came very close to destroying it, and who furthermore still want to.

What's wrong with this picture?

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Fort Mac Public School Board nixes four-day week plan

This just in: Pressed by mostly horrified parents, Fort McMurray's Public School Board voted late yesterday against adopting a four-day school week to save $1-million. 

The scheme would have increased the average school day by 11 minutes and cut classes for students on about half of the school year’s Fridays to help reduce the board’s $4.4-million deficit.

Most educators criticized the proposal as harmful to learning, although as this blog’s mailbag showed, the idea had some fervent supporters.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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Comments

"British Columbia and Alberta, Canada's two westernmost provinces, have lots in common."

I totally disagree.  Sure, there are some obvious commonalities.  Like being the most western provinces, or having mountains, whatever all that really means, but just consider the longitudinal surveys (i.e. elections) that reveals much about the average voter's political philosophy.

The current ruling political party in Alberta will be in its 45th consecutive year in power by the next election.  On average, they have held approx. 80% of the seats in the legislature.  That means the last times the financial books were opened was 1971.  In its 108 history, Alberta has changed the governing party only 3 times.  The previous political party governed for 36 consecutive years.  These political facts are unique in Canadian history.

In fact, the political mindset is so homogeneous in the province that there has not been a truly alternative opposition party since the last time oil prices crashed in the mid 1980’s.  If democracy could not be more anemic in the province, Alberta consistently has the lowest voter turnout in both federal and provincial elections. 

Alberta is anything but progressive.  At the very least, voters here are apathetic and only become agitated when the world price of oil plunges.  When I think of Alberta politics, that famous Forest Gump quote comes to mind.  “Stupid is as stupid does.”

"The reliably neoconservativeVancouver Sun begged yesterday for the vote to be pushed back to a more convenient date, say, one when there's a more popular neocon premier at the helm."

I carry no brief for the right-wing Vancouver Sun, but in fairness they are not calling for the currently scheduled BC election to be postponed. Instead they make the perfectly reasonable point that the fixed date election law enacted by the BC Liberals a decade ago has the effect of weakening the government's accountability to the Legislature in an election year. Under BC's fixed parliamentary calendar, also introduced by the Liberals, a Throne Speech and budget are scheduled to be brought in in February while the writ has to be dropped in April for a May general election. That leaves too little time for proper scrutiny of the budget by the Legislature.

That is why an independent panel, headed by accountant Douglas Enns,  recommended in 2009 that the election date be moved to the fall. That suggestion has been repeated this year by independent, ex-NDP MLA Bob Simpson among others.

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