The Alberta Progressive Conservative Party's 2015 Campaign of Fear got rolling in earnest yesterday morning, with dire warnings from a group of five prominent and well-heeled Edmonton businessmen about the grave risk taken by voters who rashly start contemplating sudden changes of course after only 44 years.
The scene in Melcor Developments' Jasper Avenue headquarters had moments of surreal comedy as the five executives, which the Edmonton Journal's reporter cruelly pointed out in her story together have donated close to $100,000 to Premier Jim Prentice's party since 2010, wondered aloud about what has gotten into Alberta voters to make them so reckless they'd consider a vote for the New Democratic Party.
"I don't understand the unhappiness," said a puzzled Melcor Executive Chairman Tim Melton, who lent his nicely appointed ninth-floor boardroom to the effort, which the Group of Five indicated they came up with at Thursday night's $5,000-a-table fundraiser for Premier Prentice in the capital city.
"I can't imagine what this province will look like if we don't make the right choice next week," exclaimed John Cameron, president and CEO of Keller Construction. (Hint: Pretty much the same as it looks today.)
A two-per-cent increase in corporate taxes, the group wanted to make sure gathered reporters and bloggers understood, is certain to kill jobs, although it is not immediately clear where these jobs will go as Alberta will remain pretty much the lowest-taxed jurisdiction on the continent no matter which party is elected on Tuesday.
Regardless, as the cameras and tape recorders rolled, Cameron wondered aloud: "Why is it always the corporations? Why is it always? I risk everything I have because I am a small business, and then I have somebody telling me that I should be paying more tax! Why? Why is it me?"
No need to go on. You get the picture.
Still, some things said there deserve a response, as when Ashif Mawji, president of Trust Science and CEO of NPO Net Zero, asserted with absolute and genuine sincerity that a new government would cause uncertainty, and "uncertainty is what paralyzes business."
Despite the widespread belief in this myth in business circles, it is in fact not true. The "Zombie Confidence Fairy," as Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman terms the notion that business confidence is undermined by policy uncertainty is so widely repeated it has taken on the air of unassailable truth. Nevertheless, Krugman says, "it’s actually a highly dubious, mathematically implausible argument that receives no support at all from the data."
Likewise, when someone at the head table stated with conviction that NDP governments always run big deficits, this too is factually untrue, notwithstanding the how often it is repeated by people who actually believe it to be so.
As Canadian economist Toby Sanger produces the evidence to prove, "NDP governments have the best fiscal record of all political parties that have formed federal or provincial government in Canada."
"Of the 52 years the NDP has formed governments in Canada since 1980, they've run balanced budgets for exactly half of those years and deficits the other half. This is a better record than both the Conservatives (balanced budgets 37 per cent of years in government) and the Liberals (only 27 per cent), as well as both Social Credit and PQ governments."
No matter how sincerely meant, this is almost like saying patronizingly that voters aren't "thinking straight," that NDP Leader Rachel Notley's policies are "amateur," or that New Democrats "do not understand how economics work." Oh, wait … someone did say all those things at yesterday’s boardroom presser!
Well, these events aren't really about facts anyway. They're about the belief that this democracy stuff is all very well, as long as the Hoi Polloi can be depended upon to make the right choices, which apparently don't include voting for the NDP.
Just remember, if you pay attention to Canadian history, that's exactly the attitude that got us the Senate of Canada in its present form, Mike Duffy and all.
At least the five businessmen -- who also included lawyer and University of Alberta Board Chair Doug Goss and Clark Builders CEO Paul Verhesen -- didn't go as far as Edmonton's absentee federal cabinet minister, Rona Ambrose, who later in the day seemed to be suggesting that because our economy is so important the rest of the country ought to have a veto if Alberta voters decide to do something as crazy as electing a social democratic government.
One suspects that Albertans -- who see themselves as independent-minded sorts -- will object to the idea that their democratic choices, whatever they may be, should be subject to ratification by more sensible Canadians in other parts of the country, or at least by the occupants of the boardrooms of the land.
Likewise, I doubt Albertans will be much impressed by the fact that the Toronto Globe and Mail's editorial board -- the same fellows who without any success instructed Ontarians to elect Tim Hudak's Progressive Conservatives last June -- has endorsed Prentice's PCs. Unsurprisingly, the Toronto-owned, Hamilton-edited Edmonton Journal also came to the same conclusion at the same moment.
I don't know what's going to happen on Tuesday, but the Prentice strategic brain trust is going to have to do better than it did yesterday if it wants to scare the beejeepers out of us Albertans.
After all, as last week's ThinkHQ poll showed, Albertans are actually more fearful of a re-elected PC government than either of the obvious alternatives.
Will Prentice have to drag Prime Minister Stephen Harper back from his friendly visit with European social democrats to put the fear of God into Alberta voters about voting for Canadian social democrats?
Let me put it to you this way. Albertans who are contemplating a vote for the NDP should remember, as no less an authority than Franklin D. Roosevelt advised Americans at a moment far more dire than this: The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.
This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.
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