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.

Risky theories… Dangerous economic experiments…. Can we afford Harper's Conservatives?

| July 3, 2012
Risky Stephen Harper

The Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and its Alberta branch plant known as the Wildrose Party continue to push risky economic theories.

Funnily enough, though, that's just what they’re loudly accusing the federal NDP Opposition leader of doing in the federal version of the Wildrose Party's new attack advertisements aimed at Thomas Mulcair.

But then, that kind of attack is pretty much business as usual for Canadian neo-Cons: Push risky economic theories, then accuse your opponent of doing the same thing, in precisely those words. Act in a bullying manner and accuse your opponents of being bullies. You get the idea. We've all seen this movie too many times.

Indeed, we've watched it for years south of the border, and now that the U.S.-style market fundamentalists have a majority government here, we're being subjected to the same treatment.

So we have the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the economic policy group of 34 advanced western countries, asserting that our pumped-up petro-Loonie is in fact hurting the manufacturing sector here in Canada while the neo-Cons label Mulcair as "divisive" for acknowledging this same truth.

As economist Andrew Jackson recently observed: "Clearly, the OECD -- not widely known as a source of 'risky economic theories' -- endorses the Dutch Disease diagnosis. Our exchange rate has been driven up by high commodity prices, especially energy prices, thus damaging the manufacturing sector and creating regional economic imbalances. And we should do something about it."

Meanwhile, both the federal Conservatives and their junior auxiliary here in Alberta continue to campaign for policies that can be aptly described as having the ultimate aim of promoting circumstances that would deliver "poverty in the midst of poverty" for all but society's top dogs.

So we have the Harperite attack on Mulcair for advocating a conventional economic analysis -- "risky theories, dangerous economic experiments" in Con speak -- and Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith assailing Alberta's Progressive Conservative Premier Alison Redford for not being austere enough at a moment when austerity is the last thing Canada needs.

"We are in real trouble financially in this province and unless the politicians and the senior politicians take the first step they’re not going to get any co-operation from the unions on austerity measures," Smith said in a recent caterwaul about upcoming wage negotiations with the province's civil servants.

As Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman has pointed out repeatedly in his New York Times blogs and columns, all the evidence supports the conventional economic wisdom that stimulus works in recession and cutbacks don't. Europe has been observing a strategy of fiscal austerity for two years, Krugman observed on Sunday, and "in all that time the strategy has produced no success stories. … Meanwhile the Euro's crisis has metastasized, spreading from Greece to the far larger economies of Spain and Italy, and Europe as a whole is clearly sliding back into recession."

Or, as Leo de Bever, the CEO of our province's own $70-billion Alberta Investment Management Corp. put it, "austerity is great for the soul, but it's not so great for the economy."

Nevertheless, co-called conservatives in all jurisdictions on both sides of the Medicine Line and abroad continue to push their risky theories and dangerous economic experiments because of their quasi-religious faith in their market-fundamentalist worldview.

The economic analysis that we see from of the likes of Mulcair, the OECD and de Bever, in the words of Krugman writing about a related topic, "offends conservative notions of how things are supposed to work in a capitalist society, so they reject the theory no matter how well it performs, and throw their support behind other views and other people no matter how badly they get it wrong."

Indeed, it's a sign of how successful the far right has been over the past few years -- with its tax-dodging "charitable" think tanks, on-side mainstream media and screechy Sun News Network propagandists -- that the most commonsense ideas are dismissed as unthinkable and politically impossible.

Consider Alberta's recent brush with a fair defined-benefits pension plan for MLAs recommended by the independent review of Alberta politicians' pay headed by retired Supreme Court Justice John Major.

In the words of Edmonton Journal political columnist Graham Thomson, Premier Redford and her still-somewhat-Progressive Conservatives are "having trouble coming to grips with a pension plan for MLAs, no doubt because of the issue's political baggage."

Thomson observed: "Replacing the current system with a reasonable pension plan makes sense, but how do you convince Albertans of that when it's the MLAs who set up their own plan, one that the Wildrose critics will no doubt label 'gold-plated' even if it's silver or maybe bronze?"

The political right, of course, will characterize any fair public sector pension plan, especially one that doesn't have a role for the profit-hungry private "wealth management" industry (their wealth, your management), as "gold plated."

This is because they despise fair pensions for anyone except their own sweet selves, and are desperate to prevent the spread of economic benefits to ordinary Canadians, who will improve the economy by spending at home, instead of keeping as much as possible in the hands of the unproductive 1 per cent.

Their think-tankers and propagandists have been remarkably successful at making pensions, the foundation of a prosperous middle-class society, appear to middle-class Canadians to be an unthinkable perk that must be stripped from the few who still have it.

The result will be economic harm for the country and for its ordinary citizens, but then, that's most often the result of these neo-Cons' risky economic theories.

They get away with it because we citizens have proved remarkably willing to pay attention and do as they say we must when they tell it as it isn't.

But public credulity with these risky neo-conservative economic theories is obviously growing strained. This is no doubt the explanation for recent public opinion polling that suggests Canadian attitudes are "moving to the left" -- that is, pretty much back to where they used to be.

And that is obviously the explanation for Harper's use of the crudest kind of scare tactics to attack the NDP and Mulcair. Well, get used to it.

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

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Comments

I absolutely agree with outwest! Obviously attack ads work and man, do we have ammo! You fight fire with fire and considering the neo-con's track record, there is some very powerful messages crying to be sent. Sooner or later these criminals have to be held accountable for their actions. What are we waiting for? No more Mr. Niceguy, let's get at it. It goes without saying that everything which is cited must be thoroughly vetted but the facts speak for themselves. These criminal scumbags have to be called out NOW!

As their past ads have largely been milque-toast, centre-left parties need to shift a larger portion of funds towards hiring some clever advertising folks.

Nasty attacks obviously work. Clearly, the centre-left needs to come up with equivalent phrases of "dangerous" and "risky" (and "un-Canadian," as was used in attack ads against Ignatieff) to provoke negative gut reactions towards the neo-con agenda. I think there should be a shift away from specific issues, and instead, emphasis on emotion, fear, jobs, and safety.

 

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