So, about that Ten Year Plan. Let’s take a very deep breath and try to get to the bottom of the strategic thinking behind what's going on in Alberta.
Even though his Progressive Conservative Party still has about two years left to run in its mandate, recently passed a law that says there shouldn’t be an election for one more year, and nobody knows for sure what he plans to do, Premier Jim Prentice would like to call an early election because he wants to make changes so momentous, so sweeping, so astonishing that a new mandate is essential.
Or so he repeatedly says.
Don't worry, he adds, we'll have a plan for that… a Ten Year Plan. (Details to follow.)
Prentice never quite makes it clear, but his strategy seems to be to produce a budget that makes a lot of dramatic promises about cutting spending and call it a Ten Year Plan, then call a snap election while the opposition is still reeling and before anyone can think too deeply about what’s wrong with the Big Idea, such as it may be, or what the true alternatives might be.
There will likely not be much discussion of alternatives once the election has been called because the only parties with meaningful advertising budgets are Prentice’s Tories and what's left of the Wildrose Party after its leadership defected to the PC benches. Both are now parties of the far right by Canadian standards.
Conveniently for the government, Alberta's election laws make advertisements by other groups that "take a position on an issue with which a registered party or registered candidate is associated" illegal during the election period.
Just the same, Prentice has vowed, "This will be the most significant budget in modern times in the province." The budget, he said, "will have impacts on every single person" in Alberta!
Why all this apocalyptic stuff? Well, that’s easy to explain. Notwithstanding Prentice's omnipotent position as master of the mighty, enduring and forever united Alberta Progressive Conservative Party, ordinary Albertans are grumbling skeptically in surprising numbers about the idea of an election just now.
A lot of them see it as self-serving -- Alison-Redford-style self serving, as a matter of fact -- and figure it’s bad form at best, outright illegal at worst, to toss out the fixed-election-period law before it's been tried once, or even politely repealed.
Plus, if the economy gets worse, the government is bound to grow less popular. Predictions like that of the Conference Board of Canada yesterday, which said Alberta is in for "two years of tough times" are another reason for the PCs to want an election now, not… after two years in which the fruits of their bad management are evident.
In addition, despite their bad habit of voting Conservative no matter what, Albertans are surprisingly resistant to changes in existing social democratic programs, public health care in particular. Some of them suspect we may be in for an application of the Shock Doctrine, with low oil prices as an excuse for attacking public services.
The suspicion may even be dawning -- as it most certainly dawned on the premier's advisors at Navigator Ltd. in the East British Colonial Building on Wellington Street in Toronto -- that Prentice isn’t really all that congenial a fellow, and is far less likely to grow on Albertans the way Ralph Klein did even if he does the same dumb stuff.
Given all this, the PC Party and its high-priced advisors must be thinking, they need to get the election out of the way right now before the Opposition parties can get their ducks in a row. Well, all's fair in love and politics, so what did you expect?
To do that, though, Albertans must be persuaded that without a mandate, and a plan, the Legislature will become the Dome of Doom, and possibly crumble into the North Saskatchewan River.
So what are the details of the cataclysmic changes that are to be included in the Ten Year Plan?
"There have been no decisions made," Prentice proclaimed, but "it's pretty clear in the circumstances that we are in that whoever is the premier had better have a mandate." (Transcribed from the Edmonton Journal.)
As noted in this space yesterday, that's the thing about Prentice's policy pronouncements: no matter how many times he promises an exciting climax, a decisive moment, a Ten Year Plan, there never seem to be any details when the curtain is pulled back.
So, Alberta, here's what we surmise: You're going to have an early election whether you want it or note.
Prentice might or might not tell you when it's going to be before he calls it. You may or may not have a few of the details before the election actually takes place of about how this notion of weaning the government off resource revenues might work, especially if there are to be no tax or royalty increases, both of which the premier seems to have already ruled out.
What you will have, Prentice has promised it (like he promised term limits), is that ten-year plan.
And that, Prentice is bound to argue, is significant enough, even momentous enough, to require a snap election!
Now, I may not have to tell you that in the past, multi-year economic plans in one-party states haven't exactly had a terrific track record. (Sorry, we’re not allowed to mention which one-party state we have in mind, that being a Political Convention in Alberta.) Bureaucrats in the capital city (hint: not Edmonton, but at a similar latitude) tend to set unrealistic quotas but not bother to set measurable goals, or, if they do happen to set them, to keep making changes. The whole thing ends in tears.
But I don't think you have to worry about that this time in Alberta because -- as befits the political movement that doesn’t necessarily believe in either evolution of gay-straight alliances in public schools -- the Prentice Government’s real Ten Year Plan is likely only to pray really hard for a return to high oil prices plus a couple of pipeline approvals while taking swipes at public employees to the cheers of the Fraser Institute and the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
Diversification of the economy? Oh, there will be promises made, but don't expect any action or details. The Fraser Institute has already said we shouldn't diversify the economy -- after all, there’s nothing like owing your soul to the company store -- and since Monday’s speech to the Edmonton Rotary Club we know the Fraser Institute is where Prentice gets his economic analysis.
After a successful election based on a Ten Year Plan with no details, sometime in Year Four of the plan the PCs can call another election and argue we need to elect them to one more massive majority so they can complete the Ten Year Plan, details to follow. Then everything will be rosy, or even Wildrosy, until the election after that.
The government can then get Navigator to use GroupThink ™ -- I'm actually not making that part up -- to come up with a catchy election slogan for a party not quite halfway through its First Ten Year Plan. Like, say, 4+4=10!
Having to hold an election every five years is inconvenient, of course, but it's what you get when you became part of a federation long before you became a one-party petro-state. Still, thanks to GroupThink ™, that problem can be overcome.
Before you know it, it’ll be 2023 or so and time for yet another election before the Ten Year Plan finally runs out in 2025. Actually providing details of how it’s going to work can be put off until after that election.
A Second Ten Year Plan (details to follow) would get the PCs through to about 2035, by which time The Dynasty will have been around almost as long as … that other government … and Premier Prentice can be invited to the White House by President-for-Life Scott Walker to receive the Presidential Medal of Pipelines.
There, I think I've explained it. GroupThink ™. Ten Year Plans. And the Most Significant Budget in Modern Times. That's all you need! Certainly not any details.
Welcome to the Year of the Sheep.
This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.
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