Saturday, November 20, 2004

Tory Leadership pre-race

(Update: "live" Alberta election blogging on this page.)

Colby Cosh has covered pretty much everything on the Alberta election that might be of interest to the Rest of Canada. He rightly observes that Liberal leader Kevin Taft appears to have been taking likeability injections over the past few months, and it looks great on him. Taft has always had a vaguely pleasing manner of speaking, by which I mean, he sounds not like a politician so much as a guy who's spent years pondering Alberta's challenges, and how to face them. He's admirably clear talking about both problems and proposed solutions. (I also have a notion I can't quite put together that Taft's speaking is somehow grammatically different from that of a standard politician - but it could be something as simple as never beginning a sentence with "Albertans want.." or "Albertans have told me..".)

And as Cosh alludes, he has stopped using the phrase "when the oil's all gone", and now mostly talks about "windfall revenues". This is obviously politically wise; he's arguably gotten more scientifically and economically accurate in the process. Unfortunately for Taft and his electoral prospects, he still believes firmly in a few concepts that have been continuously rejected by Alberta voters. For you in the RoC, I'd liken him a bit to Jim Stanford - nice enough guy, sounds reasonable, and reading or listening to his stuff, it's uncommon that anything jumps straight out as **STUPIDE!**. Within 5 minutes though, after collecting your thoughts, you realize his argument is premised upon ideas which have been discredited, academically and in practice, for 20+ years.

At the time I read Cosh's piece, however, I had my own voting intention worked out. Team Ralph is a bit worn out (have you heard?), and there's several dozen good reasons to vote against them. First, for me, would probably be the tax increases from two years ago that have not since been undone. Every time I pay my $264 health care premiums (that's every 3 months), or buy beer, or register for anything, I feel like kicking something on the way out.

Secondly: in a bizarre circumstance for a government intent on reforming health care in some way, including the introduction of further private elements, they are not merely unable, but apparently unwilling, to actually sell the reforms. Perhaps it's all part of some grand political scheme of possum, or maybe Ralph and advisors are just having some kicks (I'm visualizing an boy holding a candy an inch out of his younger brother's reach, instead of just putting it in his pocket or eating it.)

Both the Liberals, notwithstanding Kevin Taft's strong performance, and the NDP are non-starters, and not just because I'm worried my subconscious would prevent my hand from making the mark. It is 2004 (you're welcome), and any candidate or party that does not acknowledge that the way we do health care in this country has problems which will not be solved by more government funding will not be receiving my vote, period, new paragraph.

Which brings me to what I thought was my voting plan. There is the "Alberta Alliance", which has all sorts of problems but is ostensibly to the right of the PCs. I decided I'd vote for them, with the intended message being directed at the PCs: "if a party this lousy and disorganized can get this many votes just because they're to your right, you'd better start paying more heed to that flank of the party."

I read their platform in early 2004, and wasn't overly impressed. A few nods to populism lifted from the old Reform Party book (yes referenda, no MLA pensions, etc.), but other than that, the focus seemed to be more around different ways to spend our money, rather than, you know, not.

Then yesterday, I received my flyer from local candidate Brian Stewart, and to put it mildly, I HAD NO IDEA. Except for their vow not to prosecute gun registry offences, they are running well to the left of the NDP. Apparently, the Alberta Alliance's message is this:
1) Governing is not about making hard choices, not in Alberta.
2) As you suspected, there is enough budget surplus to fund _____. Oh, and ____. And of course _____.

Behold, the spending items in the Contract with Alberta. They vow to accomplish these items by various deadlines, the latest of which is Feb. 15, or they will dissolve the government.
  • Reduce the personal income tax rate by 28%
  • Eliminate health care premiums for all Albertans
Why, Simpson, you've made my day. Trickle-down economics, positive business environment, etcHELLO, there's more!
  • Reduce auto insurance premiums by 35% for all Albertans
  • Restore the $2.2 billion in seniors benefits cut be the Klein Government
  • Pay seniors a $1,400 utilities rebate
  • Offer families a $700/child rebate to cover school fees and supplies
  • Offer free tuition for all graduates of Alberta schools who maintain a C average or better in high school and while at their post-secondary institution
  • Reduce residential electricity and natural gas costs by 30%
Wow. I mean, wow. The most theoretically offensive of these items, I suppose, is the promise to drop the costs of car insurance, power, and natural gas by a third; I shudder to think how they plan to accomplish this. Besides, is there still an economist out there who believes that severe price controls are any way to create wealth?

The most directly offensive promise here, though, is the $1,400 "seniors utility rebate". At least when Ralph was accused of vote-buying with utility rebates, they went to everyone, and they were issued before the election. There is absolutely no difference between this Alliance promise and saying, "Seniors - vote for us and we will mail you each a cheque for $1,400". Disgusting, cynical pandering.

You may have gathered from the previous few paragraphs that I have changed my mind regarding my voting intention. You would be correct.

For all the flaws of the sitting government, the fact remains that Alberta is the wealthiest province in Canada, and it's not dumb luck. There are all sorts of ways a provincial government can sabotage the economy. Strike up a conversation with Kate about Tommy Douglas if you like. Read the recent Western Standard about the consequences of regulated power rates in Manitoba. Take a look at stats on B.C.'s economic strength, and superimpose it on a timeline of governing parties. To assume that Alberta will be fine, no matter who's running the show, is to ignore the history of our neighbours.

As such, I am endorsing the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta, and will be casting my vote for them on Monday. I also recommend that engaged Alberta voters take out a membership in the PC party, and have your say in the upcoming leadership (premiership) race. Don't forget, the sooner the better (there was undoubtedly John Manley supporters who figured there was no rush to pick up a federal Liberal membership - oops).

See you at the polls.


At 2:13 p.m., Blogger joeblowsomeone said...

Excellent Post, share most of your viewpoints. Keep up the good work!


At 5:30 p.m., Blogger Jason Hickman said...

Jerry - Heaven knows this comment is very late in coming, but what the heck.

I'm happy with the overall result: Klein wins, and wins pretty big, but the PC's get a bit of a scare thrown into them. And one reason for that scare is the Alliance winning 1 seat and getting ~ 9% of the vote (which I'm guessing came in large measure from the PC's).

Now, I agree that if you *read* the AA platform, they run to the left on some issues. But the *perception* fostered by everyone (the media *and* Klein included) is that details notwithstanding, the AA was to the right of the Tories. I may be wrong, but I can't help thinking that quite a few conservatives did exactly what you planned to do before you read the AA's fine print: vote Alliance to send a message to the PC's. Some folks may have done it even if they weren't thrilled with the AA's platform, b/c the "watch yourself, Ralph, or else" message still comes across regardless.

I'm not normally a fan of voting to "send a message" when the messenger is saying something different from what you wanted (if that makes any sense), but in this case it may still serve a purpose.

My $0.02.

- Jason.


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