Friday, May 01, 2015

Alberta rethinks itself . . . maybe

Gospel Hymnody recalled
The Eastern pundits were out in full, royal regalia on our national network last night, expressing loud incredulity that the NDP was leading in the polls in Alberta before next Tuesday's provincial election. True, Albertans have elected PC governments without a break for over 40 years, but the implication in all this amazement was that Alberta is the red-neck capital of Canada, a stereotype that it doesn't deserve. 

I lived in Alberta for ten-plus years, a few of them in Edmonton, the rest in the nearby bedroom community of Spruce Grove. There was plenty of progressive thinking going on in that part of the province; NDP candidates were winning some seats, were competitive in others. The view from there—uttered with a sigh on occasion—was that corporate oil and ranching agriculture represented the hard right-wing position in the province. Calgary, in other words, was the red-neck capital if any place was. Not Alberta.

There's propaganda that goes around and around during election campaigns: the NDP is a tax and spend party; Conservatives are the astute fiscal managers. The fact that history proves this to be a false analysis doesn't stop it being repeated in campaigns.

The other half of that lie is that low taxes equate to good governance, and high taxes to its opposite. This is a false consciousness: low vs. high is not the relevant criterion. Fairness and equity are the foundation for finding the right levels of taxation, understanding at the same time that taxes should be sufficient to maintain public infrastructures and ensure sound, equal health care, education, meaningful work and safe domicile for everybody.

It's social democracy. It's the difference between seeing people as widgets in an economy and acknowledging that the economy is the set of tools that can provide a satisfactory living for every citizen. What's happening in Alberta—and may happen writ large in Canada in October—is that people have begun to see the chinks in the conservative armour. For poverty, homelessness, youth unemployment, aboriginal treaty obligations, regional disparity, their world view simply can't picture answers. Their vision doesn't tend that way. Witness the mess our federal government is making in the areas of veterans' support, aboriginal relations, youth unemployment. In recognition of their failings, they can only tinker and devise absurd policies like increasing punishment as the answer to crime, income splitting, and a host of ill-advised bills struck down by the supreme court because they violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. 

And then during election campaigns, they resort to smear campaigns and to the handing-out of gifts to the demographics where they deem their support base to lie.

Alberta voters may panic on Tuesday under the barrage of propaganda, hold their noses and revert to the status quo. It happened in the last election, but three premiers later and an early election call by Prentice after a budget that had no answers, they just might break old habits this time.

I lived in Alberta in the 90s during which a bumper sticker was precipitated by an economic downturn, deficit budgets and wage claw-backs from civil servants: “Please Lord, give us another oil boom and this time we promise not to piss it all away!”

It's not hard to argue that, by golly, they pissed it away . . . again.

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