Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Alberta, yes you can elect a new Government

Those who’ll decide who wins Alberta’s election next week will be holding their noses for change or holding their noses to keep the status quo. Political change, as well as corruption, always smells. But you should try it now. Long ago, it was good for Alberta and, if any place can afford it today, Alberta can.

Danielle Smith isn’t the least bit concerned and she knows a thing or two about political experimentation. Your credit is fantastic, your wealth-generating capacity is enviable and resilient, you have built up a superior public service, and your divisions are not bitter.

Admittedly, Ontario isn’t a popular place from which to dare Albertans to take the plunge. We’ve been a pain for decades about Alberta’s “advantage” and fiscal choices. Also, as eastern cosmopolitans, our competence now is to advise on a fee-for-service basis, in private. Nevertheless, Ontario has clearly led you on one thing: our relatively recent experience at throwing out an ancient regime should steel your nerves and challenge your pride.

Ontario Progressive Conservatives won 12 elections and then were eased out in 1985. Alberta Progressive Conservatives won their 12th election in 2012, and are still in power. Stopping them now won’t be the end for the PCs, our Alberta’s brand.

Alberta incumbents are acting the way the Ontario ones did 30 years ago. Ridiculously long-serving regimes don’t simply use scare tactics in elections—they are scared. They actually believe that their lovely government can’t carry on successfully without them.

Call it patriotic hysteria, if you wish.

Ontario has experienced three changes in government over these last 30 years. Certainly that’s plenty. The times have not been as easy for Ontario as they were in, say, the '50s and '60s. It has been riding the business cycles of an open, diversified, mid-continent jurisdiction. However, the provincial governments since the days of the Big Blue Machine haven’t irrevocably altered Ontario’s underlying characteristics, one way or another. We’ve discovered that our brand remains appealing and is not the property of any one party.

Winning in the midst of a resource recession, of course, isn’t ideal. However, Alberta politics and government would be refreshed by either a Wildrose or a New Democratic minority government.

Either would have to pass a budget and avoid making big mistakes. So, they’ll have to listen intelligently to professional public servants and voters who voted, hopefully, for positive change.

First, Wildrose ministers wouldn’t owe the Alberta public service any thanks and that would be scary—for public servants. However, each Wildrose minister would fight to keep all program dollars and staff resources that they would discover were necessary to provide popular public services.

Second, as a national contender in this fall’s federal election, a win for the New Democrats in Alberta could have greater political significance.

An indisputably left-of-center government would finally have to manage and champion a great, troubled resource economy.

Representing almost exclusively consumer-oriented voters in political opposition for decades has rusted thinking in the NDP and the credibility of the left across Canada. They have found it too easy to be green. If they win power next week, they’ll have to figure out how to be credible taxers of Alberta resources, competent environmental regulators, and champions of oil and gas investment and transportation. If they’re reluctant and fail at these tasks, they’ll be quickly thrown out.

The NDP wouldn’t get to wreck Alberta, but they could make or break Thomas Mulcair this fall.

There are plenty of incentives for a new Alberta government to behave and launch successful reforms. This would be good for Alberta’s democracy: it would give the PCs a nice pause to think outside of briefing sessions in government; and it would challenge briefers in government service to do their very best for a strange new crowd sent to them by the people.

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