Jim Prentice claims that he has called an early election in violation of provincial legislation for fixed election dates to allow Albertans to pass judgement on his recent budget and the ten-year plan that accompanied it. Albertans have seen time and again that the governing Progressive Conservatives promise a particular course of action during the election and then afterwards completely ignore their promises. And so, for example, Alison Redford promised in 2012 to vastly expand social programs and infrastructure, only to proclaim months after the election that a “bitumen bubble” had forced her to focus instead on cutbacks.
But let’s take Jim Prentice at his word. What is he promising Albertans over the next ten years? He is promising continuous cutbacks of health, education, and social services, and nothing concrete on such issues as poverty, the environment, long-term care, mental health, and childcare. While he is promising small increases in the personal income tax of the better off, he refuses to touch corporate taxes or petroleum royalties. The overall footprint of the government in Albertans’ lives will decline under Mr. Prentice’s watch and they will be more subject to market forces to deal with all adversities.
Premier Prentice, so recently senior executive vice-president and vice-chairman of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, claims that government has become too bloated in Alberta. Really? In 1989, provincial government spending accounted for 22 percent of the Gross Domestic Product of Alberta. By 2014 that had fallen to 12 percent, compared to a Canadian average for all provinces of 22 percent. That did not translate into more money in most Albertans’ pockets. There was a 414 percent increase in profits in Alberta from 1989 to 2008 alone and profits in Alberta by the latter date were three times as high as in other Canadian provinces.
What does this all cutting mean for the future of the province? As we saw in the Tory budget, it means that the crumbling Misericordia Hospital in Edmonton will get minor repairs rather than be replaced, while there will be no provision for new teachers in the province to accommodate a rising population and the building of new schools. University education will become less accessible than ever, seniors will have less help from government to stay in their homes and be subjected to corporate whims when they are forced into long-term care, while Albertans will pay a “health tax” for a health budget that is actually being reduced and has little focus on the preventative side of health care, which would require a close look at the poor distribution of wealth and services in this province.
In such circumstances, an early election should perhaps be welcomed, even though it means a waste of $7 million dollars to hold an election. It is an opportunity to throw out a government that has become increasingly mean-spirited over the last two decades and more and replace it with a government that puts people’s needs rather than the needs of oil company executives and bankers first. But that is not an easy prospect in Alberta. While progressives have won about 40 percent of the vote in various provincial elections in Alberta, notably the elections of 2004 and 2008, their impact has been blunted because there is an abundance of progressive parties and their votes are often split in seats where a united effort could elect a progressive candidate.
There is not much point now that the election has been called in decrying the failure of Alberta’s progressive parties to think of the interests of Albertans before thinking of partisan interests. Instead we should celebrate the fact that we have four political parties that, in varying degrees, are calling for an overhaul of the priorities of Alberta’s Tories that have led us to Jim Prentice’s abysmal budget and his help-the-rich ten-year plan. Change Alberta’s goal is to analyze the campaigns that progressive candidates will be conducting over the next four weeks and to recommend to strategic voters which progressive candidate in each winnable constituency–defined as a constituency where there is evidence that a party other than the Tories or their evil twin, the Wildrose Party, has a realistic chance of winning the day if voters vote strategically–has the best chance of winning. We are not in the business of telling you who to vote for! We have little interest in trying to tell you that candidate x is more progressive than candidate y or will do a better job representing your constituency. Instead, our more modest goal is to inform you about which progressive party candidate is actually in the lead in your riding. You can decide if, in conscience, you can support that individual in order to provide the possibility of a progressive representing your constituency or if you wish to cast your vote for your favourite party or politician despite what it may mean for the final result in your constituency or for the whole province. In the 2012 election, we were able to correctly predict which progressive candidate was in the lead in 39 of 42 seats (a 93 percent success rate). Our view is that 44 years of the Tories and a quarter century of cutbacks to necessary programs is enough. We, the people, need to do what the parties have refused to do: unite from below and make our votes count!
Alvin Finkel is the chair of Change Alberta. He is professor emeritus of History at Athabasca University and a prolific Canadian historian of Alberta politics, Canadian social policy, and hugely successful survey histories of Canada.