A CHANCE TO CHANGE ALBERTA, 2015 by ALVIN FINKEL

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.

3 responses to “A CHANCE TO CHANGE ALBERTA, 2015 by ALVIN FINKEL

  1. P.S. Alvin –excellent point about the lack of preventive care in the health budget—completely out of tune with the international consensus about what is needed in health care reform. A future oriented strategy should have this at its centre. Combine that with the looming cuts in federal transfers, and Harper and Prentice will have created the perfect conditions for revisiting the so-called problem of “unsustainable single-payer health care”.

  2. The one positive about Prentice’s ten-year plan is that it reduces dependency on energy revenue in the long run. This is a huge nod to pre-Klein common sense. But then it timidly increases tax revenue about half as much as it needs to. (Hence the bragging point that it “preserves the Alberta advantage–reducing it from $11 billion to $9 billion). Ricardo Acuna points out that the plan to balance the budget and put half of the royalties into savings still assumes a return to oil prices over $80 per barrel. That is the economic critique. But then there is the political one. By leaving the Klein myth intact, and by not seeking an all-party agreement on a savings strategy (notice that bi-partisan agreement in Alaska and all-party formal agreement in Norway undergird their savings policies) the door is wide open for backsliding by a future premier. So it doesn’t go far enough, and there is a very real likelihood that it ultimately wont even reach its own timid, inadequate goals.

  3. So true, Alvin!
    Now, if only members of the general Alberta public could see that they have not been voting in their best interests for years, they might put pressure on the centre-left to work together.

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