This weekend, I hope and expect that the majority of conservative minded people in Alberta will find themselves united under one banner.
One thing that has fallen by the wayside in these singular times of unity battles has been any real specific policy directions. This had to happen as we really need to unite under general principles of conservatism such as small government and low taxes. If we get ourselves mired into specific policy items we could reignite internal divisions at a time when we really can’t afford to. Conservatives can unite under general principles, but we can nitpick ourselves to death over the individual policies.
Assuming that the forces of unity are successful this weekend, we will then enter a formal leadership race (it has already been clearly informally running for some time now).
There is no better time to hammer out policy specifics and commitments than during a leadership race and we dearly need to start spelling out what the plan is.
Yes, the vast majority of Albertans think that the NDP is harming our province. We do not have a specific plan laid out for how we will mitigate the damage caused by the NDP once we finally toss them to the electoral curb however.
Most candidates and supporters agree that the NDP carbon tax has to go. Notley has proven that legislative flagellation through tax hikes will never buy us that mythical “social license” required to get our products out of the province. The impact of the carbon tax on our environment is negligible at best and the impact on the economy is terrible.
In cutting taxes though, how do we balance the budget?
There is no getting around it. We need to cut spending and we need to cut it deeply. The longer the NDP is in power, the more painful the recovery will be but we simply can’t avoid it. Alberta spends $2,700 more annually per-capita than our neighbors in BC. We have plenty of room to cut.
One of the most effective ways that the left has undercut those calling for spending cuts so far has been for them simply to ask “where will you cut?”. That is a perfectly valid question and it absolutely has to be answered.
Health care and education make up the vast majority of our spending. No matter how people feel that these areas are sacred, we simply must reduce how much we spend in those areas. We can’t afford a hospital on every street corner or a nurse’s visit to every household. While it will never feel like we spend enough in these core services, we have very real limits on what we can afford. We need to examine these areas and cut spending to a reasonable level.
Just proposing such cuts will take political courage. Following through on these cuts will take leadership and strength.
Klein was at his most popular while he cut Alberta’s spending by 20% across the board. Despite the howls of the unions and the left still harping about it today, it really wasn’t that bad when the cuts were happening. There clearly was a great deal of bloat within the civil service and we were all better for the trimming of it. “Infrastructure deficit” is a bullshit term that some use to try and knock the austerity of those times. Again it is trash and most Albertans see through it. There will never be enough schools, interchanges, fire stations etc. We can always use more. Tax dollars are finite though and we have to draw a line somewhere. Klein’s support began dropping significantly as soon as he began falling into the tired old PC pattern of spending our way out of problems. Albertans appreciate fiscal restraint when it is presented with good leadership.
Image ht to Roy Doonanco
Brian Jean has chosen to avoid taking any strong stance on cuts and is pursuing the mushy middle. This is not my idea of strong leadership but I guess it is a strategy. I can’t help but remember Jean’s abysmal debate performance where he almost mindlessly answered every question by stating that he wont raise taxes. He literally sounded like some sort of broken record. I remember all too clearly sitting in a room full of volunteers on one of the campaigns. We had put up a projector screen and bought some beer and pizza to give our volunteers a night off. We hoped that they would be invigorated in watching the debates. We found ourselves dejected. That was the night that I truly began to realize that we were not going to win that election. Notley showed energy and vision, Prentice showed classic arrogance and Jean was inanimate. We are paying so dearly for the lack of principled leadership in that debate today.
Maybe Jean will show some more strength after the unity vote is finished with. Perhaps other candidates will spur some vigor out of him. Maybe Jean’s strategy of avoiding strong stands will actually pay off and he will win the leadership. I personally don’t think so.
Assuming a successful unity vote, the leadership race will very likely be determining who our next premier will be.
It will take vision, leadership and a true plan with policy specifics in order to win that leadership.
I do look forward to seeing who emerges from the pack with the above qualities as the race unfolds. We need some real policy discussion and we need it soon.