Saturday, May 16, 2015

Conservative or what?

So, Preston Manning. Yup. I hoped we'd heard the last of him with his transparent attempt to stack city council with like minded lackeys during the last civic election. He likes to think of himself as a political guru of sorts.. A few days ago one of the newspapers proved yet again the descent of their quality is not over, and published a screed from him. I've put that in italics and will respond, paragraph by paragraph. Preston Manning is the founder of the Manning Centre for Building Democracy.

Three major challenges face Alberta after the election of the province’s new NDP government.
For the premier, it’s the challenge of forming and developing a cabinet capable of leading a $45-billion government and meeting the expectations of the voters who elected it.

Fair enough, though very few of the previous PC governments met the expectations of the voters. The people who paid for them got what they wanted.

Many years ago, when my father was Alberta’s premier, he would commence a meeting with his principal advisers immediately after a general-election victory by saying: “Let us now see what the great electoral tide has washed up on the beach … and let us pray that we will find enough timber to build a cabinet.” Today, it is in the interests of all Albertans that such timber be found and carefully assembled.

So given that previous governments have faced issues with forming a cabinet, it's a little hypocritical to point the finger at Ms Notley in this regard.

In putting together her cabinet team and legislative program, the new premier will also need to be careful not to draw heavily on the advice of NDP operatives from outside the province such as those offered by the federal NDP. To do so would be akin to inviting the organizers of the Toronto International Film Festival to organize the Calgary Stampede – not a good idea. To do so would also be to repeat the mistake made by Alberta’s first and only Liberal administration, which drew so heavily on the advice and resources of the federal Liberal Party under Wilfrid Laurier that the provincial party came to be seen as more the servant of its federal cousins than the servant of Albertans.

This is dog-whistle politics at it's finest. There are decades of bad blood between the federal government and various Alberta administrations. Those that think it started with the NEP and Trudeau in the 80's need to read a little more history. Operatives is certainly a loaded term, compared to what he calls his father's "principal advisors".

In fact, the NDP has been doing a pretty good job of confronting and attempting to hold the current federal government to account. It isn't their fault it's currently being led by a man with no principles, no respect for Parliament, or even democracy. He's a power mad thug, and the federal NDP leader, Mr Mulcair has been cutting him to ribbons over the current Senate scandal. The one with Duffy, if you've lost track.

Given that the federal NDP just went through a similar experience of coping with many new and inexperienced politicians, I'd think their advice would be particularly relevant. I hope that our new premier gets advice from all quarters. Advice is a good thing. The trick is to make the right choices, and there I hope she remembers who elected her.

For conservatives of all stripes, the silver lining of the dark cloud that descended upon them on May 6 is that the election has “cleared the air” on the centre-right side of the political spectrum. The PC administration in Edmonton had increasingly departed from conservative principles on the fiscal front and failed to creatively apply conservative values to other areas of provincial responsibility, from the organization of social services to environmental conservation. It had become “conservative” in name only, and it was too much to expect Jim Prentice (the third PC premier in five years) to reverse the trend overnight.

There are no conservative principles, only a lust for power, cutting taxes for the benefit of their wealthy buddies, and undercutting efforts to help those that need it. That's what is meant by "creatively apply conservative values" in case you were wondering. I suppose "cleared the air" could be used to describe the results of the election on the conservative side of the spectrum, but a deluge of biblical proportions is more like it. If anything, they were getting too conservative, rabidly attacking unions, threatening to cut the pensions of ordinary working Albertans, and letting corporations do whatever they want on taxation and environmental issues. Let's not even get started on their homophobic Bill 10.

The centre-right side of the political spectrum is likely to be in turmoil for some time. The PC's have just begun their period of navel gazing, starting with the interim leader ripping out the guts of the former leader. The blood and entrails will be spreading for a while.

And while Brian Jean, the Wildrose Leader, did remarkably well for taking the helm only days before the election call, Wildrose, too, needs time and space to heal its internal divisions, to reconcile its libertarian and social-conservative elements, and strengthen its relevance to Albertans who live outside its base in southern and rural constituencies.

By "libertarian", he means cut taxes and fire workers, and by "social-conservative elements", he's talking the lake of fire. It's still there. And by "strengthen its relevance to Albertans" he means regain power by hook or by crook. Although Mr Jean has done a commendable job in pulling the party together for the election, they are still getting it together after last year's defections by much of the elected party leadership. There's some blood and entrails still to be cleaned up there.

Conservatism in Alberta, therefore, needs to be rebuilt provincially from the bottom up – rediscovering and recommitting itself to its fundamental values and principles, developing a conservative platform that applies those values and principles to the issues of the day, and engaging in constituency rebuilding and advocacy campaigns to restore its relevance and influence with Alberta electors.

This all means polishing up the old lies, maybe putting another layer of paint and wax on top, and spinning faster than ever. In less charitable words, putting lipstick on the pig. We've had 44 years of PC conservative values, and before that was another 35 years of Social Credit conservative values. The many people that have been moving here from elsewhere wonder why we've put up with this nonsense for so long. He seems to think the NDP winning this election is a flash in the pan, and Albertans will regain their senses. I think it's more like we are coming to our senses, and realizing that the so called "conservative values" are a crock of shit.

In the federal arena, this process took more than 10 years to complete after the collapse of the federal PC Party in the 1993 national election. It culminated in, but did not begin with, an effort to “unite the right” at the party level, but much ground work had to be done before that effort was even feasible, let alone advisable. Alberta is a much smaller and dynamic political arena than the national political arena, so the deconstruction and rebuilding of conservatism provincially should not be nearly as long or difficult as it was federally.

The federal PC party collapsed in 83 because of the utter revulsion people had for Brian Mulroney. There was much back channel chat about uniting the right, but in the end it only got accomplished by an act of betrayal perpetrated by our current Prime Minister. And Albertans wondered where the idea came from with last years Wildrose defections. Let's save Alberta from further such such machinations.

For the private sector, the provincial election results create an enormous leadership challenge – the challenge of leading efforts to sustain and improve the performance of Alberta’s economy at a time of low petroleum prices and when such leadership is unlikely to be provided by the provincial government.

The PC party essentially hasn't provided any leadership to the economy since the days of Peter Lougheed. Unless you count blowing up hospitals as leadership, and then I guess you can count Ralph Klein. Given that, it's a bit of a cheap shot to say leadership is unlikely to be provided by the new government. I take the position it might well provide leadership, (but oh horrors!), in a direction leading towards forcing corporations to take responsibility for their foul emissions, both planned and unplanned, or making them pay more for royalties as the price goes up, or in taxes.

Many Albertans see the provincial government – with its deficits and debts, its inability to reform health care (the largest area of provincial expenditure), and its failures to address the environmental constraints on energy development – as inhibiting rather than contributing to Alberta’s economic progress. This is unlikely to change under the new government since economic policy has never been an NDP strength and promises made to Alberta’s public-service unions will inhibit the government’s willingness and ability to balance the budget and resist increasing taxes.

How kind he is, in saying "its inability to reform health care", when really, all the PC governments have done is made successively bigger and smellier messes, costing more at each step, as different flavours of conservative came into vogue. Centralize, decentralize, then do it again. Fire people that disagree with the government, and pay out huge severance packages.

The Tommy Douglas NDP government produced 16 straight balanced budgets, including the introduction of medicare, and during troubled economic times. It isn't the union staff that have been creating these problems. In fact, they've been the ones holding the system together by working their asses off. Maybe we should save a huge pile of money and fire most of the managers.

There's an old saying, "If I was going there, I wouldn't start from here." That's certainly the case with health care reform. It's a loaded topic in Canada, complete with packs and packs worth of dog-whistles. That's a whole other essay.

And the "failures to address the environmental constraints on energy development" means the PC government didn't do enough to build pipelines, reduce environmental reporting, suppress opposition to oil and gas projects on environmental grounds, encourage further drilling and fracking, or other actions to let big corporations have it even more their way.

In leading Alberta’s economic recovery, private-sector players might take a leaf from the playbook of Calgary Flames coach Bob Hartley. When his team captain and star defenceman Marc Giordano went down with a season-ending injury, most pundits predicted that the Flames would never make the playoffs. But they did because Coach Hartley successfully called upon all other team members to “raise their game.”

By "leading Alberta's economic recovery" he means pressing for corporate tax cuts, reducing wages, and cutting pensions. I suggest that the provincial economy is just a little more complicated than a hockey game. The various private sector players have been involved in ruthlessly cutting costs for several decades now, in the name of finding efficiencies and providing shareholder value. I sometimes wonder how much value to the provincial economy is added by all the corporate acquisitions and divestitures over the years. As near as I can tell, the only ones that get anything out of it are the lawyers, and the people at the very top of the pyramid.

With falling oil prices, Alberta’s star economic player is still in the game but playing hurt. Now is the time for other sectors – agriculture and forestry, the service and knowledge sectors, whose growth and export potential is not limited by pipeline capacity, exporters with a strong focus on Asia – to accept the challenge, “up their game” and provide more of the leadership Alberta’s economy urgently requires.

I don't think that leadership is the commodity that Alberta's economy lacks. It's competence in government. The PC party demonstrated an extreme lack of that, and finally got the long overdue reward it had earned. Mr Manning has enormously over-simplified an extremely complicated economic environment. The price of oil and the exchange rate on the Canadian dollar affects every part of the economy and we have no control over them.

Mr Manning is an example of the elites that believe in policies that benefit the wealthy. They want to see the system rigged so that they can keep what they've got, and prevent anyone else from getting some themselves. The problem is that economics isn't an exact science. It's barely a science at all. When you listen to people using economic arguments, what you need to do is look at the intended results. Follow the money.

There's a joke I like to tell. A trade unionist, a white collar worker, and an investment banker meet in the board room. There is a box of doughnuts on the table. While the white collar worker and unionist are getting a coffee, the banker pigs out on the doughnuts and even stuffs some into his pockets. When the unionist and white collar worker get back to the table, there is one left. The investment banker says to the white collar worker, "Watch out for that union guy, he wants a piece of your doughnut."

1 comment:

  1. Excellent rant, Keith. I especially like the joke at the end.


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