Parties promise product for position

By Jonathan Davies

With the provincial election just around the corner, Albertan political parties are in full campaigning mode, constantly outdoing each other and touting the best and brightest of futures under their rule.

Integral to the campaign platform are election promises and they come on hard and fast. But what are they really worth and how does that shape the political environment we live in?

“There seems to be a promise a day from everybody,” said University of Calgary professor Dr. David Taras. “It’s almost a war of promises.”

It’s not a new phenomenon, as long as politics have been around, there have been broken promises. This affects people’s views of politicians and politics, and subsequently their belief in the political system, explained Taras.

Alberta has the lowest voter turnout in Canada for provincial elections, according to the Canadian Council on Social Development and this is closely linked to election outcome.

“It’s a cynical electorate to say the least,” said Taras.

One suggestion for the poor statistic is that Stelmach’s Progressive Conservative party is the largest, wealthiest and most powerful force that have dominated provincial politics since Peter Lougheed came into power in 1971. Neither the Liberals nor New Democrats have been able to successfully contend in an election since.

“Alberta’s political system is unique in Canada, because the forces of politics generally don’t apply,” explained Taras. “When the outcome is written in stone, it is hard to get [voters] motivated. To make people feel their votes count.”

But a change could be in the air. Albertans are concerned over a range of issues including royalties, childcare, environmental protection and health care. Last week, the Alberta College of Physicians and Surgeons called into question Stelmach’s plan to train new doctors and nurses to ease the province’s health care crisis while his proposal to provide more daycare spots has been deemed inadequate by mothers.

More recently, rural Albertans are showing a swing away from the Conservatives, uneasy about what the future will bring to their communities, explained Taras.

“Rural Alberta has been the bedrock of the Conservative government” he said. “Forty-three of the 82 seats in cabinet are located outside Edmonton and Calgary.

Taras called it the Ghostbuster question: “who you gonna call?” It’s a sign that voters may be wising up to the campaign promises, he explained.

“Are these real solutions, are they just throwing money at the problem?” he said.

The other major event in the lead-up to this election has been an aggressive advertising campaign by the Alberta Federation of Labour, accusing the Progressive Conservatives of having no realistic plan.

“Can Albertans expect progress­–don’t plan on it,” states one of their ads.

“The effects [of these ads] are devastating,” said Taras. “It has changed the architecture a bit now in the Alberta contest.”

Politicians don’t go out intending to break a promise, noted Taras. There’s clearly more to it than simple lying. Election promises aren’t always economically feasible, especially when made without enough research.

“Premier Klein used to make up policies on a whim and then cabinet ministers would find out later,” recalled Taras.

It’s a dangerous game to play in politics, but Taras admits Klein always managed to land in the political middle. Prime Minister Stephen Harper used another strategy.

“He would present just five promises and make voters do the checklist,” said Taras. “It’s a good strategy psychologically. It gives voters something they can grasp.”

The credibility of the politician may serve as a good indicator, but none in this election have a track record. Both Stelmach and Taft are relatively new to the scene. By all accounts, Stelmach seems to be genuine about his promised commitments to the province.

Furthermore, it is easy to lose sight of the reality that politicians have many pressures on them. Budgets are limited and interests conflicting.

“This is an austere time with a lot of cutbacks. There’s not much money for planning for a population of four million people,” said Taras.

Perhaps Albertans have reason to call these promises into question after all

“The voters will decide,” said Taras.