Horses, ponies, races and ridings

By Kurt Genest

It’s election time in Alberta, and the questions are abound like oil derricks on the mighty plains. Just how washed-up are the Progressive Conservatives? Just how scary is the Wildrose Alliance? Just how hopeless are the causes of the Liberals and ndp? Is this really just a two-horse race? If these questions have haunted your dreams, then you have come to the right place.

The argument that 41 years of single-party rule could possibly be healthy is almost as weak as suggesting that we should pursue change for change’s sake alone. The pcs aren’t a total write-off, though. While Alison Redford has shown that she is not clean of the authoritarian streak that stained her predecessors, such as when she cut short the debate on several contentious bills in December, she has at least acknowledged the need to iron out inefficiencies in the health-care system, which has seen wait times decrease slightly in the last year. Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk’s openness about the need to fix crumbling schools and willingness to consult teachers are encouraging signs of proactivity. However, even if you believe that Redford’s talk will be substantiated by action, the fact remains that her supporting cast still largely comprises the same reactive group that has contributed to the current woes of our province. Like a tree, we will never know just how deep is the corruption and waste until the pcs fall.

Danielle Smith of the Wildrose Alliance argues that the pcs have failed economically because they are not conservative enough (not that conservatism has ever been an indicator of fiscal competence), with five straight deficit budgets as a focus of attack. While a valid point, as there is little purpose in spending a lot of money on programs if we have to cancel them in a few years anyway, the Wildrose’s vision of less government intervention in every aspect of life warrants caution. For example, increased privatization of health care is on their radar, as they would like to model our system after France, which is highly regarded. While an innovative idea, the co-existence of public and private, not-for-profit hospitals raises the question of whether there will be two or more standards of care based on patient wealth.

The wa’s approach to this election is every bit as concerning as their platform. Their first television ad, an attack on Redford, offers no reason why a voter should choose the wa other than their ability to provide ominous music to the populace, in which case Smith has already delivered in fine fashion. Smith’s claim that Redford, who has devoted three decades of her life to public service, “doesn’t like Alberta” is petty and insulting. Anyone who has been involved in politics knows the intense personal toll that it takes, and Smith, as a party leader of all people, should appreciate this and avoid crossing that personal boundary.

Raj Sherman and the Liberals, hoping to miraculously return to government for the first time since 1921, favour higher taxation of corporations in order to build the Heritage Trust Fund to the point where its generated interest can provide a sustainable source of revenue in good times and bad. Kevin Taft, who led them in the last election, points to corporate profit rates in Alberta being two or three times higher than in other provinces or the u.s., meaning that their share of taxes could be increased while maintaining Alberta’s competitive edge.

Brian Mason and the ndp’s policies could arguably be summarized as amped-up versions of the Liberals’: more taxes, more spending. The ndp, for example, favour increasing oil and gas royalty rates while the Liberals do not. While the Liberals cautiously support projects such as the Keystone xl Pipeline, the ndp believes it will ultimately kill Alberta jobs. They are the most suspicious of parties about the environmental impact of the energy sector.

Ultimately, this should be a two-horse race, not between the pcs and the wa, but between the Liberals and the ndp. Despite Redford’s potential, the pc party is a tired old beast that has long relied on knee-jerk reactions rather than long-term planning. Whether or not you are warm to the wa’s homegrown brand of ultraconservatism, the petty attack tactics of Danielle Smith are not becoming of an adult, let alone a premier. The Liberals are business-friendly with a long-term vision for sustainable social spending, while the ndp will surely satisfy those who especially want to take a step back and have a serious look at the whole oil and gas thing. This election, why not forsake the two big horses and support a pony?

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