Tuesday, September 15, 2009

"argument" won?

When I first ran for office early last year, I was sure that I would "make a difference" because I had such good arguments for why people should vote for me and the Wildrose Alliance. In the end, however, I and my fellow candidates in the Edmonton area made no detectable difference at all. As you can imagine, it was a humbling experience.

But with the Wildrose Alliance vote in Calgary Glenmore soaring from 8% to 37% in the space of 18 months, my confidence in the power of the Wildrose Alliance message is restored... right?

Objectively, the "argument" for voting for the WRA was stronger then than now. If more Wildrosers had been elected in March 2008, more resistance could have been put up to the spending spree when resistance was so badly needed. Now, the tide of red ink should make it difficult for the Stelmach government to raise spending even if the WRA weren't around to make the argument for prudence. Applying the brakes when the P"C" government was hiking expenditures 30% in just 2 years would have surely been a lot easier and more pleasant for everyone than trying to actively cut back spending now. Global TV tonight featured a string of stories involving Alberta Health Services and post-secondary funding, where deficits are looming that are not even included in the official $6.9 billion shortfall that has yet to be tackled. Government spending, to use the economists' term, is "downward sticky".

With all of the additional voices calling out the Premier's mismanagement, I feel it less necessary to add my own.

The difference between early last year and this summer is that the "argument" is not just abstract. When it comes to business friendly policy, it has always been thus. Labour gets to vote, capital does not. Although the owners of capital will vote for policies that incentivize capital accumulation, the investor class is far outnumbered by those whose primary income derives from the sale of their labour. Capitalism has made its advances in spite of popular opinion, not because of it. It's only when the system has proven itself to work that it has been popularly accepted.

This is not to suggest that "right wing" policy in general is primarily advanced by an elite group of pundits and academics who "make the argument" while the common man votes according to concrete results. On issues like immigration, it is ordinary people who adopt the "right wing" position in defiance of elite opinion. But when it comes to economics, the masses have never been leading the charge for what they typically deride as "the corporate agenda."

In an interview with Macleans, Paul Hinman speaks, perhaps not with the eloquence of a poet, but with the experience of a politician:
it’s just that Calgary-Glenmore is hurting now and they were [therefore] willing to look [at the Wildrose Alliance]. The sad thing about politics is that we always stay put until we’re hurting. And it doesn’t matter where you look. What this is is a shift in pain. As more and more Albertans are facing the pain of premier Stelmach’s economic policies, they have to start to look. It’s human nature. We sit there if we’re happy, but if there’s pain being inflicted we’re going to move.
There you have it. It's not argument won, it's argument seen. The argument hasn't really changed. It's been reinforced, but experts had been making it for a long time. The consequences of the Stelmach government not listening have been brought home. Are the current economic conditions in the province just a consequence of provincial government decisions? Of course not, it is not fair to hold Ed entirely responsible. But he is responsible for exacerbating the situation and what's different the day after the Glenmore vote is not the strength of the argument per se but that it is being heard and considered.

Hinman makes another observation that has to be taken seriously: "a competent leader — and we’ve got one in the race — can become the next premier at the next provincial election.... the leadership’s everything."

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