Friday, August 27, 2010

update to last blogpost

I penned (ok, typed) "the more we hear from Danielle the better!" comment before I read this story.
"There are some theoretical issues that Professor Mintz and others have identified, and we’re looking at those, and we take them seriously,” [Finance Minister Ted] Morton said [with respect to tax reform].
Frankly I am surprised to hear this. If Morton had said this prior to heading up the Finance department I would have even been downright shocked, since that would have been prior to his being briefed by his department about the "theoretical issues."

Danielle Smith's reaction? "It’s shocking that he wouldn’t rule [a consumption tax] out."

Smith goes on to declare that "[t]hey don’t have a revenue problem. They have a spending problem," which I could not agree with more, but the context of Morton's "musing", if one can call it that, appears to be "looking at all the options we have for smoothing out revenue volatility," i.e. exploring tax reform within a revenue-neutral constraint.

For what it's worth, I agree with U of C economist Frank Atkins that
It's a really tough sell now because we all know that the whole reason that sales tax talk is heating up now is because of the size of the deficit. This is the wrong time for sales tax talk. This is the time for cutting expenditure talk.
As such, it can be reasonably argued that Morton is, indeed, just looking to raise money, not least because he attacked a spending control bill introduced by a Wildrose MLA earlier this year as being too constraining. Furthermore, "we take [the argument for taxing consumption] seriously" is rather at odds with what Morton's government has actually legislated, since the preamble to the "Alberta Taxpayer Protection Act" states categorically that "a general provincial sales tax is not a desirable tax."

But be that as it may, Danielle's position seems to be that it will always be "the wrong time for sales tax talk." It appears to be an a priori rejection instead of a conditional one that allows for a consideration of the evidence.

According the Edmonton Journal's editorial board, I apparently should never be too concerned about what Danielle Smith says, because she is one of those "opposition politicians who can say anything an audience wants to hear without having to worry about having to deliver." But I am concerned on the policy front and frankly I don't get the politics either. A comment by LarryAlberta on the CBC News website, "[e]liminate provincial income tax and then put in a sales tax. User pay is the fairest of all tax systems" currently has more than half again as many thumbs up as thumbs down. I dare say that the party should not refuse to consider supporting a issue with even just 40-some percent support in Edmonton when almost any constituency in the capital city can be won with 40% of the votes cast and the party would be extremely competitive in any Edmonton riding in which its support was running at 30%.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Wildrose in Edmonton - Rutherford

Wildrose's Edmonton - Rutherford constituency association held a barbecue earlier this Thursday evening and the first thing that struck me was the latest promotional banners. City Council may feel compelled to pass a road safety bylaw banning the use of Danielle's latest promo image near motorways because her look here is traffic stopping. I'd almost think they overdid it, but if newly minted Masschusetts Senator Scott Brown is any guide, a politician can never be too goodlooking.

Before we sat down to eat I chatted with Jim J and Ben B who work for caucus on the 5th floor of the Leg Annex and we got on the subject of municipal politics. I advanced the thesis that most citizens get involved with political campaigns by starting with the federal level, and from there moving on to provincial and finally municipal politics. Ideally, it should be the other way around, because then people would be more issue-focused than ideology-focused and, more importantly, would not as incubated by a "party machine." As it stands now, a lot of the most influential new people in Wildrose want to do things like they are done within a particular federal party, whereas if they had municipal backgrounds they would be coming in with diverse experiences of what worked period.

After Danielle spoke, a comedian/magician took the floor and he was very well received: "Many of you are politically active. Myself, I don't support an organized political party...... I'm a Liberal." The silent auction was another good idea... the "Wildrose surprise box" went for $20 and I never did find out what was in it.

Safetech invited me to join them at their table but the contributions of various businesses were not limited to buying tables. Alberta Pork supplied the main dish and the silent auction contributions of Weiss-Johnson Sheet Metal and Next Flight Courier were substantial. I would advise other constituency associations cultivating their business relationships like this to also take some photos illustrating a good turn-out and of the event display of their product or service information so that this can be emailed back to the business owners/managers as confirmation that their contributions were not just charity but had a business building component consistent with the experience of sponsors of non-political events.

When Danielle took the floor she addressed a number of policy issues and, just as importantly, provided some background. Reading between the lines of her discussion about the background to taking a position on the downtown airport closure, I felt my suspicion confirmed that Danielle was inclined to take a nuanced position on the airport but that Guy Boutilier and Paul Hinman wanted to dive into the issue like Manual Uribe doing a cannonball. Whenever the party appears to be damning the torpedeos, in my view it's usually because some influential players are temperamentally inclined to a "hang 'em high" Tea Party philosophy and Danielle cannot just ignore and defy such people since the party is not just all about her. Of course as far as your correspondent is concerned it ought to be all about her; - although her communications focus is on what I consider to be micro and local issues, she never fails to be convincing in substance and a model of reasonableness in tone. She also projects empathy, in that one could not fail to notice from her body language that she is either very sensitive or has received an earful or two in the past from those who ardently want both the airport and, more to the point, the issue about it closed. A Ron Leipert type she is not.

So when the hostility of the government has been such that they have obstructed caucus staffers from adding Danielle's name to a press release (on the grounds that taxpayer resources paid for the electricity that powered the e-mail carrying the name of a non-MLA), that may have been just as well in this corner's view since the less we hear from caucus and the more we hear from Danielle the better! On that count, I not only applaud the redesign of the party website, which now looks like somebody with campaign winning experience has worked on it, but salute the fact that Danielle is, in effect, now "blogging" on it (my one bit of advice to the webmaster is use [at] instead of @ for Danielle's email address so bots won't have such an easy time adding that address to their spam lists). Click here for her latest remarks regarding the private healthcare clinic in Calgary. Combine that with Kevin Libin's piece on the matter (which the National Post has interestingly carried as both an opinion piece and as a news item) and I'm far less concerned that the party may have put ideology ahead of evidence-based policy than I was earlier this week. Dave Cournoyer, who has helped cement his reputation as Alberta's authoritative public policy blogger by appearing on Global News this week (along with Edmonton's Mastermaq), had me concerned when he blasted Wildrose on the Calgary clinic matter. After all, surely Dave understood that he has the readership he does because is usually heavy on being informative and light on soapboxing. Since Daveberta hasn't exhibited as much of a compulsion to take shots at Wildrose as, say, Ken Chapman, Mr Cournoyer's criticism can't be as presumptively dismissed. Now that a more complete picture of all the facts has come out, whether one agrees with Danielle or not, fair-minded observers have to agree with Libin that Danielle has provided some sober second thought with respect to the private clinic issue.

Nominations for Edmonton - Rutherford close Friday afternoon, so we will soon learn whether there will be a contested nomination there and in several other Alberta ridings. Barring any last minute surprises, Kyle McLeod (right) will be carrying the torch for Wildrose next election against PC incumbent Fred Horne and, likely, Horne's formidable Liberal predecessor Rick Miller. Finding a candidate to put a lot of time and effort into competing against these two was not going to be easy, but Kyle is evidently not deterred by long odds as he stood as an independent during the 2006 federal election in Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont. Some might question this decision to compete against the Conservative nominee, Mike Lake, given that the riding was Liberal-held at the time of the election call, but since David Kilgour was retiring the riding's competitiveness was largely illusory and, indeed, Lake beat the Liberal nominee by close to a 3 to 1 margin. I don't know enough about Kyle to endorse him beyond his being my preferred party's nominee, but he's done a stunning job organizing in Rutherford and has a picture-perfect young family.

One final, unrelated observation I'll make here concerns the October municipal elections, which I discussed with a few attendees. Early this year I lamented incumbent councilor Bryan Anderson's decision to run in ward 9, since the upscale, older, and (therefore?) conservative-leaning ward would have been open had Anderson, Don Iveson, and Ben Henderson had not all decided to run in wards they don't reside in, just so that Henderson didn't have to compete against Jane Batty in the new northside ward 6. Anderson and Iveson's January announcement was timed to deter would-be competitors from starting to door-knock and fund-raise early in what they thought would be open wards. I, for one, didn't think there would be any interesting races this fall. It now appears, however, that Kerry Diotte (video below) has a very interesting chance in the southeast's ward 11, as Dave Thiele has decided - to the satisfaction of most council watchers - to not seek re-election. I've seen enough Tony Caterina signage on 118 avenue this month to believe that Caterina will be more competitive in arty ward 7 than I previously thought, and the suburban north end ward 3 will also be open. On top of this is the fact that there is a well-funded and organized movement to keep the airport open, which could have supported a pro-airport candidate in every ward. As it stands now, Envision Edmonton has a ground army and phone banking facilities that could have been fruitfully utilized right until election day were these candidates currently several weeks into their door-knocking and fundraising. All this to say that more conservative candidates should have announced a run at council during the first half of this year than actually did.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

this Wildroser salutes Kevin Taft

Former Alberta Liberal leader Kevin Taft (right) has announced that he will not be seeking re-election, although he will continue to serve his Edmonton Riverview constituency until the next election.

This is a lengthy post, but mostly because I quote at length from Taft's response to the 2008 Stelmach budget. The boldfacing you see is my own emphasis.

If there was a policy forum being held in the capital city, like on healthcare in Whitemud or on power at Rexall, Dr Taft could be counted on to attend. After lining up with other ordinary citizens to speak to a microphone at the Rexall rally, I noticed that the former Leader of Her Majesty’s Official and Loyal Opposition never introduced himself by name, never mind as an Edmonton MLA. Few politicians, I would think, would have been inclined to remain so anonymous.

When Wildrose MLA Rob Anderson introduced his private member's bill in February to limit provincial spending to population growth and inflation, Finance Minister Ted Morton responded "If you look at what’s happening in most of the U.S. states that have those types of rules right now, you’re seeing massive cuts to education, law enforcement, health care." In fact Finance Minister Morton was disseminating disinformation here since the bill at hand would cap the growth of spending, and as such would not force any net cuts. The states that are making deep cuts are in fact doing so because of mandated prohibitions against deficit financing (a reason why I spoke up against a proposal to prohibit debt financing at the last Wildrose AGM). If Morton were inclined to make a reference to the situation in the USA that was revealing instead of misleading, he could note that not all 50 states are running deficits. Alberta's only American neighbour has remained in surplus throughout the recession, and Alaska, which has analogous energy resources, anticipates a surplus in 2011. In addition, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities notes that neither state has cut services. The Pew Centre's State of the States 2010 report notes that states situated similarly to Alberta are in relatively good fiscal health:
Call these the “Lucky Few”—states that have weathered the recession better than most: Alaska, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Texas and Wyoming. Except for Nebraska, all of these states are rich in minerals. Nebraska, meanwhile, benefits from low unemployment, rising farm income and conservative government fiscal policies.

When Kevin Taft addressed the issue, he observed that capping at population growth and inflation "doesn't account for growth in the economy" and accordingly should perhaps just be "a short-term way to control spending." It was a thoughtful and respectful argument that prompted Anderson to say "very good question" and Anderson even felt compelled to agree with the former Liberal leader that "[y]ou don’t want to in perpetuity cap spending at inflation plus growth."

For what it is worth, I disagree with Taft and think the Wildrose MLA conceded to him too readily in that I don't see a gradual reduction in the size of government relative to the economy as a problem. The level and quality of government services would not go down, as their resourcing levels would be calculated per capita and would not be eroded by inflation. You just wouldn't see the government taking a cut out of the additional future wealth the economy would hopefully create over time. It's the most easily managed "diet" that a government could be on. I might add that the government's pension liabilities are likely to increase and the specific bill here, Bill 204, explicitly excluded changes in "liabilities respecting pensions" (and "debt servicing costs") from the "government spending" it sought to control.

Taft nonetheless helped inform the policy debate instead of disinforming it like Morton, and I note that Kevin Taft has repeatedly called for true fiscal conservatism. By this I mean caring for the province's asset position as opposed to just demanding less revenue collection, as all too many self-styled "conservatives" would have it. During the last election campaign the party he led issued a press release calling on the Tories to "rein in their massive spending", and observed that "[t]he Stelmach government spends more per capita than any province in Canada..." Without committing his party to a policy of indefinite duration, the press release quoted Taft saying, "'The Alberta Liberals will keep our commitment to real change through our platform, with no increase in real per capita program spending. It’s time to spend right, not more. It’s time for an end to Stelmach’s tax-and-waste government." He also observed that "[t]he Stelmach government spends 35% more per capita than the Ontario government" without noting that the former had a "conservative" label and the latter a "liberal" one.

Most notable of all, however, were Dr Taft's prescient observations that
[t]he Stelmach government is addicted to royalties. They act like the end of the gravy train will never come, like they can continually add spending without consequences. We have to get responsible and provide for the future before it’s too late.
At this rate, the Tories are setting us up for service cuts and rapidly increasing taxation when royalties slow down.
Within a year, the very slow down that Kevin Taft had warned of had materialized, with the one thing that he did not fully anticipate with his remarks being the fact that the Tories would evade tough choices with respect to service cuts and tax hikes by repealing their own "Fiscal Responsibility Act" in order to run massive deficits.

Within a matter of days after this press release, however, Albertans re-elected Stelmach, Morton, and the rest with a massive majority, effectively terminating Taft's mandate to indefinitely continue as Liberal leader. The government soon released its 2008 budget, and Taft gave his response to the budget on April 23:
...[o]n a per capita basis Alberta has 51,900 barrels of recoverable oil reserves, tops in the world. In other words, for our small population, per capita we have the largest oil reserves in the world. Second is Kuwait, then the United Arab Emirates, and then Qatar. Saudi Arabia, which we always assume is incredibly wealthy in petroleum, actually ranks fifth on a list of petroleum wealth per capita. Alberta ranks first. I think that’s something we should all remember when we’re weighing out how we manage this wealth. Now, that’s just oil reserves. If you add in natural gas reserves, our wealth rises even higher. Natural gas reserves are almost 57 trillion cubic feet, and there’s perhaps another 500 trillion cubic feet of coal-bed methane....

But in this budget it’s the same approach that we’ve seen for far too long from this government, which is no plan for savings, and the results of that are shocking. I think the most obvious result of that is the value of the heritage trust fund, which was set up over 30 years ago. It was set up to be a savings vehicle for the people of Alberta, and in real terms the Alberta heritage fund today is worth less than it was 20 years ago. I think that’s shameful.

We are liquidating the wealth of this province just about as fast as it can humanly be done. You can see that in the overheated economy. You see that in the labour shortages. You see that in the consuming of the environment. We’re liquidating our wealth as quickly as we can do it. We can’t do it any faster – can we? – because we can’t get the people here, can’t get the equipment here. We’re selling our wealth as quickly as is humanly possible, and what’s the long-term result of that? Where are the savings? Where is the wealth that’s going to be there for our grandchildren and beyond?

Of course, it’s said many times that Alberta has fallen behind other jurisdictions on this measure, and it’s very true. I fully acknowledge that each jurisdiction is different and has different priorities, but when you look across the globe, you see that Alaska has a strategy for saving its petroleum wealth and converting it into something permanent, Norway does, Russia does, and several Middle Eastern countries do. Then you look at Alberta and you go through this budget and you don’t see that plan. That is, in my view, the fatal shortfall of this budget.

... it’s worth perhaps looking a little bit at the past. How much nonrenewable resource wealth has flowed through this province’s treasury since this government was first elected? It’s a staggering amount. It would now be well over the $200 billion mark. If you go back, you can itemize it through the years, starting in the 1970s and moving up. There are many individual years when as much as $10 billion or more in one year of nonrenewable resource wealth flows through this government’s hands. Yet the Heritage Fund today, if you liquidated it entirely, wouldn’t finance six months of government operations.

It is very much, Mr. Speaker, like this government believes it won the great big lottery of all time, and in many ways it did, but instead of doing what every reasonable and well informed financial adviser would recommend, which is to save some of that, we’re spending it as fast as we can, and that is a mortal danger to the future of this province.

What this budget indicates is that we have become addicted to the process of liquidating our capital. This government has become addicted to it. There is actually an enormous gap, which we call a sustainability gap, between what this government brings in in reliable sources of revenue – I’m talking there about taxes, federal transfers, fees and premiums, and so on, things that every other provincial government has to rely on so heavily – a gap between all of those permanent and secure sources of revenue and how much is being spent. We haven’t had time, since this budget just came out yesterday, to work out the size of the gap in this budget, but based on previous years, I’m sure that it’s grown. It’s probably over $2,000 per person, the gap between what we’re spending and what we’re bringing in in sustainable revenue. The only way we’re able to cover that gap is by spending our petroleum wealth, our nonrenewable petroleum wealth.

This is a dangerous, dangerous pattern, and it’s a pattern that’s been building now for many years with this government: spend more than you bring in and make up the difference by selling part of the farm. Well, at some point we’re not going to be able to do that, and we’ve learned that lesson historically. The Minister of Energy is snickering at this analogy. Well, maybe that’s the difference between your government’s position and mine and this caucus’s position.

History will tell us that, in fact, there’s a real danger here. We learned that lesson 20 years ago when the world price of oil dropped below $10 and we were as a government massively dependent on those nonrenewable resource revenues. When they dried up, what did we have to do? We had to make dramatic cuts to public services, we had to increase taxes, we had to lay off thousands of people, and we went into a prolonged economic slowdown. We’re on the same course again, and this budget reinforces and, in fact, amplifies that course. That’s my single biggest concern with this budget, Mr. Speaker.

At the time that Taft made these remarks in the Legislature, there was no Wildrose Alliance representation, the party having been wiped out in the election of the previous month. But just the day before, April 22, the Liberal leader opened with following remarks:
It’s a great pleasure for me to introduce a person who many of you will know and many of you won’t have known. He’s seated in the Speaker’s gallery today, the former Member for Cardston-Taber-Warner and the current leader of the Wildrose Alliance Party, Mr. Paul Hinman. I would ask Paul to please rise, and let’s give him a warm welcome.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Clareview stop on the summer BBQ circuit

Before replying to some comments to my last post, I'll share here some mental notes I made about Edmonton-Sherwood Park MP Tim Uppal (at left in photo), who hosted a barbecue in Edmonton's northeast Wednesday afternoon, and declared Uppal supporter Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview MLA Tony Vandermeer (right). Although I don't currently live in that riding, my folks do and I have kept my mailing address there. I accordingly head over there on a roughly weekly basis to collect mail and to visit with mom and dad. This particular evening I joined Dad in dropping in on a barbeque he was invited to by Mr Uppal.

Uppal makes an amiable impression. He has a normal person's level of shyness instead of a politician's level, meaning that he doesn't go out of his way to "work the room" and give everyone a firm handshake and a good look in the eye. It was actually a little too noticeable that he wasn't looking me in the eye when I was talking with him, particularly when the topic was difficult like the circumstances surrounding his 2008 nomination. While some might think it dodgy, I find some evasive body language reassuring, since it's the politicians who can lie to you or give you a half story without blinking an eye that scare me.

When I raised the subject of the 2008 federal nomination, he made a number of claims, including
- it was not a close vote; he won by 2:1
- yes, he was anointed by party authorities in Ottawa in the sense that Stockwell Day agreed to voice a demon-dial to the membership describing him as the "one conservative" in the race. But that's called politics not playing dirty
- everyone who voted had to prove they were riding residents
- the riding is not "Sherwood Park", it is "Edmonton - Sherwood Park". Given the results of the subsequent federal election, which showed Uppal losing all but a handful of polls in Fort Saskatchewan and Sherwood Park to the candidate supported by a majority of the riding board and who filed as an independent (coloured yellow, below), it was apparently to Uppal's advantage to have held the nomination inside Edmonton city limits, but Uppal rejected the charge that the location of the nomination meeting was furthermore "obscure."

As for policy, Tim discussed the issues from a retail angle and I would be surprised if he were ever moved up off the back benches. His views on the Wildrose party seemed to be consistent with the federal party line, namely, official neutrality but expressing some anxiety about "vote splitting". Afterwards, I was thinking I should have asked him about this story.

While Uppal gives off a "nice guy" vibe, Tony Vandermeer seemed to have a chip on his shoulder.

When talk of an imminent provincial election reached a fever pitch in late January 2008, I advised the head office of the newly combined Wildrose Alliance (I had been working with Link Byfield's Wildrose side in 2007) that I would be willing to stand as a candidate. I was quickly informed that I was acclaimed in Beverly-Clareview. Evidently the party just looked at my mailing address, since strategically it would have made more sense to run in Sherwood Park or Edmonton Whitemud, having as I did other connections to both of those considerably more conservative ridings and the party didn't end up running a candidate in either. But since I was house-sitting in Beverly-Clareview near 66 street at the time and could also base out of my parents' condo at the other (eastern) end of the riding when my folks were gone for a couple weeks during the election campaign, there was a certain logistical sense to my running there at that time. During the campaign, there was never an all candidates forum, so I never ended up meeting Vandermeer or the incumbent at the time, Ray Martin of the NDP. I accordingly didn't expect Vandermeer to recall that Brian Dell was a competitor of his before I reminded him. But I talked with him twice on Wednesday - once when I approached him and introduced myself and a second time when my Dad and I were talking with Uppal and Vandermeer apparently came over to give me a piece of his mind about Wildrose - and the second time he wanted to know "so did you do anything?" [besides just stand as a name on the ballot] and responded to my observations about the spending spree his party presided over by arguing "why don't you get out and run yourself if that's how you feel", a line that seemed oblivious to the fact that I spent $1300 of my own money and several hundred more raised from family to deploy 250 lawn signs, deliver 2500 brochures by hand and another 2500 through the mail (printing cost for the brochures was covered by the party), while knocking on hundreds of doors. Any candidate who has seriously campaigned has knocked on thousands of doors, but the visibility of my campaign's presence in the riding dwarfed that of the Social Credit candidate, and if I ever met Robin Porteous I would not hesitate to point out that I had seen some Social Credit material in a few mailboxes and even a sign or two while I was out and about campaigning.

While Vandermeer's apparent non-recognition of the Wildrose Alliance campaign in his riding is really just a harmless oddity, his "testiness" (as my Dad put it) was rather unsettling for a lawmaker. He clearly has no love for the Wildrose party. He deemed its support to be analogous to that of Social Credit, i.e. not to be taken seriously but enough to bring a deserving candidate such as himself down to defeat in a very close race. He raised the topic of Rob Anderson's defection suggesting that here was an unscrupulous traitor, although he never used those exact words. A certain Darren Richard was at this barbecue and Darren told me that he didn't like Vandermeer's attitude before I met Vandermeer, although it should be said that this person is a current Wildrose organizer and one of the few constituency residents who called me during the last election (he had a big beef with the Stelmach government's section 3 freedom of speech restrictions). While it's pretty obvious I have no love for team Stelmach to requite, anybody who blogs on politics is going to sound either opinionated or vapid. You can't really know a writer without a face-to-face encounter. Tim Uppal's campaign literature may savage the Liberals, but having met him I see that that's his campaign as opposed to his personality.

In any case, my sympathies for Tim Uppal, which were rather low given the stories I had heard, went up considerably after meeting him, while my sympathies for Tony Vandermeer, which were rather high given what I had heard from others, went equally as far down. Subsequent to my chats with these two, Darren got into a friendly battle with a provincial PC party supporter who argued that Wildrosers were gun nuts and ideologues who would try and cut back the compensation due unionized government service workers. Since the last point was a plus instead of a minus in my books (my biggest beef with Wildrose being that I don't think the party has the backbone to actually do it), I had little to add beyond making some comments about the guns issue and, after chatting up a few other strangers milling about, took my leave from my only visit to the "summer BBQ" circuit to date.

Friday, August 6, 2010

the Ottawa card: will an Alberta political party support the Economic Charter of Rights initiative?

What about the dreaded Ottawa card?

The Macdonald Laurier Institute (hereafter, MLI) has called "on the federal government to use its constitutional authority to strike down internal barriers to free trade and mobility within Canada" through an Economic Charter of Rights and then set up a commission that would deal with non-compliance.

An Ontario poli sci professor writing in the Toronto Star has attacked the proposal as "enshrining free market dogma" and the usual suspects over at "Progressive Economists" have agreed that the left's monopoly on the use of the courts to advance their agenda should be preserved. In light of this hostility from the left one would think that "right wing" or "centrist" parties like Alberta's Wildrose and Progressive Conservative parties would consider coming out in support of such a charter. But in fact an endorsement is unlikely to emerge from either party, even (or especially) from the grassroots. One of the members of the MLI's Advisory Council is Purdy Crawford, who chaired the "Crawford Panel" calling for a single national securities regulator, a notion that Wildrose MLA Rob Anderson has slammed. Purdy Crawford has also been described as "dean emeritus of Canada's corporate bar", something that sounds precariously like "eastern establishment" to prairie ears. MLI founder Brian Lee Crowley co-wrote "The Canadian Century" with Neils Veldhuis and James Clemens and that book speaks well of the federal Liberal regime circa 1993 to 2003, surely a cardinal sin in "Conservative" Alberta. Crowley is also a Maritimer who has worked in Ottawa. Veldhuis, Crowley's co-author, is pro-HST, another taboo for the cowboy set.

Can "Conservative" Albertans truly not get past these nominal associations with the "eastern elite" and get behind the MLI's call for an Economic Charter of Rights? The blurb for Crowley's book "Fearful Symmetry: The Fall and Rise of Canada's Founding Values" is solidly conservative:
In the 1960s, Canada began a seismic shift away from the core policies and values upon which the country had been built. A nation of “makers” transformed itself into a nation of “takers.” Crowley argues that the time has come for the pendulum to swing back—back to a time when Canadians were less willing to rely on the state for support; when people went where the work was rather than waiting for the work to come to them.
Just a few weeks ago Western Standard contributor JJ McCullough had little quibble with the good things "The Canadian Century" had to say about the Chretien/Martin regime. In fact, in a must-read review McCullough provides as an "important fact" the book's contention that "[t]he 1993-2003 Liberal government of Jean Chretien embarked on a remarkable agenda of fiscal conservatism..." and quotes, apparently approvingly, the book authors' opinion that "[t]here is substantial risk that current federal [Conservative] policy will undo the fiscal reforms of the Redemptive Decade [1993 - 2003]". Most relevantly for Alberta firsters, "Canadian Century" co-authors Clemens and Veldhuis are, in addition to working for the Fraser Institute, authors of "Beyond Equalization", which critiqued Canada's system of interprovincial transfers and had a chapter on why the equalization program may be illegal.

On this Western Standard page, however, you can see Clemens speaking with the word "Liberal" featured prominently in the background. The unfortunate reality remains: an anti-establishment sentiment is at work on the prairies such that "Liberal" is equated with eastern elites and all things nefarious. The BC Liberals gets high marks from many in the "public policy establishment" for their stance on unions ("the obvious pro-union-pro-worker bias of the [Obama] government has contributed to a slower recovery, especially in labor markets" - Gary Becker, 1992 Nobel Prize for Economics recipient), trade, a carbon tax, the HST, etc. The BC Conservatives are rightly seen as cranks, and Tim Hudak in Ontario has pulled a variety of populist stunts that have failed to whet the appetite of the pundit class, including denunciations of the HST, broadsides against "elitist special interests”, etc. Thus does the Liberal brand retain as much shine in BC and Ontario as "Conservative", if not more.

The Alberta Liberals ought to have a tremendous opportunity to follow in the steps of the BC Liberals by staking out a position as the party of the sophisticated businessperson. The party's support is already skewed towards more educated voters, so why not run with that and reposition as the party for the Economist reader?
I must have my weekly issue of The Economist, or I risk de-evolving into the sort of mouth-breathing rabble by which I am surrounded daily!
- The Onion, Point/Counterpoint

There are four major political parties in Alberta (five if the Alberta Party is included), yet none of the them can be expected to support this national Economic Charter idea, the Liberals because leader David Swann is too resolutely left, the PCs and Wildrose because they are too provincial. That this vacuum in political options should exist is ultimately a failure of the conservative elite, if one can call them that.

US "conservative elites", are, of course, at least as frustrated with nominally conservative American politicians as they are in Canada (where they are not frustrated enough, IMO). Reihan Salam of the National Review was left scratching his head last month after Senate Minority Mitch McConnell asserted that tax cuts pay for themselves. The 20-something liberal bloggers Ezra Klein and Matthew Yglesias both chimed on in the "failure of conservative elites", with Klein writing that "[t]o a degree that people don't quite appreciate, conservative economic elites have attempted to... make people ashamed of... wacky views [in particular the view that tax cuts don't increase deficits]." The result is the absence of a political option for real fiscal responsibility.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

the Calgary card: Edmonton's airports

This week Wildrose leader Danielle Smith addressed the issue of closing the Edmonton City Centre Airport. Unlike the arena issue, I am not personally decided on the question, although I note that if there were a compelling "economic logic" for closure, there ought to be something of an international trend towards airport consolidation (like is the case for consumption taxes, defined contribution pension plans, free trade etc) and on that point not only is London England not closing its City Centre airport (when the megacity already has 4 others: Heathrow, Gatwick, Stanstead, and Luton), it aims to carry 8 million passengers annually by 2030.

Whatever the "right" answer is on closure, I think Danielle's move to raise consciousness about the petition drive to put a closure decision on the October municipal ballot serves the public interest, just as I think city councilor Tony Caterina (who is facing a what I expect will be a tough re-election fight in Ward 7) has been serving the public interest with his comments on the petition, whatever my reservations about #toncat. Even if one disagrees with Danielle and her support for, there is no denying that she has taken an interest in Edmonton affairs, and the downside risk for generating some headlines here is low given that Wildrose polling in the capital city suggests moves with "fat tail" probability outcomes should be taken.

Paula Simons of the Journal wasted no time in declaring that the anti-closure crowd is advancing a "perverse" argument in order to "save Calgarians a 20-minute commute up the highway", an opinion so predictable that even David Climenhaga spoke of the "usual suspects" and, with reference to Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel, "playing the dreaded Calgary card." I'd also note in regard to Ms Simons' and Mr Mandel's calls for Ms Smith to butt out of an Edmonton issue that last summer left leaning city councilor Don Iveson's said, with respect to the impact of closure on Medevac, that "[t]he issues here are financial, logistical and jurisdictional — and all are Provincial."

An inclination to resist - or at least take a skeptical view of - the spell of tribalism seems to cut across the political spectrum.