Tuesday, February 7, 2012

State of the Rose: Wildrose vs libertarians redux

A lot happened in Alberta politics during 2011 and had I not been in China for most of the year I would have felt compelled to comment on several occasions. To start by picking just one incident, I'll take note of former federal Libertarian Party leader Dennis Young's disqualification as a Wildrose candidate.

When Daveberta blogged about this on October 19 I could only shake my head. Think of the time and grief you could have saved yourself, Dennis, had you read my blogpost from October 2010 about libertarians' place in the party consequent to the expansion of the caucus in January 2010! At that time I noted that "the fact that Cosh, Johnston, Brock et al have all gone off about this [caucus statement re Ontario prostitution ruling] suggests that these critics are voicing a view that is generally held." Evidently Dennis didn't share this general view or he would have been more circumspect about whether party HQ would support his bid to run in Calgary Hays.

Now it's true that no one in the Wildrose caucus has been as straightforward as US Presidential candidate Rick Santorum (photo at right). In June 2011 Santorum stated that he would "fight very strongly against libertarian influence within the Republican party and the conservative movement." I highly doubt that MLAs Rob Anderson, Heather Forsyth, Paul Hinman, or Wildrose éminence grise Link Byfield would ever say such a thing, not least because of Byfield's view that fiscal and social conservatives need to cooperate in order to win elections. But that doesn't mean that advancing a libertarian agenda within Wildrose wouldn't be a Sisyphean task.

After the 2010 AGM I welcomed Chris Jones' becoming Edmonton director for the party, noting that Chris would be a good advocate for Edmonton on the provincial executive. Apparently, he was too good an advocate for views the party poohbahs aren't inclined to indulge since I've recently learned (not from Chris) that party HQ has stalled on Chris' application to run in Edmonton Millcreek. Evidently headquarters is too busy invoicing the constituency associations for money to be sent to party central. I have to shake my head at the complaint about Chris I heard in 2010 from someone drawing a full time salary from the party that the Edmonton volunteer was too controlling. Who is controlling who here?

Does Wildrose offer the fiscal conservatism libertarians would be interested in? When the party is promising more education spending etc it's doubtful whether the commitment is more than rhetorical. In today's Throne Speech, it seemed that Premier Redford might actually put some effort into honouring her leadership campaign pledge to only route the first $6 billion of natural resource revenue into current spending and have the remainder go into savings. Given that more than $8 billion of non-renewable resource revenue is being spent annually, this leaves a real gap that will have to be closed by either spending cuts or tax increases. Either route is going to be unpopular, and if Redford doesn't try to wriggle out of this one she deserves credit for following through on a deficit fighting promise.

The elephant in the room with regard to spending remains, as I've long argued, the public sector unions. A recent U of Calgary study noted that "since 2000, the province’s public sector wage bill has shot up by 119 percent — almost double the rate of growth in the rest of Canada." Futhermore,
In 2000-01 total provincial revenues were $25.5 billion. In 2010-11 revenues grew to $34.0 billion, an $8.5 billion dollar increase. [meanwhile...] we see an increase in wages of $8.1 billion. In other words, 95 percent of the increase in provincial revenues over the last decade has gone directly into the pockets of public sector employees. The total wage bill rose to nearly 45 percent of total expenditure in 2010 from just over a quarter in 2000.

This is what happens when the public sector unions have the whip hand. I continue to have little faith that the Wildrose party's current leadership has the stomach to take them on. The breaking point for me was when Wildrose Finance critic Rob Anderson claimed that he supported the right to a secret ballot for union certifications despite the fact that at the 2010 AGM, the "caucus" (read Anderson and Forsyth) wanted to delete the party plank calling for a secret ballot. No libertarian should tolerate this interference with the economic freedom of the individual. While Alberta politicians continue to universally avoid any direct criticism of either unions or the salaries and benefits going to front-line public servants, Iowa Governor Scott Walker has put his job on the line with respect to the issue.