Redford may be channelling Paul Martin
| Posted: Wednesday, Jan 30, 2013 06:00 am
To give Premier Alison Redford her due, she doesn’t lack for lofty ambitions. In the wake of her address to the province last week, she gave a series of interviews in which she pledged to reshape the way Alberta builds its future, notably by cutting back on the use of resource revenues to cover the cost of government operations.
“We can no longer continue to rely on oil and gas for 30 per cent of our revenue,” she said. “It’s a fundamental change. It’s the sort of thing a province has to deal with, I think, once in a generation and this is our opportunity to do it this year.”
Note the words: fundamental change, once in a generation, opportunity this year. Politicians generally are given to rhetorical flourishes, but in Redford’s case it’s not unreasonable to ask if she has become ungrounded, carried away on billowing visions of change that cannot be realized. This latest declaration, added to a long list of previous commitments, raises expectations that will be hard, if not impossible, to meet, much like Barack Obama in his first term or, closer to home, Paul Martin after he succeeded Jean Chretien. Martin’s undoing was that he promised everything to everybody and ultimately spread himself so thin that he pleased few.
Redford runs the same risk. Already it’s clear that she will be hard pressed, strictly on economic grounds, to deliver on her many and costly election promises – full-day kindergarten, school renovation and construction, more money for oilsands research and a network of family-care networks and more. Now, on top of this, she wants to remake the way Alberta runs its finances, starting with an economic summit in February, the budget in March and then who knows what after that.
It is important for politicians to have goals – what George W. Bush called the “vision thing” – but it is also important that they remain aware of how difficult it is to transform those dreams into reality. Part of this is money, but an equal part is having the stamina and skill to drive the agenda.
Redford is an intelligent woman, but she has already frittered away part of her political capital on flipflops – the no-meet committee, fixed election dates, the health inquiry – as well as her insistence that she had nothing to do with the awarding of a tobacco lawsuit to a Calgary law firm when clearly she did. The frequent turnover in her office staff is worrisome for what it suggests about her ability to form a cohesive team and set priorities under the many pressures she faces.
Quite apart from the budget and the agenda that brought her to office, Redford has a stack of important files on her desk. Among them: her government is in tough negotiations with the province’s doctors and teachers (especially the former) and the nurses are due up soon; Alberta’s population is swelling, bringing with it strains on infrastructure, schools and health care. Perhaps most important is the issue of how to get Alberta’s resources to market, especially to Asia. Granted, this is not her remit, but she will be found wanting if the province’s oil and gas remain landlocked.
Can Redford handle all this? Is she up to the task? Perhaps, but increasingly the comparisons with Paul Martin are hard to avoid.