There’s more than a touch of irony at play when a party which swept to power on a wave of ‘anyone but those Tories’ is now desperately trailing these newly-rebranded Conservatives in the public’s affection because of an oh-so-similar response – that being anyone but the NDP.
What other reason could there possibly be for the current towering lead among would-be voters for this new United Conservative Party across much of Alberta. It certainly can’t be because of the leader’s charms as there isn’t one picked yet and how could it be for policies still not formulated or announced.
Nope, the reason 57 per cent of decided and ‘leaning towards’ voters picked the UCP bunch in a late-July, province-wide poll, as opposed to the 29 per cent favouring Premier Notley and her cohorts, can be laid solely at the feet of our current government’s unpopularity.
Which is exactly the reason the NDP came to power in the first place over two years ago; people being so fed up with the seemingly endless Progressive Conservative dynasty that any political port in that particular electoral storm would suffice, some going to the Wildrose Party while even more picked the Dippers for the first time, leading them to victory much to their giddy surprise and delight.
Well, things do indeed have a strange habit of coming around again, so now the government has an important decision to make – forge ahead with their not exactly popular platform of spending billions as though it were spare change at the fairground arcade and ignore this united conservative lot, or instead act like the opposition party they remain at heart and attempt to tar and feather the UCP bunch as some type of knuckle-dragging throwbacks from the Neanderthal era.
My guess would be the second option.
That in turn will lead us to a rather strange situation where the opposition will play coy in coming up with policy knowing doing so hands the current government a stick with which to beat them. Strategically, as one of the front-runners for the UCP top job, Jason Kenney, has already sussed, it’s better to delay cementing policy and instead let the NDP government slowly sink in the deficit sea it’s floundering in. Hey, it’s working so far – a huge lead in the polls for a party with neither leader nor platform. Keeping right on to the end of that road will lead to the Premier’s office.
Sorry but that’s simply not good enough. We need and deserve better than political strategy games, no matter how successful they are likely to be.
So let’s strip aside party affiliations and instead look at our province’s financial balance sheet. Simply believing that dumping the NDP would in and of itself miraculously balance the annual budget is simplistic.
We’re spending almost $11,000,000,000 a year more than we bring in. Reversing such a shortfall will take a monumental and well-crafted effort.
Vital, long-term questions face our province, ones that override partisan politics and the desire for power. We’ve been living higher on the hog for many years because of oil and gas under our feet. That’s why we’ve lower taxes and higher public spending than the rest of this country.
So are we going to tax more or cut spending by 20 per cent, which would cause a world of hurt in many areas, or are we just going to keep borrowing mammoth amounts while praying for $120 barrel oil, just like Rachel Notley and her treasurer buddy Joe Ceci?
We deserve to see a plan from those wishing to lead this new conservative party, even if that hands political ammo to the current government.
Chris Nelson is a long-time journalist. His columns on Alberta politics run monthly in the St. Albert Gazette.