This year, we will face two elections. A federal election hasn’t been announced, but must be held by Oct. 21, and campaigning for the April 16 Alberta election is underway.
As much as we concentrate on local candidates, their messages, their experience, their character, as we should, the elections are dominated by political parties and party leaders, their messages, their experience, their character. Oh, so much about their character. We seek people of integrity to lead and represent us, and yet that quality is one we seem to have a hard time understanding and believing, and may be willing to sacrifice in support of policies candidates expound.
Broadcaster and former Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith was first to publicize comparisons between the policies and leadership of Peter Lougheed and Ralph Klein to those of Rachel Notley and Jason Kenney. Interesting to compare the economic and social licence of Notley’s NDP government with Lougheed’s Conservative government. Kenney’s UCP plan to remove the annual provincial deficit and reduce the overall government debt harkens to Klein’s plan to do the same (Klein did it, and it should be noted that Lougheed’s government spending on public and private infrastructure occurred mostly during a period of strong provincial economic growth).
Both previous premiers showed strong political leadership and focus in addressing important provincial needs. They succeeded with their main policy platforms but there were downsides; increasing debt from the Lougheed era, diminished social infrastructure and services from the Klein era. I think most of us want a balance between the two policy directions but how to do it.
Education, health, welfare, public infrastructure and finance are pillars of policy and service for governments. Most public service in Alberta falls within these areas and together consume about 95 per cent of provincial government spending (70 per cent on health and education). However, for any government, economy is paramount.
And as important as government spending is to the economy, it does not drive it; private investment, trade and commerce does. Government dominance of the economy is detrimental and there are plenty of examples. Governments serve society and the economy best by enabling an environment for individuals and private enterprise, through fair fiscal and monetary policies (taxation and interest rates respectively, the latter a federal jurisdiction), fair, clear and reasonable laws and regulations for individuals and industry, and well-managed, accessible and protective public services and infrastructure. There are examples of successful public investment in industrial ventures but not many, and only then when the investment was temporary and the business represented a significant part of the economy (I do not suggest buying a pipeline or rail cars to be good examples).
Alberta voters have good but very different choices for their next premier and government. The winner should, firstly, be economy focused, including reduction and control of public debt and budget deficit, secondly, focused on good public service and infrastructure, and last but not least, inclusive and fair to all Albertans. No favourites, no prejudices. Show us character through strength, wisdom, courage and compassion. It should be a motto tattooed on the forearms of all politicians, lest they forget.
Roger Jackson is a former deputy minister and a St. Albert resident.