“It’s the economy, stupid.”
– A phrase James Carville coined as a campaign strategist of Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential bid.
In the end, the battle for Alberta’s social conscience and the seemingly endless barrage of attempted character assassinations had next to no impact on the outcome of Alberta’s election. This election was about one thing: the economy.
For those who don’t have jobs or are underemployed, subsidized daycare and school curriculum changes are not top priorities. Nor is the promise of building new schools, roads or hospitals. All of these aforementioned things are big-picture concerns for Albertans, and a strong economy allows them to take shape. A poor economy, however, impacts peoples’ financial well-being every day – hence there’s an immediacy to improving it.
When James Carville scrawled the now-famous phrase, “It’s the economy, stupid,” on a white board in Bill Clinton’s campaign headquarters, it crystallized what the American public cared most about. Everything else was just clutter. And we know how that presidential election turned out.
Alberta’s election, in some ways, followed a similar path. Some would say the fate of this election was sealed last August when a Federal Court of Appeal decision stalled construction of the Trans Mountain pipeline. Prior to that, Premier Rachel Notley had given Albertans hope that there would soon be shovels in the ground, thanks to the federal government’s decision to buy the pipeline. The court decision emptied the air out of the NDP’s balloon.
Alberta is entering its fifth year of deep economic turmoil, thanks to tanking oil prices in 2014. This created a tough situation for the NDP when they took power in 2015. Many argue, however, that the NDP kicked the economy while it was down with the introduction of a carbon tax, an increase in the corporate tax rate, an increase in the minimum wage, labour law changes and onerous energy regulations. The business community, typified by the Alberta Chamber of Commerce, has been howling every step of the way.
Jason Kenney and the UCP answered the bell. Kenney consistently campaigned behind podiums and in front of signs that read: “Jobs. Economy. Pipelines.” He hammered away at the NDP’s fiscal record and talked continuously about getting Alberta back on its economic feet. For the tens of thousands of unemployed Albertans and a battered business community, it was a message they wanted and needed to hear.
The UCP victory resonates with the oil and gas sector. Mark Scholz, head of the Canadian Association of Oilwell Drilling Contractors, says “it feels like spring has returned to Alberta.” Tim McMillan, president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, says the victory will allow Alberta “to regain and to reset its position as an investment jurisdiction.”
While there may be euphoria in Alberta’s business sector over the election outcome, there is a lot of work to be done. Albertans aren’t looking for catchy slogans, they are looking for results. At this very moment, the majority of Albertans want an improved economy, and they expect Kenney to deliver on his promises. After four years of a protracted economic downturn, Kenney doesn’t have the luxury of time.