The United Conservative Party does not have much of an offer that speaks to any of the real challenges that Alberta, and Canada, will face for years to come. Where’s the beef?
Alberta Wildrose leader Brian Jean and Alberta PC leader Jason Kenney shake hands after announcing a unity deal between the two in Edmonton on May 18. (JASON FRANSON / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
By GILLIAN STEWARDAtkinson Fellow Tues., July 25, 2017
Last October, former Harper cabinet minister Jason Kenney rode his white horse back to Alberta, determined to save the people from the horrors of the NDP government and get himself elected premier.
So far, Kenney’s scheme is on track. But there’s still a long stretch to go before his quest is accomplished. And while Albertans naturally hew to conservative views it’s not a given that enough of them will take to the brand of conservatism now on offer.
Kenney got himself elected leader of the once-mighty Alberta Progressive Conservatives after they were left in tatters by Rachel Notley’s NDP in 2015. Then he convinced the other conservative party — Wildrose — which also happens to be the official opposition, to agree to merge into a new party if that’s what current party members wanted.
On Saturday, members of both parties overwhelmingly endorsed the plan. With both PCs and Wildrose reporting 95 per cent support among members. Many of those voters had recently purchased memberships in both parties and that allowed them to vote as a PC and a Wildroser.
The next step is a leadership race in October to see who will lead the United Conservative Party.
Does this mean Notley and the NDP are done in Alberta? That they should resign themselves to being one-term wonders? It might. After all, the conservative parties garnered more of the popular vote (52 per cent) in 2015 than the NDP (41 per cent).
But judging from both the Wildrose and PC platforms as expounded by their leaders during the run up to the unity vote, electing this new conservative hybrid would mean taking one giant step backward to the era of Ralph Klein, minus a high price for oil.
It would mean deep cuts to government programs and services at a time when unemployment is already high in Alberta.
Analysis: It would mean addressing climate change as if it were a joke, something once caused by “dinosaur farts” as Klein famously said.
It would mean repealing the carbon tax — repeal would be the new government’s first bill.
It would mean relishing battle with the federal government on almost any issue, including carbon taxes, pipelines, environmental regulations, and equalization payments.
Right after the successful unity vote Wildrose leader Brian Jean told the crowd that the new Alberta will not kowtow to anyone: “Together we will send a message to all of Canada that Alberta is done apologizing for our industries and our way of life.”
Both Kenney and Jean are big fans of fossil fuels, including coal, and have promised to cancel the NDP’s phase-out of coal generated electricity by 2030 as well as the cap on oilsands emissions.
They seem to have deluded themselves into believing that if Alberta gets rid of the carbon tax and the oilsands emissions cap and simply promotes the heck out of fossil fuels, this will more than make up for the damage done to the economy when the price of oil took a dive and stayed underwater.
Never mind that it would leave Alberta out of step with the rest of the world when it comes to reducing carbon emissions and relying on more renewables. Never mind that just wishing and hoping is not going to make the price of oil suddenly rise. Never mind that it sounds like a strategy developed by Donald Trump.
Even big oil recognizes this as delusional thinking. That’s why several major oilsands operators, such as Suncor and CNRL worked with the Notley government to develop plans to combat climate change that included a carbon tax, coal phase-out, and a cap on oilsands emissions.
Companies are also planning for the price of oil to remain low for some time to come and for demand to peak as early as five years from now.
So far, the only real plan the United Conservative Party has is to get rid of the NDP. It’s their rallying cry, their raison d’être.
Beyond that there is not much on offer that speaks to any of the real challenges that Alberta, and Canada, will face for years to come.
Gillian Steward is a Calgary writer and former managing editor of the Calgary Herald. Her column appears every other week. firstname.lastname@example.org