In the end, this week’s election outcome in Alberta seems like it was preordained.
No, Jason Kenney was wrong when he asserted early in his tenure as leader of the United Conservative Party that the NDP was an “accidental government.” The decision by voters nearly four years ago to hand power to an unlikely suitor was a deliberate and decisive repudiation of the warring right-wing factions of the day.
It was also, clearly, only intended to be a temporary mandate.
We’ll give you four years in the wilderness to sort out your issues, angry voters were telling the conservative movement. If you get it sorted, we might consider having you back.
Conservative politicians got the message. They (largely) settled their differences and pulled together a big tent with a leader who tried as best he could to transition from far-right ideologue to a more pragmatic moderate.
Still, the UCP struggled through the campaign with skeletons in the closet and a fringe candidate who wanted to equate the word “conservative” with religious fundamentalism and social conservatism.
And although moderate conservatives are not necessarily sold on the whole program, the UCP convinced the swing voters to give them a try.
A lot of those swing voters are angry with the way Alberta has been getting treated by the federal government and by provinces that seem indifferent to our hardships. Quebec is happy to take transfer payments funded substantially by Alberta but won’t back an oil pipeline. Ontario seems obsessed with the continued decline of its own industries. And B.C. – well, they don’t seem to like any energy projects unless they’re their own.
Rachel Notley, the intelligent, brave and eloquent leader of the NDP, pursued a logical path: earn social licence by acting as a player on the national team – expanding the province’s carbon tax, working with the federal Liberals, and arguing persuasively that Alberta’s responsibility deserved the entire country’s support.
All she needed to pull it off was one break. Like the Trans Mountain pipeline.
Alas, the hard-luck NDP government got no such break. Instead, the pipeline remains a distant dream, Alberta’s oil still sells at a criminal discount, house prices continue to slide, our downtowns sit half empty and unemployment remains punishingly high.
To voters, four years of playing nice guy was enough. We’re mad – at the federal Liberals, at aloof sister provinces and, yes, we’re mad that our provincial government didn’t find the magic wand.
It’s time for a reality check. The NDP government inherited an economy on the way down and the causes were mostly forces beyond its power to influence. World forces drove down the price of oil, not anything that happened in this province. Blaming the government for our endless recession feels a bit like blaming the weather forecaster for rain.
But that’s the nature of politics. Any new government has four years to make something happen. The NDP government’s strategy of taking the long view as it drove a transition to a new economy required patience and faith – and Albertans have little of either right now.
This all serves as a warning to Kenney, who – like it or not – rode to victory by nursing the belief that things will be better soon. Some of the UCP’s platform, like trickle-down economics, have time and again proven to be utter nonsense. So if you believe that big tax cuts at the top will land you a job, prepare yourself for disappointment.
What Kenney can deliver on, however, is a fight. Albertans feel like they’ve been taken for granted and we want a government that’s ready to raise its fists on our behalf.
Will our pugnacious posture win us a pipeline any sooner?
It seems doubtful.
Will we enjoy “economic freedom” by ditching the carbon tax and spending hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars fighting the federal government in court?
I doubt it.
Will every Albertan once again find meaningful employment within the four-year window of this party?
I don’t like the odds.
Even so, Albertans have given Kenney his chance. He doesn’t have to deliver on every promise he made – in fact, there are a few I’d rather he forget. But he does have to be ready for judgment day four years from now.
Mr. Premier-elect, Albertans are waiting and watching. Don’t screw this up.