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Alberta's UCP may be a different party, but policy document shows it's peddling the same old stuff

Calgary, Alberta

Different party, same … stuff.

If the United Conservative Party policy document that surfaced on Wednesday shows anything, it’s that not much has changed on the right fringe of Alberta's conservative movement practically since the days of Social Credit.

Except, of course, that with Jason Kenney running the so-called UCP, the loony right isn't the fringe any more. It's all that's left!

Seriously, the largest party of the right is now Wildrose 2.0. Unless someone like Stephen Mandel can actually turn the Alberta Party into Progressive Conservative 2.0, that is.

"Member Policy Declaration, Constitutional Document 2, V 1.0," which came to the attention of the public on Wednesday, combines three principal kinds of policies:

  1. Anodyne platitudes hard for anyone to disagree with
  2. Bones tossed to social conservative and rural special interest factions in the UCP
  3. The policy wet dreams of corporations, wealthy individuals and far-right lobby groups

Naturally, a party spokesperson insisted the document is intended only to begin debate within the party on its platform. Nevertheless, so many of the ideas in it reflect the views of the pro-market hardliners within the old Wildrose party as well as right-wing business and lobby groups, anti-union agitators and anti-tax AstroTurf groups that have historically influenced conservative political policy in Alberta, it's hard to imagine the UCP really ever putting much of this on the back burner for long.

The document is profoundly aspirational in the sense that its goals depend on the same old elephant in the room that looms over all discussions of Alberta fiscal policy: It's basically impossible to implement unless the price of petroleum resources goes up, goes up fast, and goes up a lot.

In other words, not much has changed in the key policy approach taken by all Alberta governments, and that includes the NDP when it comes to the spending and revenue file, since Peter Lougheed retired as premier and departed for Calgary in 1985.

Anyone who imagines the vast spending on rural programs proposed here, for example, can be done in the absence of higher resource prices without raising taxes is simply delusional. Yet the UPC policy document proposes combining huge tax cuts with expensive policy proposals for favoured interest groups. The feasibility of this idea, the promises of voodoo economics notwithstanding, can be summed up in three words: No. Can. Do.

Without higher oil prices, you simply cannot square this circle.

So in that sense, since the NDP Government of Premier Rachel Notley at least recognizes this reality, it has become the closest thing to a genuine conservative party in Alberta.

Speaking of being aspirational, the document is also rich in the constitutional claptrap favoured by the Wildrose fringe and its ideological predecessors: By implication, a federal Triple-E Senate in Ottawa; a referendum on the Canadian equalization program; a special Alberta commission to report on federal finances, and so on.

Anodyne platitudes like "addressing the opioid crisis" predominate in the 21-page policy document, though, and there are too many to list.

All you really need to know is that in most cases they have one thing in common: They’re already happening. They were either implemented by the current NDP Government of Premier Rachel Notley, or by previous Progressive Conservative governments led by premiers Lougheed, Don Getty, Ralph Klein, Ed Stelmach, Alison Redford, Dave Hancock and Jim Prentice and continued by the NDP.

Some, like "achieve greenhouse gas objectives without embracing taxation" and "implement a deregulated market based-based pricing regime that both secures uninterrupted supply and smooths demand cycles," however, are simply fantasies intended to gull the uninformed. How is this supposed to happen? Regulation? Oh, wait … the UCP opposes "red tape" too.

I have listed a few of the more dangerous, ideologically motivated, or plain nutty policy ideas below. Readers are encouraged to read the document for themselves and reach their own conclusions.

  • Bringing back Ralph Klein’s unconstitutional and wasteful "Senator in Waiting" elections during provincial elections. (Page 2)
  • Eliminating defined-benefit public sector pension plans as sop to the investment industry and AstroTurf lobbies like the Canadian Taxpayers Federation to solve an unfunded liability problem that’s already been fixed by plan members and employers. (Page 2)
  • Returning to Klein's "debt free" fantasy, thereby creating a huge and expensive infrastructure debt. (Page 3)
  • Restoring Alberta's 10-per-cent flat tax, benefitting only the very rich. (Page 3)
  • Cutting business tax and eliminating the carbon tax and small business tax in the name of ensuring Alberta is the lowest-tax jurisdiction in Canada -- which it already is. (Page 3)
  • Balancing the province’s consolidated budget by the end of a UCP Government's first term, thereby hurting he economy and laying waste to government services. (Page 3)
  • Extending "school choice" to every student across the province. Vouchers, anyone? (Page 6)
  • "Devolve decision making to individual schools rather than school boards" … creation science here we come! (Page 6)
  • "Align the funding of university degree programs according to anticipated skills demand" -- thereby subsidizing industry and ringing the death knell for the arts. (Page 7)
  • Passing a law to let post-secondary students opt out of student association membership, defunding the well-known progressive tendencies of student groups in the name of "freedom." (Page 7)
  • Only spending money on environmental programs "that will have the greatest environmental impact." Say what? (Page 8)
  • "Balancing" environmental protection with recreational opportunities -- you know, letting the ATVs go wherever they want. (Page 8)
  • "Maintain the independence of our energy regulators from political interference" -- thus ensuring the capture of government by commercial interests continues apace. (Page 10)
  • "Facilitate pipelines," yadda-yadda. (Page 10 and elsewhere)
  • "Remove the 100-megaton cap on oilsands production and the associated 10-megaton cap on upgrading." How does this fit into facilitating pipelines, again? (Page 10)
  • Increasing regional autonomy and local decision-making in Alberta Health Services, another perennially favourite terrible Wildrose idea. (Page 13)
  • "Allow for publicly funded, privately delivered health services to improve delivery efficiency and lower costs." Sounds good, except that we know from economic analysis and experience that such privatization policies have the opposite effect to that promised. (Page 13)
  • "Allow for privately funded, privately delivered health care services to address excessive wait times." Ditto. (Page 13)
  • Banning municipal operational deficits -- thereby ensuring urban decay. But who cares? The Wildrose 2.0 doesn’t really believe worthy people live in big cities! (Page 18)
  • Making municipal spending illegal on "projects that are clearly provincial or federal jurisdiction" -- you know, like mitigating poverty among citizens abandoned by tax-cutting neoliberals in Ottawa and Edmonton. (Page 18)
  • Holding an expensive provincial constitutional referendum calling for the removal of the equalization program from the federal constitution, another hardy Wildrose perennial. Just be careful what you wish for! (Page 19)
  • Establishing a commission to examine and report on the finances of the federation. Essay question: Would the Lieutenant Governor sign such ultra vires legislation? (Page 19)
  • Repealing the constitutional right of farm workers to join a union, and eliminate their health and safety protections while they're at it. (Page 20)
  • Making union organization harder and decertification easier, in the name of "democratic rights." (Page 20)
  • Appointing a "Chief Firearms Officer." To do what? Make machine gun ownership easier? Impinge on federal jurisdiction?

Readers will get the general idea from these highlights.

You have to admit, though, that the bit about building a province rich in arts and culture is nice. No nudes, though. And no college courses about them.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca

Image: Flickr/volvb12b

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