Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Alberta Budget: Drawing the 2012 Battle Lines

In 2009, Alberta underwent a seismic political shift. Because of that, Budget 2010 has been more highly anticipated and speculated about than last week's Lost premiere. And, at first glance, it's just as confusing, with massive spending increases in some departments and deep cuts in others. After a series of cautious budgets, where the PCs basically threw money at anyone and everyone who asked for it, they've been forced into establishing priorities. And, as we all know, it is not easy to make priorities.

The number 1 priority is, without a doubt, Health Care, which sees its already massive operating budget increase by 17%. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the PC narrative for the next election campaign:

"We have to deal with Aunt Martha who needs her hip, we need to deal with thousands of students who want to learn in modern schools," Snelgrove said. "It's all right to suggest that we can cut $5 billion. I would be a lot more comfortable if they would show Albertans where they would like to cut the $5 billion from and see if Albertans support longer waiting lists, no roads and 60 people in a classroom."

That's not to say the PCs will spend like Alberta PCs have spent in recent years. But they've picked Health Care as their wedge issue with the Wildrose Alliance and, from a strategic perspective, that's not be a bad wedge - it's also an issue that could scare Liberal and NDP voters into voting Stelmach to stop Smith.

But as Colby Cosh points out, the PCs are basically toast if they can't post a surplus by 2012. The good news for them is that it's pretty easy to announce a surplus in Alberta - you just need to tinker with your projected price of oil and natural gas. Still, they needed to make room for the Health Care spending bonanza while gaining street cred with disillusioned right wing voters who have shifted to the Alliance.

So we get huge cuts to culture, the environment, and a dozen other departments, plus the elimination of 795 government jobs. Somewhat troublesome is the 6% cut to advanced education and technology which, to me, shows that an incredible short sighted government has grown even more incredibly short sighted now that its fighting for their political life.

So the PCs have picked Health Care as their issue. What does this mean for the Liberals and NDP, who may have just had their number 1 issue taken away from them?

Well, I think this budget creates a new opening for them. The second Red Ted delivered his budget speech, Calgary Mayor Dave Bronconnier was already complaining that Stelmach had reneged on promised funds for the city, which may lead to the cancellation of infrastructure projects. There's a certain deja vu to this. Stelmach's first budget (in 2007) was widely seen as being anti-Calgary, and Bronconnier pounced on it, hammering Stelmach into the dust day after day. A desperate Eddie backed down then, and Bronco rode his Danny Williams shtick to re-election that fall.

And, wouldn't you know it? This just so happens to be municipal election year in Alberta again.

Given that, it's almost a given that Bronconnier will try to turn a city and its media, already sour on Stelmach, even more against the Premier. Toss in a 19% cut to housing and urban affairs, and I suspect a few other mayors looking for re-election will be up in arms as well.

It's doubtful Danielle Smith's alternative budget will have any more money for the cities. So the opportunity is there for the Liberals to take the torch and rise to the defense of Calgary - after all, their leader is a Calgarian and they remain an urban party. If I were David Swann, I would pick this as my battle and hound the PCs on it day and night. Stand beside Bronconnier, raise hell in the legislature, write op-eds in the Calgary papers, go on Dave Rutherford demanding Calgary get what was promised. The road to government is going to run through Calgary and the Liberals need to paint themselves as the city's true defenders.

Stelmach has picked his issue - the Liberals need to find theirs.

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  • I suppose one can only hope Swann finds his raison d'etre in the Calgarian struggle. I'm sure Bronconnier wouldn't be hostile - he is a Liberal, after all. However, I don't know if I have a hilarious amount of trust in Swann's leadership. Do you think this will actually happen, Grit?

    By Blogger Kyle H., at 7:00 p.m.  

  • Why doesn't Swann show some leadership and propose a PST to pay for all the things people want?

    By Blogger nuna d. above, at 7:11 p.m.  

  • So far the ALP has stayed on Health Care, but we'll see.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 7:13 p.m.  

  • A liberal leader proposing a new tax equals political suicide in Alberta. Swann, and the ALP brass are smarter than that even if it makes sense from an economic standpoint.

    Swann should indeed fight for Calgary and also for Edmonton whose mayor Mandel is the defacto apologist for all things Tory. Expose Mandel for the sycophant he really is and hopefully prevent his re-election.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:21 p.m.  

  • Mr. Arnold, you're an encyclopedia of political jokes.

    Interesting that the Wildrose Alliance could actually get NDP and Liberal voters to strategically vote for PCs, LOL.

    What do you see happening over the long term? I wonder if the parties will re-adjust like they did in BC. With the W.A taking up the right and the PC's drifting to the.. well, just drifting, do one of the Liberals or NDP have to go?

    By Blogger Michael Fox, at 12:01 a.m.  

  • I think its fair to say that the Liberals aren't going to completely disappear from the political spectrum. They already did a couple times and came back with a vengeance.

    By Blogger Kyle H., at 12:33 a.m.  

  • Good post, Dan. Hopefully, the powers that be are reading.

    By Blogger Matt Grant, at 11:24 a.m.  

  • There are neverending rumors that David Swann is finding the job to be far less fun and rewarding than he hoped and is going to announce his retirement once the party's debt is paid off.

    Perhaps he's leaving the strategy part of 2012 to whoever the next leader is going to be?

    By Anonymous Gritly, at 1:14 p.m.  

  • That's an interesting idea, Gritly. Swann may do that, and if he did leave on the high note of getting rid of the Party's debt, his leadership wouldn't be a complete waste. But who would replace him?

    By Blogger Kyle H., at 2:52 p.m.  

  • I think it would be crazy to leave as leader of ANY opposition party in Alberta right now. The 40 year old dynasty is tottering, and while the Wildrose party seems to be the beneficiary, it is a party staffed by inexperienced radicals.

    By Blogger french wedding cat, at 3:19 p.m.  

  • Where are these rumours coming from? Donn Lovett? Swann isn't going anywhere until after the next election at least - depending on what happens. His identity isn't too tied up in being a political leader so I'm sure he'll move on quicker than most - which is a good thing, but don't bet on him stepping down anytime soon.

    By Anonymous Mike, at 4:43 p.m.  

  • Where are these rumours coming from? Donn Lovett?

    If they're coming to Gritly through Donn Lovett, that would be pretty weird. Donn is loathed by near every Liberal in the province.

    For what it's worth (and since I'm posting this anonymously - it should be valued at nothing), I've heard the same rumours. I don't know why you'd dismiss them so quickly Mike. You said yourself his identity isn't too tied up in being a political leader.

    David Swann ran to bring about an Obama style sea change. He now knows that is not happening, not with him, and he's a humble enough man to do what he can and then step aside for somebody who can finish the job.

    He's a good man, and he has allowed organizational change to flourish, but he has been forced to compromise philosophically, and he doesn't have the mass market skills to finish the job. He knows that. He wants to leave on a high, not be beaten senseless over the next couple of years.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:53 p.m.  

  • I'm amazed the idea that Danielle Smith is some how different than one of the PC MLAs. She is just as moderate as they are.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:46 a.m.  

  • The ALP missed the boat when they failed to elect Dave Taylor as Leader instead of Swann. Had Taylor won the leadership, the Wildrose crowd would have fallen behind Taylor and his plans for a revamped ALP. For the third time since 1921, the Alberta Liberal Party has again snatched screwed up an opportunity, and snatched defeat from the claws of victory instead (Harper Prowse 1955, Laurence Deore 1993).

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:50 p.m.  

  • The reason the Liberals did not pick Taylor (like they should have} is because they already have Special Ed in the premiership. Swann may be many things but Liberal and electable are not two of them.

    By Blogger Joe, at 9:23 p.m.  

  • What kind of minister cut 19% to Housing and Urban Affairs? Talk about extremist right wing.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:24 p.m.  

  • By Blogger raybanoutlet001, at 11:40 p.m.  

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