Friday, April 20, 2012

How I'd Vote

Far be it for me to tell anyone in Alberta how to vote. I don't live in the province anymore, and my biases are right there for you to see in this website url. I'm a Liberal, and voting Liberal is almost a reflex by this point.

At the same time, I fully expect my old riding to be a hotly contested PC-Wildrose showdown at the Southcentre Mall. If the Wildrose Party has a list of targeted ridings, I suspect mine is somewhere between 40th to 50th on the list, so it could very well be the one that swings the balance or gives Danielle Smith her majority. Liberals are pragmatic creatures by nature, so I can't ignore the wild elephant in the room.

If the vote had been held a month ago, this post might actually have ended up sounding like a quasi-Wildrose endorsement. For reasons I'll get to shortly, Alberta desperately needs a change of government, and I viewed the Wildrosers as nothing more than a slightly less experienced and slightly less corrupt version of the PCs. So why not?After all, Danielle Smith is a very impressive politician - the "Alberta Sarah Palin" meme is completely unfair to this woman who is articulate, thoughtful, and intelligent.

However, any secret longing for a Wildrose victory has quickly dissipated over the course of this campaign. Rather than presenting a creative long term plan for Alberta, Smith has attacked Redford for not loving Alberta, resorted to vote-buying gimmicks, and abandoned the notion of even pretending her math ads up. More troubling is her refusal to repudiate overtly homophobic and racist comments from her candidates. That says all I need to know about Danielle Smith's values and her ability to represent all Albertans.

So I guess that means I'm in the "Liberals for Redford" camp, eh? I will say that Alison Redford is likely the closest thing to a Liberal Premier Alberta will ever get, but that's simply not enough. While we've all been quick to criticize the words of Smith's candidates, the actions of the PCs have been equally unsettling. As Paula Simmons brilliantly recounted this week, the PCs legislated against gay marriage and spent a decade refusing to add protection for gay Albertans to Alberta’s human rights legislation, despite a Supreme Court of Canada ruling requiring them to do so. They quietly supported Ted Morton's private members bill on conscience rights, and loudly passed Bill 44 which "protected" children from ever having to hear about homosexuality in school.

Of course, the argument you hear is that was the past and this is not your father's PC Party. Even though Alison Redford was Justice Minister when Bill 44 came into law, she is rightly seen as being "red" in more than just name. The thing is, if we're going to judge Danielle Smith by the company she keeps, surely we need to apply the same rule to Redford. Ted Morton is on record supporting pretty much everything Redford has accused the Wildrose of secretly plotting, and he's not just some fringe candidate, but is Redford's Minister of Energy. Despite attacking Danielle Smith for leading a party of "old white men", Redford's Cabinet is 85% male and 95% white.

The PCs have been drifting aimlessly for years, spending more than any other government in Canada without any semblance of a long term plan. Given Alberta's wealth, there's no reason the province shouldn't have the best hospitals, schools, and infrastructure in the world. Instead, we have high tuition rates, long wait times, an inquiry into the Health Care system, and accusations of doctor bullying. By Redford's own admission, Ralph Klein's cuts hurt Albertans and created a massive infrastructure backlog.

Sure, much of this is ancient history, but if you can't judge a 41 year old government on its record, what can you judge them on?

Ever since Redford's surprise ascension to the throne, the PCs have looked every bit like an arrogant empire, just waiting to get swept aside. In February, they were worried they'd win too many seats. We've already seen broken promises from Redford on a judicial Health Care inquiry and campaign donor disclosure. This lack of transparency shouldn't be surprising, given an access to information study recently ranked Alberta the least transparent province in Canada, and placed it behind beacons of democracy Niger and Angola internationally.

Then there's the saga of the money for nothing committee. When it surfaced that MLAs were receiving $1,000 a month to sit on a committee which hadn't met in 4 years, Redford accused opposition members who returned the cash of "grandstanding"...then ordered PC MLAs to return 12% of their pay after a poll showed the public up in arms. One week into the election campaign, she finally ordered them to pay back the full amount, though there's no indication they will. The incident shouldn't instill voters with confidence the PCs have turned over a new leaf.

I'd be willing to look beyond all this if the PCs had offered a compelling plan in their budget or platform, but those documents ran away from doing anything even remotely bold - and why would they, when PC strategists were musing about winning 70+ seats a few months ago? The best argument for voting PC this campaign has been that "the Wildrose Party is worse", but when the Wildrose Party is nothing more than a collection of disgruntled Progressive Conservatives, that's not enough for me.

So if I had a vote, it would be going to the Liberals - not out of a sense of loyalty, but because they're the only party with a "think big" platform. They offer a compelling democratic reform platform, and have used something more than wishful thinking to fund their more expensive promises, such as free tuition and Health Care investments.

That said, Brian Mason strikes me as a genuine and principled politician, so if orange is your flavour, I wouldn't spend a lot of time trying to change your mind. Even the upstart Alberta Party strikes the right tone, and it's possible that movement will eventually morph into a credible progressive alternative to the Wildrose and PC parties.

In any event, there are plenty of options, so there's no excuse for another 41% turnout rate. This Monday, be sure to get out and vote.

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