Governing is complicated, playing politics is often simple.
Simplicity describes the plan to rehabilitate Premier Jason Kenney and give his United Conservative Party a decent chance to win the next election.
The strategy rests on two tried-and-true elements. One is to fight a war with everyone that Kenney and many party supporters dislike. The other is to count on an economic rebound, then claim credit even if the main cause is higher oil and gas prices.
Those two efforts will largely be focused on Calgary. Some job announcements and modest increases in house prices are already in play there. Money has a way of helping people accept grotesque conniving like the new law allowing political parties to sell memberships to individuals without the individual's consent (the UCP has a dodgy track record in such matters).
But there are twists. One notable departure is the nature of the fight against groups the UCP dislikes.
Governing parties in Alberta have played on anti-Ottawa sentiment for the last century. Kenney is going well beyond the usual criticism and stoking of old resentments. He wants to limit the federal presence through efforts such as creating a provincial police force and taking the province out of the Canada Pension Plan.
That more aggressive stance was part of his motivation from the start. He came into Alberta politics clearly wanting to use provincial powers to oppose the federal government in ways he could not in the House of Commons. He also wants to steer toward privatization and smaller government. Constantly battling Ottawa is one way to serve a bias toward private health care, limits on environmental rules, and other long-range goals.
At the same time, the premier and several cabinet ministers have steadily attacked other targets, including doctors, nurses, teachers, unions of any sort, and more recently, the media.
For decades, the old Progressive Conservative party stuck to a big-tent approach, even during the fractious 1990s. Kenney and his ministers are making a sharp break.
They want a smaller tent with a more highly committed membership. Even more radically, they are willing to fight with some of their own MLAs and party members. Brian Jean’s recent solid win in a UCP nomination contest in Fort McMurray--a win marked by his pledge to oust Kenney from the party leadership--suggests those fights may be difficult.
On the economic side, the tactics are the old standbys: take all the credit for any growth, blame Ottawa for any problems, hand out a lot of money despite continued multi-billion-dollar deficits, and say any opposition party would wreck the economy.
The surprising aside to these two basic strategies is a new tendency to spout nonsense. That’s what you would expect from a government that produces tongue-twisting evasions like the “restrictions exemption program” for vaccine records, and one that says a carbon tax is a job killer but huge increases in oil and gas prices are welcome economic gifts.
A recent example was the move to let convenience stores and gas stations sell alcoholic beverages. (What is it with this government’s love of liquor?)
Finance Minister Travis Toews said letting corner stores sell booze is another step in cutting red tape. Right, if you don’t count the stores having to comply with all sorts of regulations, and ignore the many other regulations that surround alcohol sales.
Justice Minister Kaycee Madu quickly followed. He said the government had “discovered” through legislature debate that its bill changing election finance law would have allowed unlimited campaign donations to be funnelled through donations for nomination contests. Really? He and the rest of the government didn’t know what was in their own bill? They didn’t notice the criticisms being voiced as soon as the bill was introduced? At least they amended the bill to cap donations to nomination candidates at $4,000.
There are other examples. It’s noteworthy that there are too many to list here.
Mark Lisac watches provincial and federal politics for Alberta Prime Times. He writes novels too, including the recently published Red Hill Creek.