Alberta’s NDP tends not to make a game of Thrones, so tomorrow’s speech may actually give us useful information!

Posted on March 01, 2017, 12:55 am
7 mins

PHOTOS: Lieutenant Governor Lois Mitchell reads the 2016 Speech from the Throne in the Alberta Legislature. Below: Ms. Mitchell reads the 2015 Throne Speech and, below that, the vice-regal party accompanied by Premier Notley prepares to leave the Legislative Chamber in 2015. All photos by the Alberta Government, Premier’s and Lieutenant Governor’s Flickr accounts.

I don’t know what will be in tomorrow’s Throne Speech, a document that’s supposed to set out a Parliamentary government’s agenda for the next session of the Legislature, but I imagine it will contain a hint or two about the NDP’s likely strategy for re-election in 2019, or whenever the next provincial general election takes place.

When Lieutenant Governor Lois Mitchell takes her modestly throne-like seat in the Legislature and reads the speech, will the government of Premier Rachel Notley opt for Door No. 1 and settle into a cautious reflection of Tory governments past? Such an approach would harken back to the days of Peter Lougheed and perhaps even those of Ed Stelmach, when Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives truly were themselves the pragmatic, big-tent party Ms. Notley’s NDP now evidently aspires to be.

To do this could risk alienating some of the NDP’s core supporters, whose enthusiasm will certainly be needed if the government is to be re-elected.

Will they open Door No. 2 and continue with the modest but still significant agenda they brought from their unexpectedly successful platform for the 2015 general election, significant parts of which have already been implemented – for example, campaign finance reform and a streamlining of the expensive and bloated Agencies, Boards and Commissions Sector left after nearly 44 years of dynastic PC rule?

This risks raising the already nearly hysterical pitch of Alberta right’s attacks on Ms. Notley’s government, perhaps a serious consideration if the opposition’s claims are gaining traction with voters.

Or will they say to heck with it, kick open Door No. 3 and try to fix what they can while they can and the devil take the hindmost?

A signal, I think, will be what the government of Premier Notley does with Alberta’s antiquated, unfair and in places still unconstitutional labour laws. If labour law reform is on the agenda, but the reforms are modest and cautious, it is likely the government has opted for Door No. 2, which is not a guarantee of re-election, but probably the best way for them to balance the political needs of their committed base and the conservative nature, in the proper sense of that phrase, of Alberta’s electorate.

The NDP’s first two Throne Speeches, in 2015 and 2016, have been worthwhile documents, phrased as if they were written by and for grownups. They actually showed the direction in which the government proposed to move.

They were written, in other words, by people with real respect for the traditions of Parliamentary democracy, whether or not you agree with the actual policy direction taken to cope with a difficult economy in a resource-dependent jurisdiction.

Alberta throne speeches in the final years of the Tory Dynasty often didn’t discuss actual PC legislative agendas because they were part of a policy continuum formulated behind closed doors, far from the prying eyes of annoying members of the public and media. Another reason for this failure was because they were mainly drafted to counter the increasingly radical and highly ideological agenda of the Wildrose Party by appearing to advocate the same ideas.

So PC Throne speeches tended to be driven by talking points drafted mainly to cancel positions and strategies that had proved effective for the Wildrosers. This was a strategic mistake, as it turned out, when combined with the only partly successful effort to absorb the Wildrose caucus into the PCs in late 2014 and the foolish decision by then premier Jim Prentice early the next year to call an election before the electorate desired.

A strong case can be made that the 2015 election result showed the genuinely conservative nature of Alberta voters – who opted to choose the political course most likely to conserve the best things built in Alberta over the years since Mr. Lougheed’s first PC Government was elected in 1971.

Unlike the two NDP Throne speeches, those of the PCs in recent years were less likely to deliver on their key promises.

In bad times (which always seemed to come as a complete surprise to the government) they promised no new taxes and fiscal responsibility. In all times, they promised to get Alberta off the resource price rollercoaster and start putting money in the bank – without offering many thoughts about how this was going to be achieved. Accordingly, it never was when the budget speech rolled around.

The balanced budgets they promised turned out always to be just over the horizon. The stable, predictable funding they promised for health care, education and municipalities never seemed to be possible just then.

Casting our minds farther back, Throne speeches and budget speeches alike in the era of premier Ralph Klein always sounded as if they had been written by a clever eight-year-old for a class project at a private school of middling quality. In them, the very best province in the whole wide world usually seemed to require a dose of painful austerity.

Getting Alberta off the resource roller coaster is no easy thing to do, but at least the NDP has tried to implement real policies directed toward that goal. Whether that is a good thing, or, as the opposition asserts, a betrayal bordering on insanity, will be up to voters to decide.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

12 Comments to: Alberta’s NDP tends not to make a game of Thrones, so tomorrow’s speech may actually give us useful information!

  1. Farmer B

    March 1st, 2017

    I would like someone to explain to me what policies the NDP are implementing to get us off the resource roller coaster. As far as I know the much needed pipelines are for oil, still a resource. Shutting down coal and pushing for solar power simply increases the cost of what we are doing already and does not diversify what we produce. We have the coal in the ground we have to import the solar panels, seems counterintuitive to me. If they were proposing building thorium reactors or more hydro power I might get excited. What about Greg Clark’s latest proposal? I agree the only way way to improve our provincial balance sheet is to reduce spending and bring in a sales tax. One thing I have found different between when I was a kid and being grown up was my ability to tell the difference between a need and a want!!! As far as I can see the NDP hasn’t figured that out.

    Reply
    • Val

      March 2nd, 2017

      actually present government seems like does try to change established during a half of century status quo in regard of resources we have been blessed by.
      on one hand, the problem arise out of lack of interest from investors. they have much interest in our resources but not willing to process those resources locally. much greater profit margin for them to send raw to third world for processing and then bring it back as final product to our market.
      on other hand, government don’t like idea to take initiative in own hands, my guess because it will trigger huge wave of criticism for interfering and competing with already established private enterprises. in North America for such step one needs to have extraordinarily strong guts.

      Reply
    • Expat Albertan

      March 2nd, 2017

      As far as solar panels vs coal, It makes more sense if you understand that it is ultimately about reducing greenhouse gases and, hopefully, saving the entire ecosystem… surely a ‘need’ if there ever was one.

      Reply
      • Farmer B

        March 2nd, 2017

        Expat lets run a few numbers. The Alberta NDP is bringing out a 36 million dollar program to incentivize 10000 solar installations. 3600 dollars per installation. The average household grid tie solar installation is 6000 watts at 2.60 an installed watt this 3600 dollars will pay about 23% of the cost. 10000 of these installations will equal 60 MW of power generation. Sounds good until you realize solar power is only 20% efficient and this is only 12 MW. Now you have to build an equivalent 60 MW of natural gas generation that sits there idling waiting to ramp up as the sun goes down. Then consider that the coal plant in Hanna that is closing down produces 780 MW of power and you might understand the scope of the problem. If this was Arizona where the sun shines 360 days a year and power demand peaks in the heat of the day the same as the peak of solar production and it never freezes I might agree. Where I live the demand peaks at night at -30 not really solar friendly.

        Reply
  2. jerrymacgp

    March 1st, 2017

    Door No. 3 is not an option. Any truly radical reformist agenda not only risks their being a one-term government, but they would undoubtedly be replaced by a radical conservative agenda that would quickly undo everything they have accomplished, somewhat like what we’re seeing south of the border. A more moderate, gradualist approach is more likely to lead either to re-election, or to a less angry, less motivated new, perhaps minority, government of centrists with less appetite for big changes.

    For reasons passing understanding, Alberta’s electorate seems naturally conservative in orientation, even if not always Conservative at the ballot box. Progressive politicians need to move carefully lest they be turfed out and lose the ability to govern.

    Reply
  3. David

    March 1st, 2017

    Throne speeches are probably one of the trickiest things for any government. They are not the place for detail and for strategic reasons you do not want to give away your plans to the opposition. Often, the details of the plans are not even yet drafted and it is often details that cause controversy. Even for a government that does want to signal its direction and is committed to it, sometimes unexpected events or opportunities arise after the speech that cause it to go in a different direction after the throne speech. What if oil prices rise or fall much more than expected? What if our biggest trading partner surprisingly elects an unusual and unpredictable candidate as president?

    In general I agree many of the later PC throne speeches were a great disappointment. They were full of high minded platitudes and what they signaled seemed to bear no relation to what the government actually did after. It was like the people who wrote the throne speech were totally disconnected from the people who actually governed.

    It is helpful to have a sense of where the government wants to go so I hope the NDP government continues to take the approach they have with throne speeches. Government should not be a mysterious black box that only those in power understand. The general ideas of the throne speech should set forth a debate, that and the response to the general ideas in the throne speech can serve as a guide for the government to make decisions that reflect public input rather than springing things by surprise on the unsuspecting public – at least that is how I think it should work.

    Reply
  4. Val

    March 1st, 2017

    i don’t know how serious one should take all those theatre alike shows.
    the past showed, pre-election declarations for most part has very little materialization in actual post-election acts of elected winners.
    who was aware before 2015 about upcoming carbon tax on either, the provincial or federal level? and mind you, this makes a HUGE impact on functionality of economy on both, macro and micro level, particularly in the light of sharp changes in approach to this issue of our biggest trade partner.
    and who know what other surprises we should expect after 2019 from either left or right pretenders?

    Reply
  5. St Albertan

    March 1st, 2017

    I see our government as being in the unique position of being able to open all three doors and proceed with some, but not all of what lies behind each one. Behind door number three lies an opportunity to reduce income inequality and enhance senior care. Behind door number two offers a significant re-adjustment to the urban rural power share. Dorr number one? Should be the first, but for thirty odd years has been the last to be opened. It contains a broad brush. Sound governance. My advice is open them in that order and then let the devil take the hindmost!

    Reply
  6. Andy M.

    March 1st, 2017

    As usual, good analysis from Mr. C.
    I just want to flag a side comment that David has alluded to before and that others use, thinking it helps Premier Notley and the ND government. That is the implication that this government would somehow be fairly comfortable with the Lougheed Cons of four decades ago. I don’t think this helps RN, and her father would be horrified. I offer a perspective that Peter Lougheed was a vain, divisive and secretive leader. He constantly rattled on about the “doers and the knockers,” making him one of the prime you’re with-us-or-you’re-against-us politicians. He offered little transparency on spending within the Heritage Trust Fund (prompting Notley Sr. to stage a brave and rare Legislature fillibuster in the early 1980s), and a case could be made PL p***ed away a lot of provincial funds on ill-considered projects. I guess compared to oafs like Klein, Lougheed looks okay. But, please, stop creating some kind of common thread between Rachel Notley and Lougheed.

    Reply
    • Val

      March 1st, 2017

      well, nobody perfect (except me of course, sometimes)
      perhaps Peter Lougheed had to have his own demons.
      but after all, we evaluate personalities for their achievements on the greater scale and here his star among other, preceding and following premiers, is most bright one, where positive outcome way outweight negative.
      Rachel Notley no need to copycat him, but it will help her in selecting her own way to success, to note his approach and dedication to the cause.

      Reply
  7. David Harrigan

    March 1st, 2017

    “the only partly successful effort to absorb the Wildrose caucus into the PCs in late 2014”?
    Rather like the only partly successful year that Nortel had in 2009…

    Reply
    • St Albertan

      March 3rd, 2017

      Now that’s comedy!

      Reply

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