They may have skidded their most disastrous leader, but the brain trust now running Alberta’s foundering Progressive Conservative Government has made it abundantly clear they intend to press ahead with their scheme to demolish the progressive coalition that saved their political bacon in 2012.
Obviously, they have concluded this will improve their chances of re-election whenever they decide to call an election, an event that for cynical tactical reasons will likely take place outside the “fixed election period” they legislated in late 2011.
The mechanism for this demolition project is the government’s determination to carry on with its plans to gut the modest public service pensions that are the retirement security of some 300,000 Albertans and their families, a fact explained surprisingly bluntly in the Legislature Thursday by Intergovernmental Relations Minister Cal Dallas.
The Tories’ rationale is interesting, appearing to be: Why? Because we can.
Also interesting was Mr. Dallas’s tacit admission to the Legislature that the government under premier Alison Redford and Premier pro tempore Dave Hancock lied to Albertans about the reasons for the pension cuts – which are clearly designed to achieve the seemingly hopeless aim of wooing back the substantial numbers of right-wing voters who have abandoned the government for the Wildrose Party.
Speaking for conveniently absent Finance Minister Doug Horner, whose ministerial responsibility it was to make this announcement, Mr. Dallas put it very clearly: “The current unfunded liabilities will be paid down over a period of 12 years.”
In other words, Mr. Dallas was tacitly admitting to MLAs that the unfunded liability the government has up to now claimed was the principal reason its planned cuts were required will in fact disappear very soon under funding arrangements already put in place by employees and employers – just as the unions involved have said all along.
The new principal reason for the cuts is apparently that the government wants to save money at the expense of the retirement security it promised its front-line workers – especially if they happen to be modestly paid women. A fair summary of the government’s revised position, then, as explained by Mr. Dallas, would be: We lied. So what are you gonna do about it?
Well, not collectively bargain improvements to compensate for the takeaway, that’s for sure, since the government has all but ended the practice of legal collective bargaining for public employees in this province.
Moreover, Mr. Dallas said, the legislation will include a moratorium on even talking about fixing that problem until 2021 – at which point, he fantasized, management of the plans will be turned over to the unions so that they can take the blame for the retirement-security disaster that will most likely follow. Good luck getting that to happen too!
Eventually, one expects, the courts will deal efficiently enough with this unconstitutional nonsense – but not without several years of delays the Tories clearly hope can they can spin out through legal foot dragging and obstruction of Albertans’ fundamental rights.
In the mean time, I suppose, vicious compliance, retirements and the movement of many skilled health care workers to other jurisdictions will be the orders of the day. Political and financial fallout from a run on the various public sector plans as members try to find ways to bail out is also a strong possibility.
Obviously, all this will be popular in certain quarters here in Alberta – at least until it sinks in that it means no one can trust any Progressive Conservative government to honour any contract or any constitutionally protected right.
But how helpful this will turn out to be for the Redford-Hancock Government is not so clear when, as noted above, the voters it is most likely to appeal to with such a policy have already loaded up the truck and moved to Wildrose Country.
Perhaps the Tories think progressive voters and public employees can once again be stampeded into voting for them by fear mongering about Wildrose social values.
This seems increasingly unlikely given the magnitude of the betrayal, and the fact most of their own caucus has just been exposed as unwilling to take even a modest and risk-free stand against institutionalized bigotry in our province’s schools.
Since both Labour Minister Thomas Lukaszuk and Mr. Horner are advocates of this attack on pensions and both are leading candidates for the party leadership, campaigning not-quite openly so they can retain the publicity opportunities afforded by their cabinet posts, there is no way this can be blamed after the fact on Ms. Redford alone. It must continue to be a party responsibility.
Historians will argue for a long time about what group or factor bought an end to the Tory dynasty that was founded by Peter Lougheed in 1971.
As is often the case, each group will advance explanations that promote their own interests. Economic conservatives will argue the Tories were no longer financially responsible enough, social conservatives will claim their social attitudes were too godless and liberal, and progressives who were fooled into voting for Ms. Redford in 2012 will conclude it was because the government broke its promises and abandoned them. Indeed, many of these progressive voters will think: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
Perhaps in the end there will be something to all these interpretations.
The key to Tory success hitherto in Alberta has been that the PCs were a big-tent centre-right party with something for almost everyone, and nothing too offensive for anyone.
By sawing off the third leg of the three-legged stool they’ve sat upon for 43 years, they have now became a party that offers nothing to anyone and has something to offend everyone.
All the Redford-Hancock Government has left is the charming notion Alberta without Progressive Conservatives at the helm is unimaginable – just as Alberta without Social Credit seemed unimaginable in 1970.
When they get the opportunity, I expect Alberta voters of all ideological stripes will draw the Tories a clear diagram that illustrates why they should have been more imaginative. It cannot happen too soon.