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.