Thursday, 13 April 2017 - 9:15am

Our NDP government frequently justifies its legislative agenda by claiming that it is simply bringing Alberta in line with the standards of other provinces.

Without much critical reflection, that would seem like a sensible rationale — make us march to the same beat of the other provinces in our Confederation. Surely, this is a harmless proposition — after all, the nail that sticks out gets hammered down, right?

Quite the opposite, in fact. The political environment that has historically made Alberta unique from the rest of the country has inextricably contributed to its prosperity. Further, a cursory glance at the instances where the NDP has artfully deployed the “bringing Alberta in line” argument demonstrates its disingenuousness.

In its second bill after being elected in 2015, the NDP justified hiking our corporate tax rate (previously the lowest in the country) by 20 per cent, just so that we would be in line with Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The perceived sense of equality betrays the reality that we are competing with all other jurisdictions for investors.

Bill 6, the infamous farm-worker unionization bill, which drew the ire of Alberta’s agricultural community, was similarly lauded as bringing Alberta’s labour legislation in line with provinces such as Ontario. Again, an egalitarian appeal masks the serious damage that the massive new costs would have on consumers.

Finally, Alberta’s new carbon tax regime is part of a pan-Canadian “bringing the provinces in line” argument with the implicit threat of a federally administered carbon tax if individual provinces choose not to devise their own system.

What is odd about this dubious rationale is that it flies in the face of conventional wisdom – namely, the benefits that come from differentiating from the rest of the pack through competitive government policies.

Since when is it satisfactory to merely aspire to the common denominator? Surely, what made Alberta an international destination for entrepreneurs and good jobs was its lowest-in-the-country corporate tax rates, a non-existent sales tax, and an unimposing regulatory burden? If we measure our success in various policy areas by ability to blend in with the crowd – the impending mediocrity should be no surprise to anyone.

Now, if the previous argument falls short of being convincing — if the prevailing headwinds toward unanimity are too strong — perhaps the NDP government could challenge itself to bring the province in line in areas that may be conducive to renewed prosperity.

In light of the daunting prospect of a $10-billion deficit for 2017-18, Alberta should be compelled to bring its spending in line with other provinces that are watching their pennies closely. The Alberta government will increase spending by 7.4 per cent this year — three times higher than Saskatchewan.

The NDP will be making changes to Alberta’s labour code shortly. One of the revisions that many are expecting is a change to how unions are established in a workplace — switching from a system that allows workers to vote privately on the decision to a system that requires them to sign cards publicly.

This new system would be contrary to the approach that is currently in place in a majority of provinces.

Such a move allows unions to use intimidation to have employees sign cards, hurting the province’s competitiveness at the same time. In fact, if the NDP is eager to change the province’s labour laws, it should bring Alberta in line and require unions to disclose their financial statements to members, like almost every other province requires.

This would ensure members have a right to see how their mandatory dues are being spent.

The NDP should be careful in choosing where it intends to bring Alberta in line and where it doesn’t. If it continues to pursue a damaging political agenda, it should be fully prepared for the province’s electors to bring Alberta in line with the rest of the country and throw out the last remaining NDP government in the 2019 election.

John Whittaker is a policy analyst at the Manning Centre.
This column was published by the Calgary Herald on April 12, 2017

Topic: 
Economy
John Whittaker
Policy Analyst