Is it time for a spring cleaning at the legislature?
It had not been my intention to comment on the Alberta provincial election — partly because I have respected friends and supporters in both the Wildrose and Progressive Conservative camps, and also out of deference to the opinions of younger Albertans whose lives will be most affected by whomever they choose to support on April 23.
But the negative attacks and historical inaccuracies that have characterized the government’s campaign in the past 10 days — so reminiscent of those that were directed against Reform in the 1990s and against the budget balancing efforts of Ralph Klein during the same period — have prompted me to change my mind.
In particular, I would like to redirect the attention of Albertans toward what I believe is the central question facing us on April 23 — whether the time has come for a wholesale spring house cleaning at the Alberta legislature?
For more than 40 years, that House has been dominated by one party — a party with many accomplishments to its credit, especially in years gone by. But over 40 years, governing parties, like old houses, age in ways that no amount of new paint or hasty renovation can hide.
Albertans must decide to what extent this aging process has affected the performance of the principal occupant of the House. For example, has it been able to control household spending, deficits and debt; to save and invest non-renewable resource revenues on a scale and at a rate sufficient to guarantee future prosperity; to fundamentally reform health care and reduce waiting times; to establish Alberta’s reputation as an environmentally responsible energy producer on the national and international stage; and to inspire meaningful democratic participation in the public affairs of the province by the vast majority of its citizens?
Albertans must decide whether or not the principal occupant of the House has forgotten to honour and uphold some of the most fundamental values Albertans hold dear — personal freedom and responsibility, the necessity of living within our means financially and ecologically, the importance of advancing one’s interests through hard work and honest effort rather than through political connections and patronage handouts, and the willingness to help a neighbour in need without waiting for the state to do something.
Albertans must also decide whether or not the ethical standards of the principal occupant of the House are sufficient to guarantee its integrity. Are the ethical standards of the government high enough if they permit the breaking of long-standing contracts with resource developers and investors, buying the votes of public service unions with taxpayers’ money, politically interfering with the practice of medicine, or auctioning off access to Alberta’s Hong Kong office to the highest bidder?
If Albertans do decide that it is time to do a thorough spring House cleaning on April 23, it will also be necessary to decide what broom to use. There is an old adage that a “new broom sweeps clean,” and no province has acted on this principle more consistently than Alberta.
In 1921, when Alberta’s first and only Liberal administration had corrupted itself in office, Albertans used the new broom of a new political party, the United Farmers of Alberta, to clean House. In 1935, when the UFA was crippled by the Depression and tainted by scandal in the premier’s office, Albertans again used the new broom of a new party, Social Credit, to again clean House. And in 1971, when Social Credit had grown old in office and out of touch, Albertans once again used the new broom of a new party, the recreated Progressive Conservative party, to once again clean House.
If it is decided to clean House in Edmonton on April 23, and to use the new broom of a new party to do so, that idea will no doubt appeal to many of the new Albertans who have come to the province in the past decade. Many of you came to this province for a “fresh start” and you have the energy and the drive to give the province a fresh start by voting for a change of government, if that is in fact what you desire.
It is also understandable that those Albertans who are deeply dissatisfied with the recent performance and ethical standards of the government should be harsh — even angry — in your dissatisfaction with the status quo. But I urge you to translate that disillusionment and anger into a positive vote for change, rather than staying home as so many Albertans did in the last provincial election.
And if I may, a word to the older generation of Albertans with which I personally identify. To change the analogy from the House to the corral, our generation cannot but have some affection for the old horse that has inhabited the Alberta provincial corral for so long. He has, by and large, been a good old horse, and we have ridden many trails together. But if, in fact, he is well past his prime and it’s time to let him go, think of this election not as a cruel send off to the packing plant, but as simply a time to let that old horse out to pasture and allow him to graze his way peacefully into the sunset.
Finally, whatever “conservative” party wins the Alberta election, let it adhere, after the election, to the conservative values and principles it professes to hold. Albertans do not need or deserve a “regressive conservatism,” which professes to believe in such values and principles, but fails to practise them in office.
This Calgary Herald published this column on April 17, 2012