Vision of sustainability could power United Conservative Party
Alberta politics are currently in flux as increasing numbers of people work towards creating a new provincial party – one that can serve as a united, principled, and competent alternative to the NDP government.
But what vision for the future should the new party present?
Obviously that vision must incorporate key elements from both the Wildrose and Progressive Conservative parties in order to maintain the support of their members and voters. But it must also be more than “the sum of the old parts,” especially to win the support of millennials who could constitute the largest single bloc of voters in the 2019 provincial election if they choose to vote.
Recent research suggests these electors in particular desire a vision that moves beyond the old divisions of “left” and “right.”
One vision that could appeal to both Wildrose and PC members, as well as many millennials, is that of “Sustainable Alberta” – with four dimensions:
Financial and Economic Sustainability
With provincial spending, debt, and taxation literally out of control, one of the first priorities of any government replacing the NDP must be the achievement of financial sustainability. Measures to cut costs, to improve the productivity of provincial expenditures (more bang for the tax buck), and ameliorative measures to ease budget balancing could all be offered as part of a financial sustainability platform.
And with Albertans once again feeling the pain and disruption caused by fluctuating petroleum prices, public and private decision-makers need a new economic strategy to ensure that spending is constrained and savings accumulated during booms in order to sustain economic activity, incomes, and jobs during the downturns.
The description and particulars of this strategy – a variation of the Alberta Heritage Trust Fund concept – are beyond the scope of this opinion piece. But suffice it to say that such a strategy will only be developed and implemented by those who believe in a co-operative relationship between the public and private sectors rather than the antagonistic relationship fostered by NDP ideologues.
Economic development and environmental conservation in Alberta can no longer be regarded as separate functions, nor can environmental conservation be treated as simply an “add on” to extraction, processing, manufacturing, distribution, and consumption activities. As has become patently obvious, especially to the younger generation, the economy and environment are inseparably linked – the economy drawing all its inputs from and discharging all its wastes into the environment in order to produce the goods and services, which support our standard of living.
Thus, managing the integration of the economy and the environment requires determining the negative environmental impacts of each economic activity, devising measures to avoid or ameliorate those impacts, and incorporating the costs of those measures in the price of the good or service produced.
This is a market-based approach to environmental sustainability, compatible with a market-based economy, and better designed and implemented by those that believe in the value and efficacy of markets than those who do not.
Social Services Sustainability
Albertans highly value their health, education, and other social services, and rightly so. At present, provincial spending in each of these areas – which consume almost two-thirds of the Alberta budget – is growing much faster than the Alberta economy, making them financially unsustainable.
Measures for putting our social-services sector on a financially sustainable basis going forward must therefore be a vital component of any vision of the future of Alberta, an objective to be achieved by improving social-service productivity and implementing the financial and economic sustainability measures described above.
The job market in Alberta is also undergoing rapid changes as changes in technologies, global trade patterns, and consumer demands destroy old jobs and create new employment opportunities. Rather than using the unionized public service as a temporary sink to absorb unemployed Albertans, the province needs a job sustainability plan characterized by job-focused basic education, training for future jobs, job sharing (as part of the emerging “sharing economy”), and measures to facilitate labour force mobility – employment sustainability being a vitally important component of economic sustainability.
“Sustainable Alberta” – financial/economic, environmental, social service, and employment sustainability for the province and its people – a future vision worth pursuing, don’t you think?
Preston Manning is the founder of the Manning Centre.
This column was published by the Edmonton Journal on June 16, 2017