Saturday, August 16, 2014

Alberta's Bland Leadership Race - Time for A Big Shift

Jim Prentice, Thomas Lukaszuk and Ric McIver are running to be Premier of Alberta by seeking to become leader of the Provincial Progressive (sic) Conservative Party. None of these three appear either imaginative enough or courageous enough for the position. Let me tell you why.

Alberta is in the top ten richest places on the planet as measured by GDP per capita. It is a petro-state, with oil and gas in abundance. It also has vibrant forest and agricultural sectors, its education system (K-12) is amongst the best in the world thanks to its outstanding teachers, its has excellent health care at this time and is also a significant innovator, especially in relation to Prions, nanotechnology, medical imaging and devices and energy related technologies. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that inequality is growing in Alberta. On average, 12% of Albertan’s live on or below the poverty line (see here). One in ten children in Alberta live in poverty – many from First Nations (here). For single parent female led households, the poverty rate in 33%.  Many of those in poverty are also in work. When we look at Alberta, we see the top 1% getting richer, the poor getting poorer and the middle class getting less service and support from our Government. Leadership should be focused on equity in terms of building a just society and a compassionate, resilient society.

The bad news is that trust between our Government and the people is broken. Its not only former Premier Redford’s behaviour (which was consistent with that of some others in leadership positions in the party), but they have given up engaging and listening. They are command and control focused – as we can see from the behaviour of Minister of Education Jeff Johnson. They are short term focused – as we can see from the environmental (sic) platform of Jim Prentice (here – notice this phrase “we will not damage the competitiveness of our oil and gas industry by unilaterally imposing costs and regulations” – so no leadership here then).

The bad news is that the vulnerable in our society – those with mental health, physical infirmities and disabilities – are finding Alberta more and more difficult to navigate and belong to. Support for students with disabilities (inclusion supports) are declining as the population of such students are growing; supports for the mentally ill are being reduced in real terms; even legal aid for those who find themselves on the wrong side of the law (many of whom are mentally ill, in poverty or new immigrants) is also being cut (see here).

The bad news is that our economy is driving our social and educational policies, not our social and community focus driving our economy. Unusually, we run our economy in Alberta on the back of non-renewable resource revenue – something the Premiers Economic Council made clear was a strategic mistake which now needs correcting (see here). Canada as a whole takes so little royalty revenue (the least of all Petro States) and also has the highest production costs when compared to others, yet we are willing to forgoe equitable services, community supports and the right conditions of practice for education, health, social services and other “public goods” on the grounds that we want to be a low tax economy.

The Government actually thinks that our competitive advantage is low taxes and high rates of poorly focused government spending. Our real advantage is the compassion we show for each other, ingenuity, hard work and determination – our people. Taxes and royalties need to rise to pay for the services we require for as just and equitable, vibrant society.  No one likely to hold power takes this view. This is why we will continue to drift.

What should a leader focus on? The leader needs to stop focusing on “winning an election” and start offering a vision for our future which reflects our values – tell Albertan’s a story that inspires, engages and gives hope.
We have a significant moment of truth on September 6th when the PC members will elect a new leader who will become Premier, at least for a while. None of those running have shared a vision or story which is compelling, engaging or inspiring. It’s the bland leading the bewildered party, reeling from its own lack of ethics and courage into the fray we call the future.  

 Jim Prentice is clearly in the pocket of big oil, Ric McIver has never recovered from losing the Mayors race in Calgary and has nothing to say (and, as a result of having breakfast with him, we can also affirm that he doesn’t listen). Thomas Lukaszuk is fun, fast on his feet and vacuous leadership candidate with strange shirts. It’s a joke. None have the three things we need to see in a leader: vision, courage, focus.

It’s a problem not unique to Alberta. Look around the world and ask “where are the inspiring leaders”? The crisis in Iraq or Crimea / Ukraine, eBola in Western Africa or the continued economic debacle we call European currency zone all demand courageous, visionary leaders. Where are they? The best the world can find are technocrats like Angela Merkel or David Cameron, dictators like Mugabe and Putin and mad-men like the leaders of ISIS. No Churchill or Roosevelt, no Thatcher or Reagan.

When Prentice wins we will have elected (by default) a banker who favour the rich and corporate Alberta to continue to govern with a deaf ear to poverty, equity, social justice and the need to rethink and reboot our economy. When he fails, as he will, we will then elect the Wild Rose Party who will do more or the same, but with less social justice and focus on equity.

Its time for a major rethink of this place we call Alberta. Ask these three questions: What are the values that describe the Alberta I want my grandchildren to inhabit? What is the Alberta the world needs to see? What would it take for Alberta to be a model of a progressive, resilient, innovative and equitable society?

1 comment:

Ken Chapman said...

Good hard hitting analysis. We need to start fresh to rethink Alberta as moving forward not backward...or left-right either.

The progressive Alberta citizen has a sense of where we are. They fear the Wildrose (backward), loath the PCs (integrity issues), find the Liberals boring (dead party walking) and are indifferent to the NDP (they need to focus on the war on unions not the big picture).

We need Alberta progressives to realize if none of the above is preferred then a message has to be sent. The best way to change things is at the ballot box.

There are by-elections coming. Voting for the Alberta Party ( is a new progressive choice that is open and emergent. New votes will give this alternative progressive party some momentum. It also sends a powerful "none of the above" message in the up coming by-elections.