Since the new Alberta government took office after the election last year, the official Opposition Wildrose Party has taken their role quite literally—they have loudly and aggressively opposed pretty much every major piece of policy introduced by the government.
Of course, opposition parties are free to oppose and critique in whatever way they want and reinforce whatever base sentiments in the population they feel will get them more donations and ultimately see them be elected to government. And there is no question the Wildrose has found a formula that has served them, their bank account, and their standing in the polls reasonably well.
However, in our system of government the role of the Opposition isn’t to raise money and get elected. The role of the Opposition is to make government policy better and promote the public interest by holding government accountable and making policy better by providing solid critiques of initiatives and recommending functional alternatives. It is on that last point that the Wildrose opposition has been a complete failure.
To date their response to the government’s major policy initiatives can essentially be summed up as ‘don’t do it.’ Don’t change our tax system. Don’t increase corporate taxes. Don’t raise the minimum wage. Don’t phase out coal. Don’t bring in a carbon tax. Don’t legislate basic worker safety on farms.
This approach was on full display at the Wildrose Party’s recent policy convention where delegates overwhelmingly approved a trio of policies which would see a future Wildrose government bring back a single-rate tax, eliminate the carbon tax, and undo the government’s farmworker safety legislation.
None of these policy positions, however, has been accompanied by one iota of information of how they would accomplish their goals, or what alternative policies they would put in place.
Reversing the move to a progressive tax, for example, would mean taking some $800 million to $1 billion out of government revenue this year. Because the Wildrose has failed to present anything resembling an alternative budget for the province, they have given Albertans no indication whatsoever of how they would make up that revenue shortfall. You would think that a party so adamantly anti-deficit and anti-debt would not seek to eliminate that much money from a government that, according to the Parkland Institute and others, is already facing a structural $6 to $10 billion revenue shortfall. At least, not without explaining how they’d make up for it, but that is exactly what they have done.
They’ve done the same with the promise to kill the carbon tax, even though it has been acknowledged by economists and analysts around the world as the most effective way to reduce emissions within the context of a capitalist economy.
The Wildrose has acknowledged, albeit reluctantly, that man-made climate change exists and that we need to reduce emissions, but they have yet to put forward any credible or science-based plan for how they would do that. It is entirely possible that there are alternative ways to reduce Alberta’s contribution to climate change, but it seems that the official opposition is much more interested in making political hay than actually exploring or proposing any of those.
On Bill 6, the government’s farmworker safety legislation, the Wildrose has only said they will repeal it, and then talk to Alberta farmers about it. Lack of protection and compensation for farmworkers in Alberta is a well-documented problem, and is an area where the province has lagged far behind other jurisdictions. But the Wildrose seem to have absolutely no interest in suggesting alternative ways to protect vulnerable agricultural workers in Alberta. All they will do is talk to farmers about it, which, by the way, the Alberta government is already doing as they work to design the regulations that will enable the full implementation of the bill.
During the 2015 provincial election the Wildrose Party was adamant that Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives were destroying the province and that it was time for a drastic change in direction. In the 18 months since the election, however, all they have seemed interested in doing is stopping all progress by the NDP government and taking us back to the status quo that they opposed so fiercely in 2015. It makes you wonder if they would have actually implemented any changes to policy had they become government.
The NDP has embarked on an aggressive agenda of major policy reform since they became government. Admittedly, some of their major policies have been better thought out than others, and pretty much all of them are open to legitimate and valid critiques and improvements. Albertans entrusted the Wildrose Party with the responsibility for making those critiques and suggesting those improvements, but they have completely failed on both fronts. We need to hold them accountable and loudly demand that they do better. The public interest depends on it. V
Ricardo Acuña is the executive director of the Parkland Institute, a non-partisan, public policy research institute housed at the University of Alberta. The views and opinions expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Institute.