It’s that time of year when Alberta’s bloggers, columnists and media pundits embark on the long-honoured tradition of summing up the year in provincial politics. As I’ve worked my way through these various offerings over the past few weeks, however, I find myself genuinely confused as to what provincial government these folks have been watching and how they come to their conclusions.
You see, it turns out that most of the pieces I’ve read so far seem to have the same focus: how, over the course of this year, Alison Redford has “abandoned the people that elected her” and “moved sharply to the right.” I cannot for the life of me find any evidence of any political movement by Redford over the course of 2013. What’s more, I cannot find any evidence of movement by Redford at any point since she was elected leader in the fall of 2011. So then where is all of this talk of a shift in the Premier’s politics coming from?
Most of it seems to come from how the Wildrose Party and Alberta’s mainstream media, whose positions are often interchangeable these days, originally framed Redford while she was running for the leadership of the Conservative Party. Going back now to look at some of the Wildrose communications and the media commentary from that time, you would think that Redford was no less than a Marxist revolutionary dead set on turning Alberta into a collectivist left-wing workers’ paradise. Much of this framing persisted during her first six months in office and right through the 2012 election.
The problem is that this characterization of Redford was never supported by anything she said, promised or did. During her run for leadership and the 2012 election, she promised “stable and predictable” funding for education and health, but never once suggested that she would deliver adequate or sufficient funding. She also promised to make personal and corporate taxes the main source of revenue for the provincial government, but asserted repeatedly that she would not raise or adjust taxes to accomplish this. Instead, she vowed, she would accomplish this by limiting the amount of natural-resource revenues that go into the operating budget in any given year. In other words, her commitment from the very start was never to increase funding for public services, but rather to further limit the amount of money the government has available to fund public services.
Another central plank of her platform in both the leadership race and the 2012 election was to drastically cut government expenditures through results-based budgeting audits of all departments, by conducting reviews to identify services that could be funded through outright privatization, arrangements like public-private partnerships and the introduction of social impact bonds for social services.
She has also vowed all along that she would not touch the province’s royalty regime and that she would work hard to make the province’s regulatory regime as easy as possible for the energy industry to navigate. The day after her election, as leader of the Conservative Party, she told CBC’s Anna Maria Tremonti, “I hope I will be a great champion of the oil and gas industry, it’s a very important industry in our province.” This, of course, is in addition to her pledge to ensure the building of pipelines that will enable continued unfettered growth of Alberta’s bitumen industry.
Where in all this rhetoric, in all these promises, is the supposed Redford of the left? How can anyone look at any of the above and suggest that her trajectory as leader of the conservatives and Premier of Alberta started anywhere but on the far right?
Can anyone point out one bill, one policy decision, one budget allocation, that would suggest that at any time during her time as premier she has been anything but an ideological neoliberal right-winger?
Was her election as premier made possible by support from “progressive” Albertans and public-sector workers? Probably. Was that support the result of anything she said, promised or did? Probably not. Instead, it was the result of people believing how she was framed by the media and the Wildrose and the misplaced belief that she would somehow be different from Danielle Smith.
Maya Angelou said, “The first time someone shows you who they are, believe them.” The hard truth here is that Redford has not abandoned the progressive Albertans and public-sector workers that ostensibly elected her, because she was never with them. So, as we look back on the year in Alberta politics, let’s not reinforce the myth that Redford started out progressive and moved to the right over the course of this year. Let’s be clear instead on the reality that many Albertans voted for someone that was clearly not their ally, and have slowly come to realize their mistake. V
Ricardo Acuña is the executive director of the Parkland Institute, a non-partisan, public policy research institute housed at the University of Alberta.