Short-term trick hurts democracy in the long run

The long-awaited provincial budget has been announced and, as expected, cries of foul came from everywhere

The long-awaited provincial budget has been announced and, as expected, cries of foul came from everywhere, from public workers’ unions to schools to medical associations to seniors’ organizations.

That this budget is a severely belt-tightening program should come as no surprise, as Premier Jim Prentice has been using all loudspeakers he can put his hands on to let people know that he faces a $7 billion deficit.

After the disclosure of the details of the new budget, political pundits lost no time in drawing comparisons between the current financial dire straits and those during the times of former premiers, Messrs. Ralph Klein and Don Getty and stressed with bold fonts that Jim Prentice had chosen to follow the tax-and-spend example of Mr. Getty over Mr. Klein’s much praised practices aimed at balancing the books by reducing government spending.

Of course, there are a lot of circumstances that render those comparisons less than fully meaningful, but by and large, the new budget does bring a lot of tax burden, a little more to the wealthier sections of the population.

But what is being omitted from most of the eco-political comments is the fluidity of the circumstances conditioning our bottleneck: In the Middle East, the latest flare-up of nascent Yemeni internal conflict and the Saudi-led intervention to end it in favor of the Sunni side threatens to further increase the instability of the flow of oil into international markets, thus pushing the prices higher, while a possible deal between Iran and the western powers over the former’s nuclear material enrichment program could pave the way for the lifting of sanctions against Tehran, thereby leading to the markets being flooded by Iranian oil exports in addition to those by the Saudis. In short, the state of influx in the political and market conditions may just push the price of oil much higher within months just as they can also drive it even further to new lows, making all the calculations in the current budget just an academic exercise.

That is to say, market fluctuations and their impact may very well turn out to be short-term headaches.

But what Mr. Prentice has been doing to secure a mandate to implement this budget has already dealt a strategic blow to the fundamentals of democratic governance in Alberta.

Probably within a few weeks, if not days, we will hear the announcement of the date of the early provincial election with the justification being that the new budget requires a new mandate from the people of the province and it is very acceptable reasoning.

What is less acceptable is the fact that the search for new mandate comes after the killing of the most vibrant opposition this province has seen for a long time.

As you may have heard by now, Danielle Smith, former leader of the Wildrose Party who crossed the floor with eight of her colleagues, has lost the nomination race in her riding to another hopeful, and so has Rod Fox of the Lacombe-Ponoka riding.

But in another nomination race, Mr. Prentice’s leadership blocked the candidacy of a party faithful to open the opportunity to a different floor-crossing former member of the Wildrose Party.

Do these practices sound as open, transparent, egalitarian and honest to you?

We have even been told that PC party leadership, as a matter of principle, is keeping the results of the ballot counts in the nomination races secret. One wonders why.

With so much skullduggery going on at the nomination phase, it will be interesting to see how the electorate of the province will vote and how much support Mr. Prentice will receive when the time for real election arrives.