The key to former premier Ralph Klein’s success — also its most infuriating aspect — was his loyalty to one consideration: popularity. He would muse on Friday on some topic, watch the reactions, and by the middle of the next week he would either forge ahead or drop the matter entirely.
Klein has proudly repeated many times that he saw his leadership in finding the direction of any parade, and scrambling to get in front of it.
If you’re going to govern according to the polls, that’s the way it has to be done: with barefaced honesty.
One problem for our current government is that you can’t serve two masters. The yo-yo effect from chasing popularity one day, principle the next, and back again, needs no greater example than what happened to our once stable (but unfair) program of energy royalties. Now, we have neither stability nor fairness.
Wildrose Alliance leader Danielle Smith has observed this. So she and party officials were careful to steer the the Wildrose Alliance convention in Red Deer over the weekend between popularity and principle.
Both are important. But eventually you have to choose one over the other and stick with it, or you end up with a government like we have now.
Let’s face it, there’s no room in a party that intends to govern a modern society for resolutions that restrict the rights of unionized workers, or to ban teachers’ strikes, or to entrench the rights of gun ownership, or to embark on an Alberta constitution.
People who support those ideas may be welcome in the party, but these are not the reasons Wildrose Alliance should exist — not if it truly expects a mandate from the voters to govern.
The sense emerging from the convention is that the delegates generally understand that, too.
You can have a rational debate with a meaningful outcome when you try to pin down the degree of for-profit services allowed in a publicly-funded health-care system. If you take it on faith that private business can do things better than government, that’s a policy you put out to the voters. Some will agree, some won’t, and the winner on balance forms the government.
You might suspect the Tories also believe in the for-profit model, but fear of the polls is keeping action limited to having Alberta Health Services call for a wage freeze for all health workers.
Now, there are a lot of Alberta workers — including unionized workers — who have accepted wage freezes in the past couple years. That’s part of life. But is pre-empting the bargaining process part of the official government platform? You’d have to take a public opinion poll to find out.
Alberta’s dissatisfaction with government has a lot to do with lack of choice. You either vote for the government — whatever version it takes at the moment — or your vote isn’t counted.
The first service of the Wildrose Alliance might likely be its best. Starting from scratch, a party is deciding what it stands for. We will know it clearly, because we won’t have to compare past policies with past actions to seek some kind of correlation. Or, we will have a chance to vote against something we haven’t liked — and actually have our vote counted and measured as an expression of political will.
When the other parties do the same, Alberta can have its first real election since Klein himself came to power.
Greg Neiman is an Advocate editor.