Judge potential, performance

What’s a provincial election without issues and perspective?

What’s a provincial election without issues and perspective?

Albertans can expect to go the polls next spring, and they should have plenty to talk about in the months leading up to the next provincial election.

The evidence? The pent-up frustrations of a province long stuck in neutral, a dramatic changing of the guard, the apparent urge of that new leadership to implement reform at every turn, and critics on watch for every misstep.

This week, Premier Alison Redford introduced a shopping list of new legislation as the first real sitting of her government began (the truncated sitting earlier this fall really doesn’t count).

Since her election as Progressive Conservative leader last month, Albertans have expected they would be asked to endorse Redford’s leadership — or reject it — sometime next year.

Now we know, if new legislation is passed as anticipated (it would take an act of omnipotence to stop it), that we will go to the polls sometime between March 1 and May 31, 2012 — and every four years thereafter. The proposed Election Amendment Act would guarantee fixed election dates (although not specific dates, as are mandated in other provinces — apparently being too definitive is not acceptable in Alberta).

By then we will have had more than enough time to digest Redford’s legislative plans, assess her management style, and come to grips with her gumption.

If they accept the package she offers, Albertans have shown repeatedly that they are anything but fickle at the polls.

But we should all be responsibly thorough in our evaluation of Redford’s record; just preparing to vote Conservative because you always have is not nearly good enough. Voters need to keep a close and critical eye on her government’s performance in the next few months, and weigh that against what the opposition proposes.

Redford has given us ample material to examine this week, and in the weeks leading up to this legislative launch:

• She has travelled to Washington and Ottawa in defence of Alberta’s energy industry, and in support of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. But did she do enough?

• She plowed more than $100 million back into education right after her election. But what are her long-term plans for education in Alberta, including post-secondary?

• Her ministers have floated tax balloons in recent weeks (increased health premiums and a provincial sales tax have both been mentioned). Just how will Redford hack down the estimated $3.1-billion provincial deficit in an economy that continues to stumble?

• Her government introduced a Health Quality Council of Alberta Act this week in an effort to get to the truth about allegations of physician intimidation. Albertans want the truth, and the sooner the better, but will waiting for this proposed act to become law simply further delay any inquiry?

• The government has stepped back from contentious power line projects through the heart of the province. But without concrete terms of reference to review the need for the proposals, and the routes, what have we gained?

• The new Traffic Safety Act puts anyone who imbibes on notice that getting behind the wheel is a bad choice, even after one or two drinks. The critics suggest it is too harsh, and too punitive for the hospitality industry. But shouldn’t saving lives always be the first priority?

• The new Child and Youth Advocate Act creates an independent ombudsman who will advocate for children in jeopardy. The only question here is why it took so long.

• The Land Assembly Project Area Act tries to undo the damage done by Bill 19, which was created to streamline the expropriation process for major infrastructure process. But will the new legislation will bring clarity and fairness or just muddy the process further?

There will be more than enough discussion points in coming months, as Redford wades through the muddle left behind by Ed Stelmach and Ralph Klein, on her way to her first test at the polls.

John Stewart is the Advocate’s managing editor.

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