Opinion: Notley will decide when we go to the polls

It’s not surprising that United Conservative Leader Jason Kenney is calling on Premier Rachel Notley to call a provincial election.

It suits his purposes, after all, to portray the NDP leader as unnecessarily using public money to soften up voters through advertisements and announcements in advance of the election that must be held this spring.

But nor is it surprising Notley recognizes it’s her prerogative to hold an election any time she wants, ideally between the period set out in legislation, which is between March 1 and May 31.

She’s a seasoned politician who has proven to be as skillful as they come. Notley isn’t going to be goaded into calling an election by the Opposition. Instead, she’s scheduled a speech from the throne, which is an occasion full of pomp and ceremony that will allow the government to get the attention of Albertans, for March 18.

Surely, Kenney is not so naive as to think the NDP would surrender such an advantage just because he says so.

Kenney has said if he forms government, he will put an end to partisan advertising in the period before an election, accusing the NDP of using public money to advance its political agenda.

“It will empower the auditor general to prohibit, at any time, government advertisements that are deemed to be partisan, and it will ban all non-essential government advertising leading up to an election, starting Dec. 1, before an election year,” he said of his proposed bill.

That pledge from a party bereft of policy sounds good, but auditors generals have proven to be reluctant to wade into politics.

It’s hard to imagine an appointee of the legislature choosing to become a referee in the high-stakes game of election politics.

Beside, how do you define partisan advertising? Is it any message the government spends public money on? Is informing the public about new programs and spending initiatives inappropriate?

In some respects, all advertisements are partisan because they inherently cast the government in a positive light. A party in power isn’t going to spread an unflattering message, even if it’s not its money it’s spending.

Kenney and Notley can manoeuvre for the votes of Albertans all they want, but that doesn’t mean they’ll win them.

In the last election, the then Conservatives lost because their entrenched culture of entitlement put much of the electorate off.

Voters handed power to the untested NDP under Notley believing a fresh start was better than what they’d recently experienced after four decades of Tory reign.

This time, voters face two stark choices: An NDP government that has imposed unfriendly business policies and driven up public debt on infrastructure projects, all the while ensuring public-sector employees are spared the pain that other workers have endured.

The NDP has characterized its actions as preserving so-called front-line public services and avoiding spending cuts that would exacerbate the recession.

Or, Albertans can support Kenney’s promise to put the public’s finances on a solid financial footing and restore the province’s reputation as a destination for investment and wealth.

No matter how loud the rhetoric gets, that will be the choice, regardless of when the premier chooses to send Albertans to the polls.

David Marsden is managing editor of the Red Deer Advocate.

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