Last week, the Advocate asked in a daily online poll: If there was an Alberta election today, which party would you vote for?
For most of that day, the Wildrose Alliance party was the runaway leader; and a late surge by Conservative supporters eventually brought the race to a dead heat.
Of course, this is a blatantly unscientific poll. Of 333 respondents, the Progressive Conservatives took 111 votes, and Wildrose Alliance got 129. Because the margin of error in a poll like this will be quite wide, it could well be predicting a narrow Conservative victory, for all anyone can tell.
But when you consider the margins of Conservative wins here, ever since the days when we had passenger rail service downtown, this unscientific poll cannot be dismissed. Most opposition candidates in this area never get enough votes to have their candidate deposits refunded.
You can’t predict a political turnaround on the basis of one poll, though. So here’s another.
When the Conservatives came in third in a Sept. 14 by-election in Calgary-Glenmore, Premier Ed Stelmach was quick to assure Alberta voters that the message was heard. The government needs to move further to the right, he said. They need to be more conservative.
That rather conveniently ignores the fact the Conservative candidate also came in behind the Liberals. Supposedly, if they wanted to beat second spot, they should move more to the left, wouldn’t you think?
A better interpretation would be the government heard the message in the election of Paul Hinman, but can’t bring itself to digest it.
The government has not made a good case for itself on health care, nor has it communicated well its intentions on care for seniors.
Government staff were ordered to deny there was a freeze on hiring of nurses, even though it was widely known a shortage of nursing staff exists. Now, a good portion of this year’s 1,200 nursing school grads are considering leaving the province to find employment. Nurses whose four-year degrees were largely paid for by tax dollars.
Service cutbacks touch virtually every part of the interface between the people and government.
There are very few extended families which do not have members needing mental health or long-term disability services.
Once fear of service cuts reaches to seniors, the social contract covering what we pay in taxes and what we expect in return, is broken.
Things like this reverberate through the electorate; once that trust is broken, it’s exceedingly hard to repair.
Alberta has the lowest taxes of all provinces. We spend less on public health care per thousand dollars of GDP than other Canadians.
There’s a reason you don’t want to be last in this race: you can only be the cheapest provider by cutting quality.
British Columbia has the next lowest tax rate.
Using Alberta Finance numbers, if Alberta taxed just half the difference between us, we would raise another $5 billion and the originally predicted budget deficit would be gone — and we’d still have the lowest taxes in Canada, by $5 billion a year.
Of course, last March’s budget figures are as obsolete as last week’s opinion poll. But last week, our two MLAs might not have gotten re-elected.
In March, $5 billion would have produced a balanced budget and a lot fewer headaches over cutbacks.
If the government is counting on people not remembering either of those, they’re really not getting the message. In any other province, they’d be toast.
Greg Neiman is an Advocate editor.