NDP Leader Rachel Notley and her party ran a valiant campaign, but it wasn’t enough to persuade Albertans to overlook the worrisome state of the economy, nor the government’s record in office.
Notley’s ascent to power has often been characterized as accidental: that the NDP’s 2015 electoral victory had more to do with dissatisfaction with the long-governing Progressive Conservatives than a sudden affection for socialism.
The Tories had become directionless in their latter years, and worse, made no efforts to hide an ingrained culture of cronyism and entitlement.
By the time Jim Prentice arrived with a plan to put the Conservatives back on track, most Albertans were fed up. They were ready to embrace change, and Notley best represented the hope for a fresh start for the province.
Notley was dealt a poor hand by the tumbling of energy prices, but to a great extent, she was the architect of her own undoing at the ballot box Tuesday night.
Albertans like to think of themselves as fiscally conservative. Her determination to ratchet up spending, while revenues were moving in the opposite direction, raised serious questions about the government’s financial acumen.
An early-term review of energy royalties might have played well to the party’s faithful, but it gave investors the jitters — something she should have known from Ed Stelmach’s experience during his time as Tory premier. He too spooked investment away from Alberta.
In the end, Notley was told the royalty regime was largely fair, but not before the damage had been done.
She also increased the corporate tax rate, the amount money-making companies pay to the province, by nearly 20 per cent, which hampered Alberta’s competitive position compared to other jurisdictions.
Tellingly, the corporate tax hike didn’t bring in the amount of revenue expected, proof that governments can’t increase the costs shouldered by businesses without consequences.
Notley’s biggest gaffe, of course, was the carbon tax, which was never mentioned in the 2015 election campaign.
Albertans were told that paying more for energy would win social license for the pipelines that are needed to carry our energy to new markets.
The efficacy of the carbon tax is questionable, whether it’s measured by a commensurate reduction in greenhouse gas emissions or gaining support for pipelines.
Today, the phrase social license elicits a grimace or a smile, unless it’s used mockingly. It’s a hollow, meaningless expression, much like saying “the cheque is in the mail.”
People fret that if United Conservative Leader Jason Kenney kills the carbon tax, the federal government will simply impose its own on Alberta, as it has done to other recalcitrant provinces.
At the very worst, Albertans will pay a reduced carbon tax that returns 90 per cent of the money back to consumers. That’s far better than the slush fund Notley created, which allows the government to dole out much of the money as it sees fit.
The NDP election experiment was a costly one, but one Albertans clearly felt was worth the risk in 2015.
Kenney, if he doesn’t understand it already, must know Albertans won’t put up with further snowballing spending and the absence of a plan to return to balanced budgets.
The United Conservative leader has created high expectations, both during the election campaign, and earlier, as he formed a single political party that would appeal to right-leaning voters.
Having convinced Albertans to trust him and his candidates with the province’s affairs for the next four years, let’s hope they’re up to the task.
David Marsden is managing editor of the Red Deer Advocate.