Preston Manning knows plenty about political change, and the former federal Leader of the Opposition senses an impending shift in Alberta.
Speaking at the Alberta Beef Industry Conference in Red Deer on Friday, Manning reminded his audience that Alberta has seen only four changes in administration since 1905. In each case, the incumbent government was felled by an unexpected rival after a period of turmoil.
“In my judgement, we are into one of those periods of transition and turmoil when the current government, long in office, either gets a new lease on life or will be replaced by something new.”
That something new, he said, is likely to be the Wildrose Party. Or, the Progressive Conservatives might retain power by shifting to the left and gaining support from more liberal-minded voters and public service unions.
Manning, who retired from politics in 2002 and is now CEO of the Manning Centre for Building Democracy, didn’t reveal where his allegiances lie. But he suggested seven issues that Albertans should consider when deciding who to vote for.
These include identifying the best steward of public money, both in terms of reduced spending and saving non-renewable resource revenues for the future.
Other considerations should be who has the best proposals for sustained economic growth, who appears best able to balance economic development and environmental conservation, and who seems the most committed to expanding freedom of choice when it comes to education — something Manning credits for Alberta youths’ strong performance in international testing.
He also thinks voters should look for bold proposals when it comes to health care reform, explaining that the current system is not sustainable and most other OECD countries enjoy lower per-capita costs and better outcomes by combining public and private funding.
Manning also thinks strategies for increasing Albertans’ participation in the democratic process are important, citing the low voter turnout in recent elections. And he stressed the importance of choosing a leader who is able to play a meaningful role on the national stage.
A political transformation has yet to occur in Alberta, but one took place nationally on May 2, said Manning. He described how Stephen Harper’s majority win in the federal election represented a “shift in the geopolitical centre of gravity of the country” — and paralleled a concurrent swing in population and economic influence.
“The effect of all this, I think and hope, is to increase western clout and influence over national decision-making.”
That will be good for the agricultural and resource sectors, said Manning, and ultimately good for the country.
Just elevating the Conservatives from minority to majority status has been positive, he added.
“The acrimony that was being created between the people in Parliament and the inability of the government to do major things during that period was really, I think, a liability to the country.”
Two of the Conservatives’ priorities going forward were revealed in Harper’s Jan. 26 speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, said Manning.
The prime minister described the importance of expanding international markets for Canada’s resources, products and services, and he highlighted concerns about regulatory delays and red tape — both areas of importance to the agriculture and resource industries here.
Manning concluded by commenting on the values that guide people and politics in Alberta. Outside the province, he said, these are believed to centre on making money and using it for amusement and entertainment.
“Surely, when we assess the demands of our present situation and look to the future, we need a deeper set of values than that,” he said.
Manning would prefer a traditional set of values that reflect the relationship of the people here to the land: personal freedom, natural equality, care for neighbours, living within your means and accountability.