Roundup: Fun with populist proposals

As the new United Conservative Party in Alberta starts to take shape, some familiar populist tropes have been tossed around, which the leadership candidates – Brian Jean especially – don’t seem to actually think through before proposing it. Colby Cosh, on the other hand, did think through some of those proposals and the problems that they would cause, particularly when it comes to thinks like local referendums on photo radar (which I will remind you is ridiculous – if you don’t want to get a ticket, then don’t speed. It’s your own damn fault if you get one), but the big one is promised recall legislation. People keep bringing this particular idea up time and again, enamoured with American examples thereof, without actually thinking through the consequences of how it would work in our particular system, especially when there are more than two parties on the ballot, making thresholds an important consideration. In BC, the one province where recall legislation exists, it’s set at 40 percent of eligible voters, making it high enough to never actually be used, but the Wildrose had previously proposed a twenty percent threshold, which would set up a constant flow of recall initiatives, at which point it becomes comical. Suffice to say, populism is not democracy, and people who treat them as interchangeable are asking for trouble.

Meanwhile, as could be expected, old Wildrose holdouts are looking to revive their now moribund party in one form or another, likely with a new name but the same policies and party constitution, given that they resolutely remain opposed to uniting. At the same time, former PC operatives and the provinces’ hipster centrists, the Alberta Party, are holding “Alberta Together” meetings, to apparently try and solidify the centrist vote in the province, for what it’s worth.

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Roundup: Disingenuous leadership promises

In the wake of the unity vote in Alberta on the weekend, there were a number of developments around the United Conservative Party yesterday morning, starting with the fact that one of the other PC leadership candidates who lost to Jason Kenney left the party, citing that it wasn’t going to be centrist enough. Meanwhile, the Wildrose house leader, Nathan Cooper, was named interim leader of the united party, while they get their Elections Alberta paperwork sorted. (Incidentally, the leadership is supposed to be decided by October 28th and the legislature not recalled until October 30th).

Brian Jean also tendered his resignation as Wildrose party leader, and made a bid for UCP leader by mid-afternoon. And that’s where some of the fun/frustration sets in.

These were two statements that Jean made, but they’re among the most problematic.  For starters, his promise on the carbon tax should be taken with a giant shaker of salt because by the time there’s an election in Alberta, there will be a federally mandated carbon price, and it would make absolutely no sense for a hypothetical Jean-led UCP government to withdraw the provincial tax only to be hit with a federal one that is designed roughly the same way – especially when the oil industry in Alberta has largely been behind the tax process because it offers them predictability and price measures that they can work with. And if Jean thinks that there will be a Scheer-led Conservative government federally who will cut the federal carbon tax, well, that sound a lot like counting chickens before they’re hatched.

The promise around equalization is even more nonsensical because there’s nothing that a referendum would actually accomplish. Equalization is a federal programme that comes out of the consolidated revenue fund. Alberta doesn’t write a cheque to Ottawa, who then turns it over to Quebec. Equalization comes out of the income taxes that everyone pays to the federal government, and is used to ensure that all provinces – especially those who don’t have a lot of revenue-generating potential – can offer roughly equal levels of services for things like healthcare. Alberta is a rich province. Its incomes are well above those in the rest of the country, and hence, they pay more income tax. That’s it. That’s how equalization works. If he thinks that he can somehow hold is breath and withhold paying, well, he’s utterly mistaken, and to promise otherwise is disingenuous, populist bilge. He can’t change the constitution either, so good luck with that. Sadly, because nobody actually explains to people how equalization works, people end up believing Jean’s nonsense.

Incidentally, Jason Kenney is expected to announce his UCP leadership bid this Saturday. Colby Cosh takes on the coming leadership contest here (and it’s a pretty cracking read).

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Roundup: The great Alberta merger

Following 95 percent results on both Progressive Conservative and Wildrose Alliance party referendums, it looks like the new United Conservative Party in Alberta is a go, with the big question being who will be the interim leader while they formalize the process and start an actual leadership selection process. And hey, that could mean some internecine warfare right off the start. The death of the PC party in that province is a bit of an odd thing, but not entirely out of keeping with Alberta’s political history of single-party dynasties for long runs that eventually peter out and die, but what is left in the wake will be the big question.

Where the more centrist voters will go is the big question, because I’m not entirely certain that they’ll all migrate to the UCP, especially with the Wildrose component playing such a big role in it. While Jason Kenney spent the last year trying to convince people that a PC and a Wildrose vote would equal two against the NDP, I’m not sure the math is actually that solid. Why? Aside from the fact that it glosses over some of the history of the last provincial election, what the merger papers over in particular is the growing gap between rural and urban voters in the province, where riding redistribution has meant that the gerrymandered rural ridings no longer hold the weight that they once did. Make no mistake, there was a very big urban/rural divide between the PC and Wildrose parties, and much of that is along the social conservatism issue. Wildrose voters weren’t only outraged about the fiscal profligacy of later PC governments as they were about the fact that they capitulated on social issues, particularly around LGBT rights that they remain firmly opposed to. It’s why they pushed Danielle Smith out of the party (leading her to cross the floor to Prentice’s PCs at the time), and Jason Kenney and Brian Jean are going to have a hell of a time trying to square this particular circle when they try to build their “free enterprise coalition” as though the social conservative issues won’t rear their heads. What this merger may end up doing is regenerating the centrist parties in the province (take your pick between the Alberta Liberals, who have a new, credible leader, and the Alberta Party) now that the amorphous, centrist PC party is no more.

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Roundup: Kenney’s fading credibility

It was no surprised that the motion to support the Iraq mission passed, but what was perhaps unexpected was the bit of verbal sparring between Jason Kenney and Justin Trudeau, and the issue of Kenney’s credibility came up. It has come up several times, having been called out repeatedly by journalists for posting misleading photos on his Twitter account, or his statements that were not true about things like Russian planes buzzing our frigate in the Black Sea, but this weekend, things got even more escalated when the Chief of Defence Staff had to come out and make a statement to both back up and correct the record with regards to Kenney’s statements about how Canada and the US were the only countries engaged in Syria and Iraq using precision bombs. That’s blatantly not true, and General Lawson had to use some careful language to not embarrass his minister but at the same time correct the record, and Kenney treated it as though Lawson backed up his statement – which he didn’t. And Trudeau used that during the question-and-answer portion of his speech on the Iraq motion, that the minister doesn’t have the credibility behind his words when it comes to the motion to extend the mission and the Liberals can’t trust him as a result. Will that be enough political cover for Trudeau given the disgruntled members of his own party who would see us join the mission? I guess we’ll wait and see. Meanwhile, the government’s fudging on the reality of our combat operations is a sign that Canadians really don’t have the stomach for another war.

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Roundup: It’s not an authorisation

Today is the day that the Commons will be holding their non-binding vote on the motion to support the government’s decision to extend the military mission in Iraq and into Syria, but you wouldn’t know it based on the headlines out there right now. “Tories to push through authorization of Syria air mission,” says the Globe and Mail. Nope. It’s not an authorisation, and the Conservatives aren’t pushing it through because they have a majority and it was a foregone conclusion. “Avoiding Syrian air defences a concern as Commons set to approve war expansion,” says The Canadian Press. Still nope – it’s not an approval. It’s an expression of support. It’s right there in the text of the motion. Granted, the government is courting this kind of false interpretation by forcing an unnecessary vote in the first place, and no matter how correctly the motion is worded, they are presenting it as an authorisation or an approval when it’s not, precisely because politically it will help to launder the decision, and make it look like the Commons approved it when they didn’t. That way, when things to wrong – and they inevitably do – and the opposition does its job in holding the government to account, the government could say “the Commons voted on it,” and try to wash their hands of it. Except it’s not an approval, the motion states that, and We The Media need to stop playing the government’s game for them. So repeat after me – it’s an expression of support. That’s all.

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