Today in Canada Albertans go to the polls in what could be an upset for the incumbent Progressive Conservatives. Polls suggest that the Wildrose Party, dubbed the ‘tea party of the north’, is poised for victory after 41 years of PC governance in the province. While it would be easy for Canadians to dismiss this election as just another step to the right by Alberta’s already conservative voters, it would be a mistake to believe that the results will only affect Albertans.
The Wildrose Party, led by Danielle Smith, has big dreams of smaller government. The party wants to reduce spending while supporting families and promoting economic development and freedom from what it characterizes as big, ineffective government.
The Wildrose Pledge – the party’s platform – proposes five points of action:
“Balanced Budget and Savings Act” – Limiting government spending, tax credits and removing government involvement in the oil and gas industry.
“Wildrose Family Pack” – Tax credits and deductions for families with children.
“Alberta Energy Dividend” – A yearly tax-free dividend given to all Albertans in all years where the government holds a surplus.
“Alberta’s Patient Wait Time Guarantee” – Allowing for private clinics to provide alternative health care services covered by Alberta’s public health care insurance.
“Alberta Accountability Act” – Reducing member of legislative assembly salaries which were recently increased, introducing public referenda on legislation and greater transparency.
The Wildrose Party promises more money and less government. They argue this will be possible by promoting Alberta’s oil and gas industry, home to the biggest reserve in Canada and one of the largest in the world. For years Albertan oil companies have sold oil to the United States generating billions in profits.
It comes as no surprise that the Wildrose Party wants to further exploit this lucrative industry. The difficulty lies with its extraction and production. The process is costly and extremely polluting. It has contaminated water supplies, emitted large quantities of greenhouse gasses and destroyed natural habitats.
With production increasing, it is estimated that the levels of pollution will grow exponentially in the coming decades. The provincial PC government has attempted to curb the release of these toxins into the environment through carbon taxes and grants to promote cleaner processing. The Wildrose Party would zealously rescind years of regulation of the industry and allow the free market to regulate itself.
Such deregulation would likely lead to a race to the bottom that does not adequately consider long-term industry viability, environmental degradation or harm to Canada’s international reputation.
Canada has already tarnished its reputation by backing out of the Kyoto Accord. Further disregarding international environmental concerns will put trade relationships at risk. Pressure on the European Parliament to refuse to ratify the Canada Europe Free Trade Agreement – a deal far more important to Canada than the EU – is one such example.
Alberta, no doubt, wants to maximize its profits in the oil and gas industry while it can. With the price of oil hovering around 100 dollars a barrel, there is money to be made in the growing industry. But high production costs make the tar sands vulnerable to price fluctuation and a drop in price could disrupt planned production. Increased oil exports also result in increased upward pressure on the Canadian dollar to the detriment of other industries and manufacturing based provinces like Ontario and Quebec.
If the Wildrose Party is successful they will have both reinvigorated the Alberta political scene after 41 years of PC rule and forced the rest of Canada to recognize a new brand of conservatism that it may find hard to bear. The direction the province will take now lies with its voters.