After 44 years of one-party rule Alberta’s democracy is in bad shape. One clear indicator is that many Albertans confuse the PC party with the government – they think they are the same thing. No better proof could be found than the memo that went out to all public servants earlier this week from the Alberta Public Service Commission. It demanded that all public servants (government employees) tell their supervisors if they are going to work on election campaigns on their free time.
The intimidation factor couldn’t be clearer: your boss will be watching what you do politically even on your own time, so understand that you get involved in other than PC politics at your peril. This is sick beyond description and the outrage was immediate. Rick Bell of the Calgary Sun wrote this episode allows us to “once again see into the belly of the Toryland beast. … Such is life where one political party, the Progressive Conservatives, has a monopoly on political power.” A young man I met door-knocking this week said he didn’t know anything about politics but nevertheless astutely observed, “This is only one part of something really bad, isn’t it?”
He was right, for the problem is endemic. It wasn’t long ago that several Alberta universities and municipalities –organizations operating largely on the basis of taxpayer funds – were caught making donations to the PC party. What? Yes, the people in charge of authorizing such payments couldn’t see what was wrong with paying their staff (with taxpayer funds) to attend PC fund-raising events. Aren’t the PCs the same thing as the government? No?
This is terrifying and cannot be allowed to go on. The PCs must lose this election if we are to regain any semblance of balance in our politics, a situation where no party takes power for granted and the public service gets jolted back into the democratic reality that power not only can change hands among political parties, but it should.
Jim Prentice is experienced enough in public life to recognize the absurdity of the Public Service Commission’s memo – he called it “ridiculous” and said he “won’t stand for it.” But the truth is that he’s very much a part of our democratic-deficit problem. He has abused Albertans, for example, by blaming us (not his party’s governance over the last few decades) for the present dire state of Alberta’s public finance and, if re-elected, his government will impose many new taxes on individual Albertans but not on corporations, regardless of their profitability.
And in most people’s eyes the worst is that Prentice conspired with Wildrose under its former leader, Danielle Smith, to wreck our official opposition, one of our precious democratic institutions. I am about as far from being a Wildrose supporter as a rational Albertan can be, but they were my official opposition too and I was horrified that a government would deliberately try to bring a pillar of my/our democracy down.
This election is also about many other things – such as, funding for education and healthcare, whether it is justifiable to allow further expansion of the oilsands and why in the world is public money being spent on the Kananaskis golf course which is sure to flood again – but the central theme must be that Jim Prentice and the PCs as a governing party have to go. We must have political change if Alberta is ever to flourish again.
Janet Keeping is the leader of the Green Party of Alberta and is that party’s candidate in Calgary-Foothills, where Jim Prentice was elected as MLA in the November 2014 by-election and is also running.