Alberta Election Results: Expectations

As I’m sure you are all already aware, in amazing and ridiculous fashion, Alberta has elected an NDP majority government.  I’m in the camp of people that is generally quite pleased by this result.  However, I have a bunch of thoughts on expectations going forward.

Primarily, I wish to manage my expectations.  Electing the NDP is not going to bring any utopia to the province of Alberta.  (Nor, for those who were disappointed, is the NDP going to bring distopia to the province of Alberta.)  Moreover, many of the progressive policies that I might hope for from a centre-left government will not necessarily be enacted.  I am quite hopeful, but I’m not expecting the world to change overnight.

I do expect taxation to change and to be pleased about it.  (Our election campaigns in the last ten years, both provincially and federally, have focused heavily on taxation more so than I generally think is healthy, but maybe that’s a discussion for another time).  I expect the NDP to raise corporate tax levels and move in the direction the PCs started this spring away from flat tax structures.  I wonder if they will consider sales tax; I wouldn’t put it past them but I don’t necessarily expect it.  I expect the provincial share of personal income taxes to also rise somewhat.  I think these tax increases are probably reasonable and necessary, but I am particularly looking forward to more progressive tax structures.

I expect the oil industry to survive and oil production to depend almost entirely on international demand, not NDP policy.  I can hope for more stringent environmental oversight of the oilsands, but I’m skeptical about how much the new government will be able to accomplish. I do expect less government support for large pipeline projects.

I expect corporate Alberta to rattle sabres, threaten leaving, and then mostly continue on with their business as usual.  I expect this NDP government to make modest (but only modest) inroads with higher corporate taxation, higher oil royalties, and more public oversight.  I believe it is incumbent on democratic governments to take a moderately antagonistic stance towards corporations, simply for the reason of power.  Corporations are great concentration of power and influence and their interests of profit are usually in conflict with the interests of the greater good.  Government ought to serve the greater good and act as a control to corporate power.  Perhaps my greatest disappointment with our previous government was how much it bought into the myth that the interests of the corporations are the same as the interests of the province.  There is overlap and, given how our society is structured, we need corporate activity; but identifying our interests with the corporations is sheer nonsense.  I’m encouraged that this government will be less likely to buy into this myth.

I expect mistakes.  The caucus of MLAs is very inexperienced.  Even assuming all of them are reasonable, well-intentioned and capable (in general, a dangerous assumption in politics), due to sheer inexperience, mistakes will be made.  I hope they will not be disastrous.  Though the new NDP will almost certainly lack the entitlement of the PCs, there will also be corruption, some of which will lead to scandal.

I expect budgeting will be very difficult.  Modest tax raises do not necessarily address our infrastructure deficit and the reality of lower oil prices.  The NDP have many costly goals.  I’m very curious to see how they try to balance it all.  For selfish reasons (since I work in the post-secondary education sector), I hope for the strengthening of funding to universities.

Lastly, I have no idea what to expect about the political climate going forward, particularly how Albertans will feel in four years at the next election.  I don’t know if this result represents a serious re-alignment leftward or just a call of protest.  I don’t know if this will actually unify the centre-left Alberta Party/Liberal/NDP block behind the NDP as the single progressive voice.  I don’t know what the future holds for the PCs and the Wildrose are and how they will vie for representing the conservative voice.  I’m sort of excited to find out, even with all my skepticism and hesitance.


Elections and Tribalism

I’ve been reflecting on our provincial election, which has resulted in these thoughts. Though I’m not a huge sports fan, I follow enough and am emotionally engaged enough to care about who wins in particular settings (realistically, mostly in tennis). At some level, I realize how completely ridiculous this is. It is bizarre that my emotional state of mind can be effected, sometime quite substantially, by whether or not some overpaid young person hits a yellow ball more consistently and accurately than another on a particular day halfway across the world. But I have identified with the fate of particular players; they are my players, I am their fan. I am pleased if my players win and disappointed if my players lose.

For the purposes of this little piece, I’m going to use the term `tribalism’ to refer to the emotional attachment to the success of a particular team against another. Team, of course, can be interpreted very, very broadly here. In other blogs I read, the term is used as a criticism of religious; a religious tribalism seeks the cultural domination of its particular brand of religion. One of the main things I hope to learn from religion (through a theoretical understanding I borrow from Ken Wilber) is precisely the opposite of identifying with a team of any sort. Instead, religion should seek to break down the barriers between people. In religious development, a person’s sense of who ‘their people’ are should be expanded in greater and greater circles until it encompasses the entire human race.

There is a temptation to view a democratic election as a kind of sporting event, which leads to tribalism of political parties. A political party, much like a religious group, breeds group identification. One a party is `our team’, we want our group to win, campaigning is strategy, points are scored, and so on.

Elections as sporting events and party affiliation as tribalism are problematic. The point of an election is not that my party wins. Rather, the hope (idealistically) is that representatives are chosen who will make the best decision for the governance of the community. (I would add a slant towards the more vulnerable and at-risk portions of the community, which I realize is a political position in itself). I realize that a simple response is just this: “I believe that my party has the best representatives.” I’m sure most voters believe this, and most party affiliations begin for precisely this reason: because we believe the party has the best approach to governance. But if identification with a party become emotionally strong enough, it become the primary goal. This is where, as far as I can observe, it become problematic.

Several observation lead me to this reticence towards party affiliation. Parties change and morph, both quickly with leadership changes and slowly over the demographic shifts of generations. Loyalty to a party which began out of simple agreement with their principles can override the need to reconsider those principle. This is where the emotional tribalism of party affiliation becomes problematic; when emotionally connected, it’s much harder to reconsider loyalties.

Party affiliation and tribalism also make cooperation much more difficult. I my vision of a healthy democracy, parties and subgroup of parties should be cooperating frequently; basically, anytime there is a share set of values, principle or goals. Our political system should encourage party cooperation for the purpose of good governance. The adversarial nature of tribalism in politics make this cooperate much more difficult, and our governance suffers for it.

Parties often tend to govern differently from how they campaign. I don’t necessary think this is a huge problem, since the details of governing are infinitely more complicated than the simplicity of campaign slogans and promises. However, a huge part of the difference between campaigning and governing is the fact that power changes people. Most parties and leaders, regardless of their original motivations, govern at least partially to maintain power. That impulse is often at odds with the general good, particularly for vulnerable populations. This is the old adage that power corrupts: in my experience, this adage holds true and most people fail to take it serious enough.

I don’t expect salvation from political leadership. Simplistically stated, I tend left-of-centre (as much as I detest the left/right dichotomy in political discussion and analysis), but should a left-of-centre party win my provincial or national election this year, I don’t expect radical change. I hope for marginal change in a positive direction. That kind of limited and reticent optimism is difficult start to build a enthusiastic party endorsement and I am grateful for it.

In particular to the Alberta election, lacking a strong party affiliation is particularly important. There are four somewhat left and centre/left parties in this current election: the Greens, the Liberals, the Alberta Party and the NDP. Identifying tribally with any of them is counterproductive, since the success of any particular group depends greatly on the position in their individual riding. (The problems with the current voting system are a subject for another time). Party identification prevents necessary cooperation between these groups to try and work within the current electoral system. The same can be said of Wild Rose/PC cooperation where their priorities overlap, as well as PC/Liberal cooperation over the broad centre of the political spectrum. As noted before, cooperation between parties should be a hallmark of a healthy democracy, but it is seen an anathema.