No Party in a Democracy is a God

As of today, the province of Newfoundland and Labrador has seven MPs: Five Liberal and Two NDP. In 2011, there were four Liberals, one Conservative and two NDP members. In 2008, the Liberals almost won all the seats. Yet in 2006, the Conservatives won three seats in the seaside province. I recount and recite that history for a reason: to remind everyone that no Party in a democracy governs eternally and mistakes only last for as long as the MPs who made them.

I say this remembering in 1992 that Federal Fisheries Minister John Crosbie – himself a Newfoundlander – announced the closure of the Cod Fishery. He was a Progressive Conservative. At the time, the Cod Fishery had supported rural Newfoundlanders for more than 400 years and the province’s infrastructure relied on it — everyone from truck drivers to grocery store owners were affected. Yet the voters of Newfoundland and Labrador didn’t hold a grudge forever. They recognized the failure of the Progressive Conservative Party and eventually awarded its successor – the Conservative Party – seats in return.

This is not unusual. Canadian federal conservative parties have made many missteps. In 1885, for example, Judge Hugh Richardson sentenced Louis Riel to death for treason. While Sir John A. MacDonald could have recognized the political nature of that sentence and could have intervened, he did not. Instead, he pushed for the sentence famously saying: “He shall die though every dog in Quebec bark in his favour”. A generation later, the Riel blunder was followed up by the Conscription Crisis of 1917. Such errors by conservative parties assisted the Liberal Party in ruling Canada for much of the 20th century.

However, that rule was not without change. In the 1930 election, Richard Bennett surprisingly led the party to a thin majority government victory by securing 24 seats in rural Quebec. While in 1958, Diefenbaker rode the backing of the right-leaning “Union Nationale” provincial government in Quebec to 50 of the province’s 75 seats. Or how can one forget about Brian Mulroney’s two election victories in the 1980’s. Mr. Mulroney built an electoral coalition – including working with Quebec nationalists – to secure power. Or put differently, no party in a democracy can withstand the “basic rule of gravity”: what goes up must come down.

The same is true in Alberta. No single political party will rule forever if a credible opposition is provided. The problem has been simple: no political party has provided that credible opposition. This position was first put forward to me by a friend. I would describe her as a being in her fifties and a lifelong Albertan. She was born in rural, southern Alberta. This would be a place that would have been hit hard by the default of Alberta and the bringing forth of the NEP. In that neck of the woods, the use of the word “liberal” (big L or small L) is a kin using profanity, speaking about the Devil or the colloquialism surrounding the main villain in the series of Harry Potter Novels: “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named”.

However, this person can be described as a “Red Tory” or a “Blue Liberal”. She is a fence sitter who listens. In conversations, this friend noted that the Alberta Liberals have never given her a reason to vote Liberal. They have provided criticism and they have provided opposition but they have never provided a vision. In the years, I have lived here, I have seen the same thing. Provincially, Alberta Liberals can tell you exactly what is wrong with the province, but they have no cohesive vision about where they want to take the province. Do they want more government or less? Do they want more taxes or not? Do they want fundamental change or just small incremental adjustments? These questions are never answered. Instead, provincial Liberals argue that “X” or “Y” is broken and it needs to be fixed. But without a compass or map, voters don’t know if or where they are being taken.

Provincially, the simple problem is the Alberta Liberal Party doesn’t want to provide that compass; for if they did they would have to talk about the budgets and taxes. Just think about it.  Royalties paid to the Government of Alberta is calculated in the same way the GST is calculated. It is a percentage of each barrel of oil sold. So when the barrel of oil was $110, the Government of Alberta looked like a prudent manager for assuming that $97 in their provincial budget. (Oil price at $85 costing provinces and economy billions, By Pete Evans, CBC News Posted: Oct 10, 2014 12:33 PM ET Last Updated: Oct 10, 2014 4:25 PM ET) However, now that the price of oil has dropped to$50, they have a serious loss of income. As Deborah Yedlin noted in the Calgary Herald, (Economies must adjust to softer demand, January 7, 2015 7:12 AM MST), 20% of Alberta’s budget comes from oil royalties. Or put differently, their projected revenue has been cut in half.

Any serious analysis of the situation would indicate that we should have taken Norway’s lead. Instead of using their oil revenue in their budget, they saved 100% of their oil revenue from discovery since the 1980’s until quite recently. While they started after the Alberta’s Heritage Savings Fund, the Norwegians have managed to create a $1 trillion dollar USD fund. In comparison, while starting in 1976, Alberta has only managed to save just over $16 billion USD. The only reason for this difference is Norway fully taxes their citizens. (Norway’s Oil Fund Heads For $1 Trillion; So Where Is Alberta’s Pot Of Gold? By Daniel Tencer Updated: 01/06/2015 2:59 pm EST) In other words, if Alberta were to follow Norway’s lead, Alberta would have to implement a provincial sales tax of between 2 and 4% as well as replace our 10% flat tax with a scaled one. Known as a progressive income tax, it has several levels of taxation which increase as one’s income does. Provincial Liberals are terrified of mentioning this truth in a campaign because they are scared of having to be the bearer of bad news – at best. Consequently, the Alberta Liberal Party has forgotten about the simple rule of democracy: no party in a democracy is a god.

But we, the Federal Example, are not much better. For at times, we have forgotten to make our argument here in Alberta. Since the NEP, we – Liberals in Southern Alberta – have forgotten a simple rule, there is no such thing as a safe seat. Kim Campbell learned that when she walked into the 1993 election with 156 seats and a fair shot of forming government (ie. Angus Ried Poll, Sept. 11, 1993, PC 35%, Liberals 37%), only to have her party reduced to two seats. In the same election, Audrey McLaughlin went from 44 seats to nine. But this is not the only example. I grew up in Ontario under the rule of the “Big Blue Machine”. As known as the Progressive Conservatives of Ontario, the “Machine” had ruled from 1943. However, on May 2nd 1985, Election Day, the PCs found themselves in a pickle. They had won the election but didn’t have a majority of seats. Just over a month later, the PCs would be defeated on a motion of no confidence. The Liberals and the NDP – led by David Peterson and Bob Rae, respectively – had cobbled together a deal: a Liberal minority government with the support of the NDP. So again no party governs forever as long as they are opposed by an effective opposition.

When I was young, I heard a speech by Leona Dombrowsky. She was a provincial Liberal who ran in the Ontario riding of Hastings—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington. As Ms. Dombrowsky described it, the Ontario Liberal Party thought that she could never win the seat. It was a seat which was in a Progressive Conservative Stronghold and one that had rarely changed hands. However, she decided to walk the riding. She even received the nickname “the Walking Woman”. Well it turns out that she won the riding. It was only one of five gains for the Liberal Party in its 1995 defeat to Mike Harris. In my mind, this taught me one thing: her perseverance overcame the party’s assumptions.

Consequently, as Premier Wynne learned, passion can confound polls. Hope, Honesty and authenticity can overwhelm sarcasm, cynicism and anger. However, all of that take courage and finding one’s voice. Over the next year, my voice will be used to talk about Liberal Ideals because we have shown that when each citizen is his brother’s keeper that we are a better place. Over the last hundred years of Canadian History, we have seen that our principle of having the least amount of government possible ensures both the liberty of individuals and the most benefit to the most people. However, we know that working together has provided us with immeasurable gain.

Yet this is not enough. For sometimes, in trying to provide the most benefit to the most people, that Government can use its Majority Consent in a Tyrannical Way. It is at those times that we also need the State to intervene to correct the market, the justice system or some other ill. As an example, the Supreme Court has increasingly found that our justice system has wrongful convicted some vulnerable individuals.

Using the tools of Objectivity and Pragmatism, we can achieve a balance that will allow us to provide Fair Treatment to all through our assumption that policy should take into account the Responsibilities and Obligations of All. In that way, we can move forward. By doing so, we can successfully implement policy as we did through much of the 20th Century. By remembering the simple rule of a democratic society – no party or force will rule forever – we can implement policy which will win the favour of the people and be hopefully provided with the tools of Government.

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