As polls in the Alberta election seesaw back and forth – from UCP to win to NDP win and back – the only certainty at this point of the campaign is that the contest remains close.
The campaign to date has been defined by the credibility of both party leaders being challenged; with Danielle Smith having to apologize for referring to most Albertans as fascists and walking back comments on the selling of hospitals (among other past remarks); and Rachel Notley having to explain why and how she plans on implementing a carbon tax without having the policy mentioned in her party’s election platform.
This isn’t to say that neither party has avoided making its fair share of commitments – both leaders routinely highlight their “Guarantee” (Danielle Smith on Public Health and No Tax Hike) and “Commitment” (Rachel Notley on Personal Income Tax), but the proof points of these policies are absent or an afterthought at best. Instead, the focus is immediately shifted to attack mode and their opponent’s alleged shortcomings, failures, or alleged dishonesty and hidden intentions. Outside of the party faithful, these comments resonate little.
This lack of substance, and focus on scoring partisan points, has resulted in stereotypes about each party having been fortified, coupled with increased polarization, and to the detriment of any discussion on some of the real issues facing Albertans.
In the last two weeks of the election, the two campaigns would be wise to turn their priority and singular focus to giving all Albertans a reason to believe, for the stakes couldn’t be higher. For example, remarkably little campaign bandwidth has been dedicated to the subject of investing and saving for Alberta’s future, apart from the fiscal framework offered by former Finance Minister Travis Toews, and the “Fiscal Strategy” penned for the New Democrats by former ATB Economist, Todd Hirsch.
The opportunity and risk to Alberta in this regard are enormous. At the time of writing, the price of West Texas Intermediate stands at US$70/bbl, having ranged from $63 to $124/bbl (rounded off for those who are tracking) over the past year. With the province’s Budget 2023 being based on a US$79/bbl WTI forecast, each $1 change has a net impact of $630 million for the province. Hence, why in such short order (2020 – 2022), Alberta’s treasury went from a $17 billion deficit to a $10.4 billion surplus.
While the actions of a provincial government are certainly material (shaping the investment climate, supporting human capacity, amplifying technology and innovation), global factors are what drive the price of oil – Albertans, and their economy, are just along for the ride.
There is a popular saying in Alberta, “Please God, let there be another oil boom. I promise not to piss it all away next time.” The next provincial government has the opportunity – perhaps for the very last time – to ensure that future generations of Albertans meaningfully benefit from the nonrenewable resources produced today. Although some argue to the contrary, pointing to provincial infrastructure (highways, hospitals, schools, recreation centres etc.) and the Heritage Savings Trust Fund many have pointed out that Alberta has fallen short of its peers in this respect.
Albertans will go to the polls 235 days after Danielle Smith became leader of the United Conservative Party. Accepting that point as the unofficial start of the provincial campaign, this amounts to Alberta’s longest-ever election. In the final two weeks, holding the parties to account for their commitments to the province’s future is well past due. Albertans should demand to see from their parties what kind of province they seek to build for their children and future generations.
Authored by – Natalie Sigalet, Tim Moro, Eliza Snider, Alex McBrien