‘Risky,’ ‘ideological,’ ‘experimental,’ and ‘uncertain’ are all words that the conservative Wildrose Party opposition is using to describe Alberta’s New Democratic Party government.
Responding to Health Minister Sarah Hoffman‘s decision to cancel a $3 billion laboratory services contract with the Australian-based Sonic corporation, the Wildrose claimed the New Democratic Party government was imposing an “ideological” agenda.
The Wildrose appear to have succeeded in turning the tables on the NDP, who, while in opposition criticized the old conservative government of an ideological obsession with privatization of laboratory services. All of a sudden, the government is being accused of being too ideological for protecting Alberta’s public health care system.
Like the old Progressive Conservative government, I am sure the Wildrose would like to increase privatization of the health care system. The NDP could have framed this debate as one of protecting Alberta jobs and an Alberta-based company, rather than just about cancelling a contract with a giant Australian company (it was later announced that an appeal panel determined that Alberta Health Services breached its duty of procedural fairness in the RFP process in a substantive manner).
Premier Rachel Notley‘s three-month old NDP government need to understand that the Wildrose Party is running a permanent negative campaign, and their track record as an attack-based opposition is impressive. The Wildrose Party can lay claim to playing a central role in ending the careers of PC Party premiers Ed Stelmach, Alison Redford and Jim Prentice.
And while the Wildrose Party’s purpose for existence was momentarily questioned during the infamous MLA floor crossings, the demise of the PC government and rise of the Alberta NDP has given the party a new lease on life and a new target to attack. And the conservative opposition has many right-wing allies in its fight against the new government spanning from the editorial pages of the Financial Post to the far corners of the internet.
While Brian Jean is party leader, one of the real brains behind the operation is the venerable press secretary Vitor Marciano. Perhaps the largest mistake that Mr. Prentice and Danielle Smith made during the floor crossings was not to secure Mr. Marciano in a government job where the PCs could keep a close eye on him.
After retreating into political exile for a few months, the veteran political operator returned with a vengeance to lead the Wildrose election campaign that brought the party from the depths of the abyss to 21 MLAs, more than they won in 2012.
But despite the Wildrose’s part in destroying the PC dynasty, they lost 81,814 votes in the recent election, while the NDP gained an astonishing 477,441 and formed government.
The Wildrose is attempting to tie the new government to economic conditions caused by the decline of the international price of oil, but the Alberta NDP was elected on a moderate progressive platform and have moved swiftly to implement it. Funding was returned to health care, education and human services, two panels studying climate change and natural resource royalties were struck, corporate taxes were increased, a 3-year minimum wage increase was implemented, and a provincial budget is expected to be tabled in the fall.
There is no doubt the new government faces challenging economic and revenue challenges but after a summer of reading briefing binders and moving into new offices, the NDP need to reengage in the political debate.
The recent verbal skirmish between federal Conservative leader Stephen Harper and Finance Minister Joe Ceci shows the new government does have cabinet ministers who can articulately respond to the partisan barbs of critics. Along with Ms. Notley and Mr. Ceci, I would also add Environment Minister Shannon Phillips, Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley , Education Minister David Eggen and Infrastructure Minister Brian Mason in this category.
When the legislature returns on October 26, the twenty-one Wildrose MLAs will have a daily platform in Question Period to target government ministers. The NDP can learn from some of the major communications mistakes made by the PC Party and respond promptly to the Wildrose attacks, otherwise the opposition and its conservative allies will set the agenda.
Here are a few examples of Wildrose attacks in recent press releases:
- August 20, 2015 “Bad economic policies from the NDP continue to harm Alberta’s economy…”
- August 19, 2015: “…the NDP government must move away from their risky, ideological experiments that will drive jobs out of Alberta…
- August 18, 2015: “…Ms. Hoffman wants Albertans to believe she made the decision based on a lack of information, but it’s clear she made it based on ideology.
- August 14, 2015: “…the actions this government decides to take cannot keep kicking our economy while it is down.”
- August 13, 2015: “While Albertans are losing jobs by the thousands with the NDP piling on with damaging economic policies…”
- August 13, 2015: “…driven by ideology and not evidence-based decision making…”
- August 13, 2015: “…NDP government has contributed directly to uncertainty and job losses…“
- August 13, 2015: “…more ideologically driven experiments from the NDP and career politicians…”
Social Credit was risky and ideological
August 22, 2015 marks eighty years since the Social Credit League formed government in Alberta. In the 1935 election, the party went from zero to fifty-six MLAs and did not even have a leader during the election campaign (William Aberhart was chosen as Premier on September 3, 1935).
During its first decade in government, Mr. Aberhart’s administration tried to print its own currency, legislate control over the media, tried to nationalize the banking system and banned alcohol sales.