Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley released her party’s election platform and fiscal plan over the weekend, with a focus job-creation, a serious review of royalty rates and a reversal of cuts to health care and education included in the Progressive Conservative government’s recent budget.
“Instead of listening to Mr. Prentice,” Ms. Notley was quoted as saying by AlbertaPolitics.ca, “I’ll listen to premier Peter Lougheed, who said that it’s time for Alberta to consider a corporate tax increase. Like Mr. Lougheed, I believe what we’ve set out today is a common sense better approach, an approach that builds instead of tearing down.”
Ms. Notley has used the “Lougheed defence” numerous times since Jim Prentice began casting his opponents as “extremists” when he first called the election two weeks ago. The NDP platform feels neither extreme or even typically NDP, at least for the Alberta NDP.
By calling for a moderate 2% increase to corporate taxes and a careful review of the royalties Albertans collect for their resources positions Ms. Notley is positioning herself as a sensible alternative to Mr. Prentice, who has refused to discuss raising royalties or corporate taxes.
While Mr. Prentice criticized the NDP platform, his party has yet to turn its serious attacks on Ms. Notley, instead focusing on rural conservative Wildrose opposition led by former Member of Parliament Brian Jean.
Last week, Mr. Prentice unleashed a gang of cabinet ministers on Mr. Jean and the PCs have constantly tried to knock the new leader off-balance. Only selected as leader weeks before the election was called, Mr. Jean’s campaign is not nearly as polished or controlled as that of former leader Danielle Smith in the 2012 election.
For example, responding to criticism from the PC Party that his party’s platform was not properly costed, Mr. Jean said: “[o]ur plan is awesome — it’s the most detailed fiscal plan proposed by any Canadian opposition party during an election.” Although I do not doubt that Mr. Jean and his team are doing the best they can under the circumstances (the party was eviscerated in December when Ms. Smith led most Wildrose MLAs into the PC Caucus), I have serious doubts that it is the “most detailed fiscal plan proposed by any Canadian opposition party during an election.”
As the PC campaign focuses on Mr. Jean, Mr. Prentice’s star does not appear to shine as brightly as it did only mere months ago. As Lethbridge political scientist Faron Ellis wrote in his Calgary Herald blog, the “Jim Prentice as saviour” narrative has come to a crashing end.
While polls suggest the PCs could form a minority government for the first time ever (and what an interesting scenario that would present), it is hard to imagine the 44-year long PC regime not winning a majority. But it is clear that Mr. Prentice’s gambit to run an election focused on the unpopular provincial budget is being met with cool reviews on the doorsteps.
Nineteen school boards raised concerns this week that growth of the student population, expected to be 12,000 students in September 2015, is not accounted for in the PC budget. A number of boards, including the Edmonton Catholic School District, have circulated memos outlining numerous program cuts that will be implemented if additional stable funding is not received from the provincial government.
“We have thousands of new youngsters arriving at our schools. They need funding, they need teachers, they need classroom support, they need maintenance funding,” Michael Janz, chair of the Edmonton Public School Board told the Edmonton Sun.
The PCs have also faced criticism from former PC Finance Minister Ted Morton, who has returned to right-wing academia and says PC MLAs did not understand the government would be on the hook for $26 billion when they voted to support a refinery project northeast of Edmonton in 2008.
Distractions from the PC Party’s key messages, including numerous nomination scandals, bribery allegations and police investigations, and the latest resignation of a PC campaign manager and constituency president after alleged “islamophobic comments,” have tarnished the rebranded “Prentice Team” that the PCs hoped would sweep them into another massive majority government.
I bet the current election campaign makes some long-time PC Party supporters yearn for the days of the honest government of Peter Lougheed, which is what Ms. Notley is betting on.