By Rob South
With November elections approaching in the U.S., the current rant among Ralph Nader followers, Rage Against the Machine fans, anarchists and pseudo-intellectuals is that there is nothing to distinguish Al Gore and George W. Bush. However, even the most superficial observer should notice the candidates disagree over abortion, the privatization of social security, the scope and magnitude of tax cuts, education reform, the role of church in state, the future of the star wars program (no, not whether Jar Jar lives or not, national defence) and how to make prescription drugs more affordable. These are pretty major issues to say the least. This does not mean there is no place in North America where two major political parties offer no real choice; in fact, we live in such a place.
Under the leadership of former cabinet colleagues Nancy McBeth and Ralph Klein, the policies of Alberta’s Liberal party have become remarkably like that of the governing Conservatives. Ignoring the petty "who-adopted-whose-agenda" debate, this is not healthy for our province.
Yes, there is the pragmatic argument that the Liberals needed to move their policies to the right if they ever want to govern Alberta, and normally I am a proponent of political pragmatism. However, a system devoid of clashing ideologies is neither healthy nor politically smart. The best chance in recent memory the Liberals had to form a new government was when Lawrence Decore articulated a vision for bringing Alberta back to fiscal health that did not entail privatization, spending cuts and a pro-oil and gas agenda.
Now we have a Liberal leader whose strongest argument to form the next government is to better implement the existing agenda. The Liberals criticized the government for the electricity deregulation process, not for implementing it. They criticized the government for not fully adopting their business tax cutting agenda, not for reducing revenue. They criticized the government for bringing forward Bill 11, but how much credibility does that hold when McBeth tabled remarkably similar legislation when she was a Conservative cabinet minister?
Fortunately for students, the strongest area of difference between the Conservatives and Liberals appears to be in their attitude towards education. The Liberals only think we should pay two-thirds of the amount for tuition the Conservatives think we should pay. But as someone who has seen far too many question periods over the past year, I can tell you this is not the issue to which they devote the media-friendly first 15 minutes of questions.
It is disappointing to see the Liberals ignore this present opportunity to forward an agenda that broadens the benefits of Alberta’s current economic prosperity to all its citizens–without using the neo-conservative mantra of tax cuts to all. Of course, Alberta’s New Democrats have always offered an ambitious prosperity-broadening agenda, but Albertans have always suspected they would govern more like the debt-ridden former B.C. premier Glen Clark than the fiscally responsible Roy Romanow of Saskatchewan.
So the present reality appears to suggest that until either the Liberals change their policies or Albertans change the way they view the NDP, Albertan politics will remain unhealthily stagnant. Regardless of one’s political leanings this should be seen as disturbing, for without the conflict of different ideas, the merits and faults of no idea can be fully understood.