An open letter to the opposition parties of Alberta. We deserve a better opposition!

A robust and effective opposition is a key feature and requirement of our democracy, and its health. No one party’s ideas are perfect, but with robust debate, compromise and collaboration a less imperfect result can be achieved. What we have currently is the governing party alone prepared to put policy forward. This is incredibly unhealthy and will do long term damage to Alberta in a variety of ways.

I would like to focus my critique on the official opposition and its leader Brian Jean, along with his number two Derek Fildebrandt. I should also include Jason Kenney here too because he seems to be running for leader of the Wild Rose, using the same playbook. This is not to say the other members aren’t also “contributing”, but most of the media and the public’s attention is focused on these three individuals.

You spend all of your time saying essentially “everything the NDP is doing is completely wrong and they are destroying Alberta, driving away business”. This may feel like a good approach to take because your base eats it up, but it’s lazy and likely to backfire on you in spectacular fashion. You talk about the need for business confidence but you are doing everything you can to undermine that confidence, while simultaneously flat out refusing to say how you would build confidence. I thought you were supposed to be the “government should be run like a business” party. I have never worked for a successful business that tolerated its employees doing nothing but complaining about how things are run while offering precisely zero solutions.

Where I work, at a multibillion dollar company and recognized global leader in its fields, critique is welcomed and embraced, but only when it is constructive. We have had people who complain about everything and offer nothing else, but they don’t last long before being shown the door – the thought process being if you can’t come up with alternatives (even outlandish or pie in the sky ones) then you aren’t a good fit, and are likely to bring morale down.

One of the other serious consequences of this particular strategy is currently playing out in the USA. Trump’s nomination as a presidential candidate should be raising serious red flags for you. After years of the type of politics you seem to want to practice the Republican base is out of control and completely immune to facts. They distrust everyone outside their world view. We are beginning to see the same thing happening in Alberta. The longer you play this disastrous game the more emboldened your base becomes, and the more death threats and dissension we see. You have sucked the oxygen out of the debate by removing policy from the discussion and replacing it with fear and anxiety. There is more than enough legitimate fear and anxiety in Alberta. What we need is some positions and ideas from you. If your ideas are compelling enough and appeal to enough Albertans, perhaps public pressure will force the government to change course. That would ultimately be good for all Albertans. The constant screaming “NO, repeal everything” isn’t going to work. You must give the people alternatives to support. The constant scream of “no” isn’t going to cut it.

The final way this tactic is dangerous is the crying wolf effect. At some point you are going to alienate the centre right, moderates and progressive conservatives. Eventually they will see you for what you are: the boy who cried wolf or the emperor with no clothes. You desperately need to expand your base and yet you choose to focus all of your energy feeding that base red meat at the expense of broadening your appeal to everyone else. There are many people who would support your ideas, but you foolishly refuse to offer them anything.

The media in Canada is also extremely complacent in creating and feeding this monster by reprinting your press releases and quoting you saying “the NDP is terrible, etc.” but not insisting that you also provide some ideas. They are guilty of allowing you to say that everything is broken, the sky is falling and they are failing to point out just how hollow your words are.

Bill 6 is probably the best example of this. Jean made it clear in the Wild Rose leadership race that the state of farm worker safety in Alberta was a disgrace. You stated the same workplace safety rules should apply and that insurance, possibly even WCB coverage, should be mandatory. Less than a year later you wanted none of it. Instead, you saw an opportunity to feed red meat to your base and jumped on it. There is nothing outrageous about Bill 6. Farmers have been consulted numerous times over the last couple decades and the end result is always the same. Farmers don’t believe there is anything wrong with the current rules, and if we just had better education and some new safety posters everything would be fine. We tried that and it didn’t work. If the industry proves that it can’t be trusted to police itself, then we have an obligation to have an independent policing mechanism – in this case OHS. Too many workers have died or been permanently disabled, and far too many more were left with nothing. Even in cases where their employer had private insurance payouts were seldom made because the insurance company found a way to deny the claim, leaving the courts as the only recourse. The courts are a terrible recourse. They are expensive and time consuming alternatives that can leave both parties financially destitute. Yet this seems to be your preferred way to resolve these issues, to let farmers and their workers and/or their families fight it out in court until both sides are completely broke.

The NDP are far from perfect. There are plenty of ways to criticize their government and policies. Saying everything is awful isn’t the best way. Focus your criticism on specifics and offer an alternative.

I know you are the party of letting the free market dictate everything, but you need to grow up a bit. The market can’t do it alone, it needs guidance and assistance from the government. Take highway 63 as a prime example. We knew the oil industry was booming and an unprecedented expansion of operations around Fort McMurray was in progress. Anyone with half a brain could have told you the highway needed to be twinned in advance of such projects or at the very least in parallel with the expansion. Then there is housing, schools and other critical infrastructure which should have been built to accommodate the massive influx of people. It wasn’t and nearly bankrupted the city in the middle of a boom, to say nothing of the catastrophic stupidity of approving hundreds of billions in projects expanding oil sands operations without ensuring that those products would have market access, without ensuring the best value for Albertans by insisting a majority of that bitumen was upgraded here before being shipped out as a raw resource. Instead you and your ilk continue to push for the export of a product with limited demand. If we were selling an upgraded product not only would we have more jobs in Alberta, but those products would be far more desirable giving us more customers for that resource in addition to higher prices.

I have some homework for you and I sincerely hope you do it:

  1. Put together a shadow budget. Demonstrate how you would govern differently by outlining what spending priorities you would make. Where you will cut and what the impact will be on services like health and education. If the government won’t give you access to all of the numbers you’d need to do it properly, then say so. I along with many other members of the NDP, Liberals, PCs and Wild Rose et al will join in your call to open the books so you can make the most accurate shadow budget possible.
  2.  Stop the mudslinging. It’s not productive and you just make yourselves dirty. Instead, begin to focus your criticisms on specifics and offer alternative solutions. Stay focused with your attacks rather than jumping from issue to issue. It’s called picking your battles; not every hill is a great hill to die on. You need to chose wisely which battles you choose. You have limited time and resources – use them wisely.
  3. Instead of saying you would repeal everything (which creates further uncertainty as businesses may not want to invest in upgrades knowing you’d undo the regulation and not knowing what you’d replace it with), speak to how you would amend the rules or what you’d replace them with.
  4. Vigorously call out and condemn EVERYONE who is threatening (or implying) violence against anyone. Violence has no place in our political discourse and it should have no place with your supporters. It is your responsibility to remind everyone of that fact. No more half hearted calls for civility. You need to be full throated in your condemnation of violence. This step is pointless without seriously making an effort on items 1-3.
  5. Stop supporting the stupid notion that transfer and equalization payments somehow come out of provincial coffers and correct the record when your supporters say differently. By failing to educate them you are supporting the growing separatist movement in Alberta. You know that a separate Alberta wouldn’t survive for long, being that Alberta is completely landlocked with potentially hostile neighbours.

If you can manage these 5 simple things you might just be given the opportunity to govern our province. However, if you can’t or won’t do these tasks then you don’t deserve to be re-elected as opposition, never mind be allowed anywhere near the levers of power. This obviously applies to the Federal parties as well, but to a lesser extent as some voices are emerging with coherent alternative ideas. I may not like them, but nonetheless they are there.

In short, you need to fill the vacuum you have created with actual ideas rather than with anger and hate. The world needs less hate, not more of it.

Tommy C

A concerned citizen of Alberta.

cc Brian Jean, Derek Fildebrandt, Jason Kenney, Ric McIver, PCAA, WRP, AB NDP, Rachel Notley, Postmedia.

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