After the thrills, chills, and spills of the first week of the Alberta election campaign, the second week seems downright pedestrian.
What better way to settle things down into a predictable patter than for politicians of all stripes to start "bribing people with their own money" as political scientist Duane Bratt put it?
In what the media views as Canada’s most fiscally conservative province, the promise of massive oil revenue pouring into our coffers makes politicians dream big.
Even the surging Wildrose, with its hardnosed reputation for fiscal discipline, was busy doling out the dollars.
"Only one week into the campaign and the upstart party that is leading in some public opinion polls has promised to increase the Heritage Fund to $200 billion in 20 years; provide a $500 culture, arts and sports tax credit; scrap mandatory school fees, estimated to be $100 per student; a child tax credit worth $200 annually per child; introduce a balanced budget and tax savings act while significantly increasing spending on health and education."
And this largesse was topped off by the carefully controlled launching of "Danielle Dollars," which would put $300 into the pocket of every Albertan each year the province runs a surplus.
But regardless of whether or not "Danielle Dollars" make sense economically, they certainly make sense politically — in Alberta, if not in the rest of Canada. Look no further than the recent Ontario and federal budgets, where restraint and spending cuts are common themes.
Back in 2005 when Premier Klein offered up "Ralph bucks," ($400 each out of a $9 billion dollar surplus), the howls of condemnation from pointy-headed economists and other elite thinkers were loud and indignant. Take for example The Calgary Herald’s elitist rant against Ralph bucks back in 2005:
"The insouciance of Premier Ralph Klein’s ‘prosperity bonuses’ announcement bears the hallmarks of a prodigal’s progress, and a poorly messaged one, too."
Insouciance? A great word to use in a game of Scrabble with champagne socialists, but not all that useful on the streets of Calgary. And it was on the streets that Ralph Bucks were a resounding success.
Not be outdone in Alberta Buck Bingo, the Liberals this week were busy promising to provide free post-secondary education by 2025 (presumably they would have a chance by then of resurrecting their past glory and forming government).
And the NDP showed again why it will never gain more than a handful of seats in Edmonton, when Brian Mason announced that an NDP government would make sure oilsands companies paid higher royalties, which I presume would cover the cost of all the new schools and hospitals the NDP would build.
And where was the governing PC party in all of this? Perhaps licking their self-inflicted wounds from week one.
But they got in the game too, cautiously announcing a roll-out of additional family care clinics, extending the trial project they initiated in Redford’s first days as Premier. Not a game-changer by any stretch of the imagination, but prudent and error free.
In the week before Easter, as economists and columnists try to calculate the cost of all these goodies, the battleground will no doubt shift again.
If PC strategists succeed in seizing the agenda for the first time in the campaign, the focus will shift to issues of national and international leadership. Based on polling data, Redford is preferred over Smith as the best leader to represent Alberta on the national and international stage.
Wildrose strategists have to be preparing for a bit of a "dead cat bounce" by the Tories, but no doubt they will try to maintain the populist momentum Danielle Smith has ignited, even if it means arguing with academics about the pros and cons of "Danielle Dollars."
As the battle for our pocket book morphs into the battle for Alberta’s soul, the strange irony at the heart of this contest may surface:
- On the one hand we have the upstart Wildrose calling for a change of government, but stating Alberta is fine just the way it is and doesn’t need to change to adapt to Canadian and international challenges;
- On the other hand we have the 41-year-old ruling PC party calling for Albertans to embrace change as a key part of our strategy to deal with national and international challenges.
Strange indeed. And our approach toward Canada and the wider world depends on the outcome.