UCP MAKING RISKY ASSUMPTION ON CONSULTATION
Kenney’s vow to proceed with reform after election assumes too much
My experience in political circles may not be as extensive as some, but I can say that my years covering the legislature’s shenanigans have taught me a few things — including the lesson that Albertans almost never feel consulted enough.
And just because an election has happened doesn’t mean they are done talking.
The need to engage those wagging tongues is a messy, irritating, headache of leadership that often drives politicians crazy, especially those who’d rather act first and ask questions later.
Yet leaders who fail to learn this lesson, or deliberately ignore it, do so at their peril.
We saw it with the lack of humility shown by the Redford government after it narrowly escaped a defeat in the 2012 election.
We saw it with Jim Prentice’s decision, just three months after becoming premier, to merge forces with most of the Wildrose caucus.
And we saw it with the Notley government’s initial rollout of the controversial Bill 6 farm safety legislation.
Next spring, it may be Jason Kenney’s turn.
Kenney is no political neophyte. It was therefore a bit surprising for the United Conservative Party leader take the podium in front of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce last week and proclaim that if elected to power in 2019, he would proceed immediately with reforms rather than get “bogged down” in bothersome consultations.
“Speed creates its own momentum. It also makes it harder for the opponents of reform to obstruct it,” he said.
Kenney’s view is that the necessary discussions on the big issues will take place before the election. The party will be transparent about its intentions through its platform, he said, and Albertans will ultimately get their say when they vote.
Such a position certainly speaks to a growing frustration that government has become too much about surveys, focus groups, reviews and audits, and not enough decision and action.
I share some of those feelings. We can’t consult forever or constantly revisit old decisions.
The problem is that Kenney’s position seems to make the risky assumption that most people who vote for him will like 100 per cent of his platform.
The reality is a UCP voter may enthusiastically support one or two main ideas, such as repealing the carbon tax, but won’t be so keen on others. The only way to find out is to keep consulting.
Still, Kenney can theoretically get away with his plan provided the UCP platform is highly detailed, includes solid cost projections, and is publicized well before the campaign.
Whether we will see that, or whether the platform will be merely a list of roughly sketched proposals, is for now a mystery.
To date, what’s been released by the UCP hasn’t been particularly extensive or detailed, and speculation on what else might be coming has been confused by uncertainty over how often Kenney plans to overrule policies supported by the party’s grassroots.
That said, some of the party’s policies have come out in dribs and drabs in recent months, and Kenney used his chamber speech to outline a number of the proposals.
Included on the list are plans to repeal NDP labour legislation, consider an age-adjusted minimum wage system, and appoint a minister of deregulation.
Some of those ideas might have merit, though it’s hard to judge without more meat on the bones.
The cynical view is that the UCP’s lack of policy at this stage might be a deliberate trap for the NDP, which has been too often resorting to hyperbole to fill in the blanks for Albertans.
Asked by the media to provide reaction to Kenney’s speech, the NDP offered up Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips, who is not exactly known for her restraint.
Though Phillips did provide some reasonable responses to Kenney’s proposals, her first line of attack was to suggest that the UCP’s intention with labour laws was to allow employers to fire pregnant women or parents who need to stay home with sick children.
Kenney wasn’t specific in his speech about which NDP labour legislation he wanted to repeal, but his past remarks suggest he was talking about restoring secret ballots on union certification votes, and reforms to statutory holiday pay.
The idea that his party plans to go after pregnant women and needy parents is ridiculous. Yet by raising this false spectre, Phillips has fallen into the trap.
Her comments do little but feed the UCP narrative that the NDP has become desperate and unhinged.
My experience in political circles may not be as extensive as some, but I know enough to say that the politicians who deserve power are those who keep the discussions going, and those who stay grounded in reality.
UCP Leader Jason Kenney is no political neophyte, writes Keith Gerein. Which is why it’s surprising that, if elected, he would dive into reforms rather than get “bogged down” in bothersome consultations.