UCP MAK­ING RISKY AS­SUMP­TION ON CON­SUL­TA­TION

Ken­ney’s vow to pro­ceed with re­form after elec­tion as­sumes too much

Calgary Herald - - CITY+REGION - KEITH GEREIN [email protected]­media.com twit­ter.com/ kei­thgerein

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.

LARRY WONG/FILES

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.

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