Edmonton Journal

Lamphier: Minority best outcome.

It’s the best outcome for Alberta after 44 years of Tory rule


If the polls are accurate, Alberta may be heading toward the first minority government in the province’s 110-year history.

That would be a good thing in my view, and the best possible outcome of what has been an unwelcome, unnecessar­y and dreary campaign.

Of course, Danielle Smith and the Wildrose party would be in power today if the pollsters got it right before the last election in 2012.

Instead, now-discredite­d former premier Alison Redford led the Progressiv­e Conservati­ves to a massive 61-seat majority, and Smith, after crossing the floor to join the ruling Tories, is out of politics.

So who knows what Tuesday’s election results will bring. With just a few days to go, it still looks like a crapshoot to me, with Calgary and its 25 seats looming as a critical battlegrou­nd.

The surging New Democrats haven’t won a seat in Cowtown since 1989. But the NDP and their surprising­ly scrappy and effective leader, Rachel Notley, may steal a few ridings this time around.

Combined with what are expected to be big gains in Edmonton’s 19 ridings, the NDP could grab perhaps 25 seats in the 87-seat legislatur­e, up from four seats currently. If so, that would be a huge breakthrou­gh.

The Wildrose and its neophyte leader, Brian Jean, will likely add to the 17 seats they currently hold. But even if the tax-busting, right-leaning party doubled its count, it would still be 10 seats shy of a majority.

Which leaves the PCs and the distinct possibilit­y of another Tory majority victory, albeit a much slimmer one than last time.

Party Leader Jim Prentice is undoubtedl­y a good man, a veteran pol and a sophistica­ted, worldly thinker. His resumé is top drawer. But he has run an unfocused, flat campaign.

Prentice was clearly outgunned by Notley during the lone TV debate of the race, yielding a rare moment of drama and sparking an outcry from female voters who viewed his “math is hard” comment as a sexist put-down.

I highly doubt it was intended as such and so apparently did Notley. Still, it was a damaging sound bite. It made Prentice sound arrogant.

Moreover, although the free-spending, frequent-flying Redford was dispatched to the political wilderness a year ago, Prentice still looks like someone unhappily freighted with her abundant baggage.

The fact that oil prices began tanking from the moment he became premier didn’t exactly help his cause. The $7-billion hole it left in the province’s finances and the need for tough medicine in the Tories’ pre-election budget were therefore inevitable.

But Prentice only made matters worse by yammering on about economic catastroph­e while sending out mixed messages. On the one hand, he insisted that all Albertans are in this fiscal mess together.

On the other, the Tory budget spared corporatio­ns while whacking the middle class and even the non-profit sector. Talk about a tin ear.

Let’s be clear. There’s no question the NDP’s plan to hike corporate taxes by 20 per cent in the midst of an oil price slump is ideologica­lly driven insanity. It would hammer companies that are already struggling, kill jobs and seriously damage Alberta’s pro-business brand.

So would a reopening at this time of the highly divisive debate over oil royalties, another dubious NDP election plank. Companies need certainty on key fiscal policies to make multibilli­on-dollar investment decisions. Another royalty review would only further reduce investment.

But a nominal corporate tax hike of say four or five per cent in the recent Tory budget would have been reasonable and it would have shown that Prentice walks his own talk. Instead, he looked like just another double-talking politician.

Prentice’s subsequent move to reverse the planned cut to the charitable tax credit only confirmed how wrong-headed and misdirecte­d the measure was in the first place.

On the other big issues — economic diversific­ation, climate change — the Tories have also been slow-footed and unfocused. For a party that has grappled with these issues for years, the PCs still lack a coherent strategy.

In the world of politics, as in physics, vacuums get filled. The absence of a Tory strategy on these big-picture issues has allowed environmen­talists to take over centre stage.

They’ve made the most of it by relentless­ly slamming Alberta’s “dirty” oil and the province’s “addiction” to energy revenues.

Had the Tories come up with a plan to address emissions, even a long-term plan, it might have blunted such attacks and earned a bit of goodwill in places where hostility toward new pipelines remains high. Instead, pipelines remain blocked and Alberta’s key industry has been severely handicappe­d.

The bottom line: after 44 years of Tory rule, it’s high time for a change. Indeed, if Alberta’s opposition parties had any experience governing, it’s likely the Tories would be turfed Tuesday.

But this is planet Alberta, where the odds of the Tory dynasty being toppled remain slim. A minority government would at least keep them humble and force more accountabi­lity.

I, for one, am hoping that’s what we get on election night. glamphier@edmontonjo­urnal.com

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