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Sunday, November 26, 2006

Our Latest LaPresse Column Published Today

I am going over the numbers and the outcomes of yesterday and looking for the potential and possibilities for Stelmach to win. I have seen how i can be done. I am far from finished in my analysis of what it will take but as readers have heard me say before "Campaigns Matter."

This campaign is still far from over. I see what I call "The Mandel Syndrome" happening for Stelmach this week big time. The top guns are not seen as sufficient to make the shifts needed to meet the future and the third place alternative is not just a compromise but on reflection, he becomes the preferred choice and wins.

IN THE MEANTIME here is our LaPresse column published in Montreal today. It has relevance as you will see.

La Presse 26 novembre 2006

Satya Das et Ken Chapman

Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives signalled a definitive end to the era of Ralph Klein by voting for his successor yesterday, and in doing so began to redefine Alberta’s place in Canada.

In the last five years, Alberta’s government abandoned all vision and direction, after paying off the entire fiscal debt. It squandered opportunity and did little to respond to the pressure of rapid growth. Worst of all, it had no interest in developing the adaptability and flexibility needed to respond to change. It brought in a favourable royalty regime of one per cent to accelerate development of the oil sands when oil cost less than $20 a barrel – and persisted with it even as prices rose astronomically.

This failure to build an escalating royalty rate so that government income would increase as prices rose, cost the Alberta treasury more in lost revenue than the reviled National Energy Programme negotiated a generation ago between Peter Lougheed and Pierre-Elliott Trudeau. Indeed, this one instance of incompetence is as colossal as Quebec’s squandering of Hydro Quebec’s revenue potential, so ably chronicled in Alain Dubuc’s excellent book √Čloge de la richesse.

In fact, the Alberta government went beyond laissez-faire economics, to invoke laissez-faire governance. Premier Klein’s government deliberately chose to create a debt-free fiscal climate wherein government would earn the room to cut taxes and give the free-market economy the lebensraum it needed to grow and flourish. This philosophy meant removing the deliberate and deliberative hand of government in favour of the “invisible hand” of the marketplace.

This Adam Smith economic prescription was paired with a John Stuart Mill political outlook. Rather than a “social contract” between the citizen and the state, the Klein political philosophy followed Mill. His governing ideal enabled and empowered each person to exercise and develop their capacities, capabilities, engagement and participation in his or her own way, in order to achieve personal progress and personal happiness, satisfaction and fulfilment.

In this concept of political economy, a flat-rate personal income tax, more private choice in the provision of health care, and distributing resource royalties directly to citizens by writing everyone a cheque, are all perfectly consistent with Adam Smith economics and John Stuart Mill politics. In this construct, the individual liberty to pursue one’s own happiness, with the least possible constraint from the state, becomes the central governing ethos.

The effect of laissez-faire governance was to diminish the individual’s expectation of state support, and to regard the state as a shelter only in times of critical need. As Premier Klein put it, his governance philosophy was to provide “a hand up, not a hand-out.” The ultimate empowerment of the citizen, in the Klein philosophy, was the classical Mills view that democracy with its freedom of speech and freedom of choice is the best vehicle to enable each citizen to flourish, following pursuits and decisions of his or her choice free from the interference of others, so long as what one wants does no harm to others.

Yet it is clear to the majority in Alberta that hands-off government does not work. The state of the environment is by far the biggest preoccupation of Albertans, who seek government leadership in sustaining the environment without demolishing the economy. Of the candidates on yesterday’s ballot Jim Dinning was a strong proponent of what he called the “clean energy economy,” proposing billions of dollars of investment in sequestering carbon dioxide and slashing the province’s greenhouse gas emissions. (Interestingly, this is also the perspective of federal Liberal leadership candidate Stephane Dion). And in survey after survey, Albertans declare themselves proud Canadians, ready to share their wealth with their fellow citizens (so long as the federal government is not the agent of distribution).

More than anything, Albertans seek a new role of leadership and influence in the country, based on their growing economic power and the responsibility that brings to perpetuate the common good. No matter what choice the Progressive Conservative party makes, an effective Premier of Alberta must respond to these desires.