Thursday, May 08, 2008

Western Canadians - Including Albertans - Are Moving to the Center.

The findings are very interesting and show a shift in public consciousness squarely toward the social infrastructure deficit and looking for a more activist government to invest qualitatively in the future prosperity in a knowledge economy.

The most significant finding is the consistency on the top public policy issues for all four western provinces. We all agree across the west that the top three public policy issues being improving health care (77.2%) doing more to protect the environment (74.9%) and doing more to reduce poverty (71.7%). These findings are consistent with a conjoint research project we did in the fall of 2006 during the Progressive Conservative leadership campaign.

The growing public concern over dealing with poverty issues surprised most people back then. The greater concern for Aboriginal social issues (44.3%) and creating employment opportunities for Aboriginal people (43.9%) over attracting skilled workers from other countries (31.3%) is illustrating a shift the social infrastructure deficit as a critical issue as well.

Alberta and BC align on the next priority of issues with concerns about investments in post-secondary education (61.9%), transportation and infrastructure (58.1%) plus science and technology (57.1%) are ranked as more important than lowering personal income taxes (55.1%). Expect TILMA to assist in this regard.

Westerners are all still big on the free market economy with 6 out of 10 wanting government to stay out of the economy but still 78.8% of us want government to protect rural economies. There is enormous support for activist government in using tax incentives for supporting resource industry, science and technology and increasing R&D funding as well as putting money into universities for hiring top researchers. Albertans are at the very top of the push in these areas. Ironic really, given that the previous government’s mantra of “government on being in the business of being in business.”

There are some storm clouds indicated about acceptability of high levels of foreign investment. Only 49.2% support and 46.7% oppose this trend and the highest support is not from Alberta but recognize the differences between provinces are not statistically significant. Times are good in Alberta and the west generally. This all may change if the economy changes dramatically.

CWF’s concluding remarks really nails the essence of the research when they say “ Western Canadians’ top public policy priorities are decidedly non-economic: while addressing issues of health care, the environment, poverty and greenhouse gas emissions may have economic dimensions, they are not economic policy areas.” They go on to note “…there are a wide range of areas in which western Canadians are supportive of government action and intervention.”

Squaring this circle of free enterprisers and activitist government is done by the CWF who point out only 2 of 10 strongly agree for government to stay out of the free market, at least “…suggesting that almost 8 in 10 are open to government economic intervention in selected areas.”

Westerners, including Albertans, have moved on from the past harsh economic policies and the far right political focus of reducing government capacity to simply lower taxes. The new Stelmach government clearly has a sense of this and is adjusting accordingly. Lots to do and fiscal prudence is still the overarching principle but we need to do more for those less able to help themselves in the brave new world of western Canada.