Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Can Harper & Stelmach Get Along & is Alberta Ready for a Carbon Tax?

Media reports say there is a battle brewing between the Harper and Stelmach governments and it is where the environment and the economy meet. Former Premier Peter Lougheed predicted this over two years ago in a speech to the Canadian Bar Association.

Cambridge Strategies is in the final stages of data collection in a random sample conjoint survey on values Albertans want to see guide and drive politicians and policy makers when they are deciding matters that impact the lives of citizens. We have also asked some very pointed opinion questions on the political culture of Alberta oo.

Given some recent mainstream media stories, I thought it helpful to give a preview of some of the preliminary findings. We are almost finished gathering the data so some of these result might change but likely only slightly.

In the context of the “Battle Brewing Between Alberta and Ottawa over Oil Sands Exports” only 22% of Albertans Strongly Agreed or Agreed that “Prime Minister Stephen Harper pays sufficient attention to Alberta issues and concerns.” Only 25% Strongly Agreed or Agreed “Prime Minister Harper should stop Chinese investment in Alberta’s Oilsands while 56% of Albertans disagree this proposition to some degree of other.

As for perceptions of Albertans on how well the Harper and Stelmach government are getting along on major issues of environment, investment and natural resources over 82% do not think the two governments are getting along that well.  Indications are it will only get worse as the Harper government continue to ignore Alberta's concerns and Stelmach government continues to lag in public confidence.  This all typical fed-prov political infighting will happen at a time when the world is targeting Canada and Alberta for our politically inert attitudes and embarrassingly inept approaches towards environmental policy.

Then we have the other interesting story that Suncor CEO Rick George is reported to be in favour of a carbon tax as part of a national energy strategy to reduce emissions and promote responsible energy development. George is calling for a carbon tax that applies to industry and consumers and to all emitters from “oilsands plants to the tailpipe of your car.” George sees a need for a national energy strategy to harmonize the patchwork of provincial policies and align with major trading partners like the United States.

The Stelmach government has apparently “shot down the idea” according to mainstream media reports. Apparently Deputy Premier Doug Horner “…flatly dismissed the idea of a tax on consumers and bristled at the suggestion of a national energy policy beyond simple co-operation between provinces and the federal government on energy issues.

Our research study preliminary findings show that Albertans, when asked if “Alberta should have a carbon tax and use the money to clean the environment” 23.71% strongly disagreed, 15.81% disagreed and 21.36% slightly disagreed. On the other hand those who supported a carbon tax showed 4.27% strongly agreed, 13.46% agreed and 21.36 slightly agreed. That is a surprising 60/40 split. Seen another way the swing vote of the slightly agreed or disagreed are over 42% so there is volatility around acceptance of a carbon tax by Albertan depending on if the mush middle moves one way or the other.

As for the strength of support the politicians representing Alberta we have figures from another random study of 1032 Albertans that is complete. The bottom line is there is not much confidence in any of the existing federal or provincial alternatives. When asked “who do you trust the most to responsibly manage Alberta’s growth” the results were telling. Brian Mason (NDP) 4%, David Swann (Liberal) 9%, Danielle Smith (Wildrose Alliance) 19%, Ed Stelmach (PC Party) 23%. NONE OF THE ABOVE 45%.  Albertans are clearly not happy with the directions and choices the current political parties are offering. Kind of shows why only 40% of us even bother to vote.

The Federal politicians representing Alberta have nothing to brag about either. When Albertans were asked how satisfied they were the way the Alberta-based MPs were representing Albertans interests in Ottawa only 1% were completely satisfied, 16% were satisfied and 27% were slightly satisfied. On the other hand 11% were totally dissatisfied, 22% were dissatisfied and 23% were slightly dissatisfied. Again 50% are in the mushy middle of being slightly satisfied or dissatisfied. As for if the Alberta MPS are doing enough to protect Albertan oil and gs resources in Ottawa 40% thing they are and 60% don’t thing they are.  Not a strong vote confidence as a federal election looms.

Bottom line is the Feds and the provincial governments appear to be increasingly misaligned and misreading the mood of the Alberta public on many key issues. I will show more about this misalignment in subsequent blog posts once the final survey results are in and the analysis has been completed.

All this research is showing us that there is a need for a political revolution to change the political culture of this province.  As I have said this before on this blog,  I see a Renaissance, a Reformation and a ReEnlightenment all now happening at the same time.  I wonder if it is enough to create the kind of political unrest that festers and fosters the kind of Revolution we have sen before in Alberta's political culture.  It has before when Social Credit and the Progressive Conservatives came into power years ago. 

It is feeling more and more like Albertans are ready for some serious and radical changes to our political culture - but what is the alternative?  The open question for all Albertans now is does the WAP reflect enough of the core values of contemporary Albertans so they gain the political power to run the province as they wish in this emerging wave of citizen re-engagement?  I will have more to say shortly in answering that question.  First we must finish the current research and do the thorough analysis of the conjoint study results.   We will then have some insight about some of the core the value drivers that Albertans what to see  used by politicians.  then we will know more about what Albertans expect in order to grant their consent to be governed.  Stay tuned.