Wildrose bad for E-Town: My Hicks on Biz column originally published in the Edmonton Sun on April 27, two days before the Conservative provincial election victory
If there is a Wildrose government come Monday night, will it be good or bad for the northern Alberta economy, good or bad for Edmonton?
Good overall for Northern Alberta: The macro-economic policies of both Wildrose and the Conservatives are pro-business. The sustainable oilsands will stay solidly on the rails.
Bad for Edmonton in particular.
I say this with a heavy heart. A change of government, any change, after 40 years is attractive. Away with the PCs’ arrogance, entitlement and intimidation.
But the most practical course for Edmontonians, to save our jobs, to prevent corporate pullouts to Calgary, to not be second-class citizens in our own province, is to hold our noses and vote Conservative.
If Danielle Smith wins a majority government, those seats will come from Calgary, southern Alberta and maybe a few in northern Alberta.
Nobody, including Wild-rose strategists, see a Wildrose seat from Edmonton.
What happened in the past when governing parties in Alberta had strong majorities, but no representation from here, after the elections of 1986, 1989, 1993, 1997 and 2004? We were shafted.
Ralph Klein’s cutbacks of the late ’90s led to layoffs by the tens of thousands in the public sector. Concentrated in Edmonton.
The fabled Peter Lougheed — to whom Premier Alison Redford genuflects every day — was no friend of Edmonton. His regime in the 1970s set out to make Calgary the financial centre of Western Canada, damn the consequences to Edmonton. Edmonton’s corporate offices — Imperial Oil, Nova, energy regulator the ERCB and others — migrated en masse to Calgary, with Lougheed’s blessing. Under Lougheed, Calgary got the gravy, Edmonton got the beans.
So why the odds on a majority Wildrose government being indifferent to Edmonton?
Start with the actual birth of Wildrose. When corporate Calgary’s favourite son Jim Dinning lost the Conservative leadership to northern Alberta/farmer/Ukrainian/not-one-of-us Ed Stelmach in 2006, the Calgary power brokers were so miffed they started their own political party and found Danielle Smith to run it. Its origin, its money, its bias is to Calgary and southern Alberta.
There’s no need to draw on the past, or speculate on the future. Regard the present.
Two Wildrose “if elected, we will” are punches to Edmonton’s solar plexus — one of them so cynical that Edmonton has the right to fear the worst.
Danielle Smith would re-open our decision to close the downtown airport. That decision, rightly or wrongly, was made. It is behind us, and uncertainty is the enemy of good business. Even worse, that election plank was a naked ploy to woo a northern Alberta rural vote that wants to keep the airport open. To heck with Edmonton, woo the rural vote.
The redevelopment of the provincial museum has been kicked around for 10 years, until the Alberta and federal governments finally decided to get it done. A decision was made, let’s get on with it.
On the one hand, the Tories have become arrogant, complacent, rule by intimidation and are led by a charisma-free Red Tory.
On the other, since Ralph Klein’s last couple of years, through Ed Stelmach and now Redford, the Conservatives have been fair and reasonable to Edmonton and thus to the Edmonton economy.
On the one hand, Wild- rose is fresh, common-sense, full of new ideas and fiscally frugal.
On the other, the evidence points to a government that could push Edmonton back to the terrible economic space that darned near destroyed us from 1982 to 2005.
My concern? The Wild- rose would encourage the government’s fund manager AIMCO and ATB Financial to move to Calgary.
Unless they are kingmakers in a minority government situation, the Liberals, Alberta Party and New Democrats are currently irrelevant. (A Wildrose/Liberal coalition: the mind boggles, but Raj Sherman would at least represent Edmonton.)
Logically, for the economic prosperity of Edmonton, we should be delivering Conservative MLAs to keep Alison Redford in power.
Let the Wildrose have 30 seats, get to know them in opposition, see how they treat Edmonton and perhaps support them in the next election.
And logical though it may be, at this point I don’t know if I’ll follow my own advice.