In the most recent edition of prairie dog I postulated on what I called The Divine Right of Conservatism: the ability of the chattering classes and business leaders to overlook the most basic, the most stupid and the most egregious mistakes by right-of-centre political parties and governments in the name of preserving the political and social status quo. A couple of things happened between writing that and today which reinforces that theory.
In a recent Globe and Mail, Preston Manning talks about the future of conservatism in Alberta in the same tones used by the German playwright Bertolt Brecht in 1953, after Soviet troops used tanks and machine guns to put down anti-government demonstrations in East Berlin. When that happened, Brecht, until then a Communist, wryly remarked that since the people lost confidence in the government, the people shouldn’t get a new government, the government should get a new people. Except what Brecht said as gallows humour is Manning’s unironic stance.
Manning seems to have missed the point entirely: it’s not just the people promoting conservatism that were rejected by voters, it was conservatism itself that was rejected.
After Peter Lougheed left the political scene, the Alberta PCs were increasingly beholden to far-right, Tea Party-esque economic philosophies which saw Crown corporations and liquor stores sold off to pay down the debt, corporate tax rates slashed in order to attract business, and resource royalties lowered to virtually give away the province’s non-renewable resources. That may be fine when oil was coming out of the ground at $100 a barrel (a friend who had contacts within the Alberta PC government told me in the mid 2000s that the province was considering doing away with corporate income tax altogether), but with the fall of world oil prices and the Canadian dollar, Albertans – enough to elect Rachel Notley, if not acknowledged anywhere else – are now feeling that they’ve been ripped off by the very people who should have been looking out for their interests, the government.
Any western Canadian, especially Albertan, grew up with the words National Energy Policy intoned with the same fear and resentment the House of Gryffindor members used to describe Lord Voldemort. Albertans said natural resources – in this case oil and natural gas – were the provinces’ domain under the Canadian constitution, thank you very much. Edmonton, not Ottawa, would decide who would develop the resource and Edmonton, not Ottawa, would collect the royalties.
With the collapse in oil prices, what Loughheed feared Ottawa would do has come to pass, but instead it’s been done by the oil companies who installed a ‘business-friendly’ government. Denuded of its resources, sold at fire sale prices, Alberta is virtually a have not province again, because the oil companies took the resources and paid pennies on the dollar when times were good.
On a practical political level, I don’t think anybody should take Preston Manning’s advice with anything more than not just a grain of salt, but the entire shaker. Manning was the architect behind the move that won the election for the NDP – last’s year’s mass defection of the Wild Rose Alliance caucus, including leader Danielle Smith, to the Alberta PCs. Prentice’s brain trust looked like sleazeballs willing to say anything, do anything, and promise anything in order to keep the hands on power (and by implication, the provincial treasury), while the Wild Rose Alliance looked like a group of political babes in the woods, able to be led pastry by anybody willing to show them a little candy.
So why would the Globe and Mail be willing to devote part of their opinion section to Preston Manning? The Globe has better and more insightful writers in its stable, and would be able to attract freelancers who could give more informed opinions … unless those opinions didn’t jibe with the Globe and Mail’s world view. When the newspaper endorsed Jim Prentice, it did so because the Alberta PCs were Good for Business, even though their track record of corruption, incompetence, and duplictiousness was never mentioned in the editorial.
Preston Manning’s political advice is the Nickleback of political science. It’s not worth listening to, but somebody’s listening to it. Meanwhile, at Postmedia, the Kia to the Globe and Mail’s Hyundai, its chief executive officer, Paul Godfrey, got a contract extension, even though Postmedia’s print division is bleeding red ink like a harpooned narwhal.
As well, head office-meaning Godfrey-ordered the Edmonton Journal and Calgary Herald to write and publish editorials endorsing Prentice and the Alberta PCs for government, even though their own reporters had spent hours, days, and weeks on stories which created the cumulative effect on the reader to think something like ‘are these guys serious?’ The editorials ended up doing more to make the newspapers objects of ridicule and derision than anything else. And once a newspaper loses its credibility, trying to get it back is like trying to reclaim your virginity.
One of my journalistic mentors’ Tom Hawthorne, once tweeted, that at the rate Postmedia is losing money and readers, soon it will be down to one employee – Paul Godfrey – making $1 million a year in salary – and losing only $1 million a year. If management can convince itself that the only reader is Preston Manning, then the company will convince itself that it won’t matter what anybody else, even the shareholders, think.