Two elections recently took place within the Anglosphere — both with rather startling, and quite opposite, results.
Despite extensive prognostication to the contrary, Great Britain granted David Cameron’s Conservatives a victory — a majority at that.
For American voters accustomed to what’s essentially a two-party system, that might not seem terribly spectacular. But considering that everyone’s best predictions — including Nate Silver’s — had the Tories pretty much sharing all the seats outside Scotland and Northern Ireland about equally with Ed Miliband’s Labour party, it was quite an upset. This is happy news for the United Kingdom. Cameron is certainly no Margaret Thatcher, but he positively glows beside Miliband, who would have been to Britain’s economy what an iceberg was to the Titanic.
Meanwhile up in Alberta, alarm claxons sound after voters in the oil-rich Canadian province decided to throw their lot in with the iceberg.
Buoyed by a recently fractured right-wing that saw a massive split in the conservative vote, a disaffected conservative base that largely stayed home and a Progressive Conservative premier with the political finesse of a urinal, an economically illiterate generation of Albertans turned out en masse to elect the socialist New Democratic Party — evidently believing that, unlike anywhere else in the world, collective ownership will bring collective happiness.
Now, NDP provincial governments are not unknown in Canada. Pierre Eliot Trudeau was himself something of a socialist — Fidel Castro was his honorary pallbearer, if that gives you a clue as to his political leanings — and served as the nation’s prime minister for many devastating years. But it’s difficult to overstate the stunning significance of Alberta electing a socialist government. Alberta is different. Alberta is the economic engine of Canada; a gleaming capitalist jewel; a land of petroleum wealth, fiercely independent gun-owning cattle ranchers and some of the lowest tax rates on the planet. It’s like Texas with curling, highland regiments and an understandable accent.
It was also a place where the Progressive Conservative Party held power for some 40 years and the Social Credit Party (in which, to illustrate, Rick Santorum would feel very at home) a generation before that. So yes, ladies and gentlemen, this is a big deal.
Naturally, Alberta’s (and Canada’s) business community is reacting with something approaching panic. The Toronto Stock Exchange assumed a nose-dive as investors fled from Albertan energy related issues as from venomous serpents.
So what will happen? A couple things we can be sure of. Corporate tax rates are going up (that was a central election theme) and there will be some pressure placed on the oil and gas industry, probably through higher royalty rates paid to the province. Beyond that, it’s difficult to say. Rachel Notley, the new premier, could elect to govern from the left, realizing she lucked out and only has this one chance to do something transformational. That means massive social spending, correspondingly massive tax increases, ballooning debt, crippling regulation on oil sands, canceled pipelines and an inflation of the public sector unions. If that happens, the economic mess left in her wake will all but assure the next Conservative dynasty, provided Conservatives can get their act together before the next election.
Conversely, Notley can move to the center, make few significant changes and leave the oil industry largely alone, hoping to ride the wake of decades of Conservative-ushered prosperity into an illusion of fiscal competency. Notley is pretty politically savvy and has already tried to assure the industry that everything is “A-OK over here in Alberta.” But this would enrage her base, which feels it’s owed something by Alberta taxpayers after decades of being exiled by common sense.
If Alberta is to rebound next election before too much damage is done, the right must get its house in order. The Progressive Conservative Party needs to reverse the significant left turn it made over the last decade and concentrate considerably more on the latter half of its name. The Wild Rose Party then needs return to the fold, lest it risk a permanent dilution of the right wing vote and perpetuate the madness. Somewhere in there is a kernel of instruction for the Republican party in the United States.
In the meantime, Alberta’s woes can be America’s gain, particularly for Western states like Wyoming, Utah and even Colorado, which, thanks to TABOR and recent legislative efforts, boasts a tax climate that could soon look very favorable in comparison to Alberta. Taking full advantage of the situation will require policies at both the state and federal level that emphasize deregulation, low taxation and a general retreat in government at least in correlation to its gestation up north.
Unlikely, I hear you say, and I agree. Of course, so was a Conservative majority in Britain and a socialist government elected in Alberta.