With two weeks left until Albertans go to the polls, the United Conservative Party is starting to feel the heat. And no wonder: they have a leader who’s playing hide-and-seek with the media, candidates who seem to be competing to see who can fit their own foot furthest into their mouth, and a growing list of current and former conservative heavyweights speaking out against the party’s new direction. But there’s still an ace up their collective sleeve that could save the party from its own listless campaign, one that even Danielle Smith knows how to play properly. It’s the enduring belief — or perhaps, in Alberta, the article of faith — that conservative governments are better for the economy.
That belief isn’t actually backstopped by much in the way of data, mind you. Instead, it’s a combination of deliberately drawn spurious correlations, conservative political rhetoric and the business community’s vested interest in sustaining this narrative in order to elect governments that will cut their taxes. It’s also a reflection of the NDP’s refusal to make a better economic case for itself and its record.
The way in which conservatives have weaponized the Rachel Notley NDP’s four years in government is a case in point. The economic downturn that occurred under the first NDP government’s watch in 2015 was a direct result of the collapse in commodity prices, one that was already well underway by the time they arrived in office — and one that probably helped get them elected in the first place. Conservatives were quick to connect the dots between major job losses in the oil and gas sector and the NDP’s arrival in power, and they continue to use them — facts be damned — to paint the NDP as incompetent stewards of the economy.
But there are some other dots they’re much less interested in connecting. Texas, a state with a very Republican governor and government, also saw huge job losses in its oil and gas industry over the same period. By September 2015, the Texas Petro Index (a “cross-section of economic indicators for the upstream oil and gas industry”) had fallen 27.7 per cent from its high in 2014. And like Alberta, its economy slowed to a crawl in 2016, with its GDP growing by just 0.2 per cent.
In other words, there was very little difference between an NDP government in Alberta and a Republican one in Texas in the face of a huge commodity price crash. The truth is that Alberta, more than any other province in Canada, is at the mercy of economic forces beyond its control. You might think, after watching the catastrophic impact that COVID-19 had on oil and gas prices and employment levels, the UCP might be a bit less willing to trade in the idea that the NDP was single-handedly responsible for Alberta’s economic pain during its own time in office. Instead, they’ve been doubling down.
In fairness, they’re hardly the only conservatives pushing this particular narrative. It’s a reliable staple of the messaging from provincial conservative parties, especially when they’re up against an NDP opposition party. But whether it’s British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, or parts further east, the NDP’s economic track record isn’t what most people have been led to believe.
Toby Sanger, the former executive director of Canadians for Tax Fairness, tried to underscore this reality back in 2015. He gathered data on provincial and federal governments and compared the performance of the NDP to the Liberals and Conservatives. As it turned out, real wage growth was stronger under NDP governments, averaging 0.89 per cent annually after inflation compared to 0.66 per cent under Conservative ones and 0.63 per cent under Liberal ones. At the provincial level, NDP governments also spent less, ran fewer and smaller deficits and saw higher corporate profit growth.
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Then there’s Tommy Douglas, the patron saint of New Democrats in Canada. As the premier of Saskatchewan, his Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) never ran a deficit during 17 years in power and dedicated 10 per cent of provincial revenues to paying down debt built up by the previous Liberal government. Find me a conservative premier who can say the same thing (hint: you can’t).
But perhaps the best corrective to this long-standing narrative about the NDP’s economic nincompoopery is the six-plus years of John Horgan and David Eby’s government in British Columbia. Under their combined watch, the province’s economy has continued to grow and attract investment. When COVID hit, B.C.’s real GDP saw one of the smallest declines and biggest rebounds in Canada. By January 2022, it had posted one of the strongest employment recoveries in the country. And as Alberta Central noted in a recent report, real wage growth in Alberta has been negative since 2019 — you know, when the UCP took over — while neighbouring B.C. has seen real wages grow nearly 10 per cent. “What has been often referred to as ‘the Alberta Advantage’ is melting away," its authors concluded, “and has almost disappeared, based on some metrics.”
If this had happened under an NDP government, you know that conservative politicians and pundits would be practically waterboarding voters with the message. But because it happened under a government that also slashed corporate taxes and effectively handed the business community a multibillion-dollar gift, they’ve been conveniently quiet here.
That’s why it’s time for New Democrats to start making more noise about their economic competence and the track record of NDP governments in this country. They’re not the bumblers and boobs that they’ve been made out to be and their relative silence has allowed that myth to spread further and wider than it should. Correcting that perception, and clarifying what their record really looks like, should be a top priority for any New Democrat who wants to govern in Canada. This Thursday’s Provincial Leaders’ Debate would be an excellent time for Rachel Notley to start.
the bottleneck for getting
the bottleneck for getting this positive money management message is not the ndp party communication but the con-controlled press erasing the message from “ news”.
hell, you wouldn’t know the ndp were official opposition in Ontario from their total ghosting by the so-called progressive To. Star never mind the pravda of the Cons, Sun and NP.
balanced reporting pulleese!
Lobbyist-Premier Danielle Smith redefines economic mismanagement: gifting billions of dollars in royalty credits to her friends, and rewarding O&G companies for bad behavior (RStar).
The UCP can hardly take credit for the recovery in oil prices. If you give the first-term NDP govt the resource revenue the UCP got in 2021-22 (not to mention the increase in personal and corporate taxes due to the oil price spike), the NDP would have recorded three surpluses. The third of which (2018-19) exceeds the UCP's surplus in 2021-22.
The PCs recorded deficits from 2008-09 to 2013-14.
During a protracted slump in oil prices, the NDP racked up four annual deficits totalling -$37,670 M. An average of $9.4 B per year.
Preceded by a PC deficit of -$6.4 B in 2015-16.
Followed by a UCP deficit of -$17 B in 2020-21.
Which suggests that in Alberta big deficits are a function of low oil prices, not government policy or political ("socialist") leanings.
From 2008-09 to 2021-22 (14-yr interval), annual expenditures increased 3.7% per year on average.
During the NDP's 4-yr term (2016-17 to 2019-20), annual expenditures increased 4.5% per year on average.
During PC years (8-yr interval: 2008-09 baseline to 2015-16), annual expenditures increased 3.6% per year on average.
During UCP years (2-yr interval: 2020-21 to 2021-22), annual expenditures increased 5.0% per year on average.
The PCs/UCP average exceeded the NDP's in 4 different years: 2011-12, 2012-13, 2013-14, 2021-22.
NDP spending increases were slightly above average for the interval, but not inordinately so.
Meanwhile, voters may wish to consider Danielle Smith's RStar scheme to milk/bilk taxpayers and future generations of $20 billion in royalties ($100 M just for the pilot project) to clean up inactive oil wells delinquent companies are already legally responsible for. A blatant giveaway of of public dollars to her friends in the oilpatch. Indefensible.
Smith lives in la-la land. Notley, whatever her faults, still lives in the real world.
And no, I am not voting for the AB NDP.
Given the dates of the NDP's
Given the dates of the NDP's election victory (May 5, 2015) and first budget (Oct 27, 2015), I thought it more sensible above to assign fiscal year 2015-16 to the PCs, making 2016-17 the first full year to reflect NDP governance. The fiscal year 2015-16 is more than half over by the time the NDP's first budget comes down.
If, however, we assign fiscal year 2015/16 to the NDP (which seems to be the custom), that scenario is $5 B more favorable to the NDP, with four deficits totalling $32 B and the deficit increasing by $40.5 B.
In that case, the rest of the discussion needs revision:
The PCs recorded deficits from 2008-09 to 2013-14.
During a protracted slump in oil prices, the NDP racked up four annual deficits totalling $32 B. An average of $8 B per year.
Followed by a UCP deficit of $12 B in 2019-20 and $17 B in 2020-21.
In Alberta, big deficits are a function of low oil prices.
From 2008-09 to 2021-22, expenditures increased 3.6% per year on average.
During the NDP's term (2015-16 to 2018-19), expenditures increased 3.2% per year on average.
During PC years (2008-09 baseline to 2014-15), expenditures increased 3.5% per year on average.
During first two UCP years (2019-20 to 2021-22), expenditures increased 4.5% per year on average.
NDP spending increases were below average for the interval.
Once again you prove to be
Once again you prove to be the best political commentator in Canada. Your eyes on the Alberta political arena should be keeping everyone honest. Unfortunately the Right have their backs to the truth.