Sunday, March 23, 2014

Postsecondary Perspective On A Premier’s Problems

Alberta Premier Alison Redford has suddenly resigned; her successor Dave Hancock was sworn in today.  Redford’s resignation was the culmination of several weeks of revolt within the Progressive Conservative party and the government caucus, daily reports of concerns about the premier’s travel expenses, and terrible poll results.  Many detailed analyses of how this whole situation arose, and what it means for the future of the PC party, are appearing in local and national newspapers.  These include an analysis by Professor Ted Morton (who offers a unique perspective given his role in ousting Redford’s predecessor, Premier Ed Stelmach), rumours of a within-government smear campaign, concerns about political misogyny,  and chalking it up to business-as-usual in a province where the governing party (and not the electorate) decides who should be premier.

Most of these analyses focus on factors within the governing party.  As it embarks on the process of finding a new leader and premier, I would like to point out an obvious fact about the premier’s and the party’s low popularity.  I focus on just one aspect of the government’s mandate, postsecondary education.  Similar points could be easily made using many other government policies.

The fact is this: during the 2012 provincial election, Redford campaigned on a particular platform; she delivered policies contrary to her platform in her March 2013 budget.

To illustrate, Redford’s campaign promises to reinvest in postsecondary education, and to provide stable and predictable funding for this sector, transformed into an over 7% budget cut that took university and college administrators by surprise.  Decisions of this type – about faces on campaign promises – have not surprisingly led to enormous decreases in the government’s popularity, not to mention the obliteration of the electorate’s trust of the government.

The many analyses of the current situation in Alberta politics examine dynamics within the government and the governing party, providing possible explanations for the tension between campaign promises and current policies.  It is important to remember, though, that the general electorate that is outside the party is perhaps less interested in explaining this tension, and is simply more interested in the fact that it exists!

Consider an earlier provincial election campaign successfully conducted by the same party, Ralph Klein’s 1993 “Miracle on the Prairie”.  Klein campaigned on a platform that promised harsh cutbacks in government spending, cuts that were likely more far reaching than those delivered by Redford’s 2013 budget.  Klein won a majority (as did Redford), and proceeded with various budget cuts (as did Redford), but Klein’s popularity went up when his fiscal plan was enacted.

The difference, of course, is that Klein delivered what he promised on the campaign trail.  Redford did not.