Jim Prentice probably took some political science courses during his university studies, but it would appear he needs a refresher. In particular, it seems, he needs a reminder about the nature of the left-right political spectrum and exactly what the extremes of that spectrum look like.
On day one of the current Alberta election, on two separate occasions, Prentice characterized his main political opponents as extreme parties on the left and right, and their policy positions as “extreme ideas and ideologies.”
Generally, in discussions of politics and public policy, when someone refers to parties or policies as extreme, what is being suggested is that those parties and policies lie at the farthest possible points on the political spectrum. In other words, if you laid out all possible public policies and beliefs on a line from left to right, the extreme policies would be the ones at the very end-points of that line or close to them.
Given that understanding, what would an extreme left-wing position in Alberta look like? Well, it would certainly include provisions to nationalize the entire oil industry. It would also include proposed renationalization of all elements of the health care, education and other public services that have been handed over to the private sector and non-profit sectors over the past 20 years. All education, including post-secondary, would be made free of charge, and the gap between rich and poor would be reduced, through taxation and wage controls, to virtually zero. Private capital would cease to exist, the government would be a true expression of the people’s collective will, and it would exert full and total control over the economy. That’s what an extreme left platform and set of policies would look like. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t seen any of the province’s major parties proposing those policies or anything that even comes close to them.
What would an extreme right set of policies look like? Well, the focus would be on private profit and a largely unregulated private sector and market place. Taxes would be reduced to their lowest level possible, government would be shrunk to the point where it could barely function, and corporations and the wealthy would be given virtually free rein in their quest to accumulate wealth with minimal or no labour, environmental and safety regulations. Public services like health care, education, infrastructure, social services and numerous others would be handed over to the private for-profit and not-for-profit sectors, wages and worker protections would be cut drastically, and the government would do what it could to legislate labour unions out of existence. Does any of that sound familiar? Are any parties in this election proposing anything close to that extreme set of policies?
The reality is that the political context in Alberta has moved so far to the right in the last 20 years that the policies that Prentice is pretending are moderate middle-of-the-road policies are actually policies on the extreme right—policies grounded in the neoliberal mantra of low taxes, small government and an unregulated market place. These may also ring a bell as the same general set of policies embraced by the Wildrose Party. That is the reason joining the Prentice Conservatives made so much sense for Danielle Smith and the other floor-crossers: the two parties are singing from the same extreme-right songbook.
Contrary to Prentice’s assertions, all of the other parties in this election occupy space starting just to the left of the Conservatives and extending no further than the absolute centre of the political spectrum, perhaps not even that far. Some of the platform planks that Liberals and NDs have put forth thus far in the election include such policies as tax breaks for corporations that create jobs, pay equity, elimination of taxes for small businesses, incentivizing growth of value-added processing for a growing energy sector, and cuts to health-care spending: all policies that various Conservative governments at the provincial and federal level have themselves put forth in recent decades.
In the end, if Prentice wants to see who the extremist party supporting the extreme ideology is in this election, all he needs to do is—to borrow an expression—look in the mirror. If Albertans are looking for moderate policy proposals and political ideas in the centre of the spectrum, they should be looking at anyone but the Conservatives and Wildrose. Is that what the Premier meant to convey with his comments?
Ricardo Acuña is the executive director of the Parkland Institute, a non-partisan, public policy research institute housed at the University of Alberta. The views and opinions expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Institute.
This article originally appeared on VueWeekly.com.