The so-called moderate conservatives in Alberta have a lot of criticisms of the current NDP government. There is a common refrain that Notley was only elected to punish the arrogant Jim Prentice, the former leader of the now defunct “Progressive” Conservatives. I don’t doubt that there are a lot of uninformed voters who cast their ballot in this fashion–this candidate is an asshole, this candidate smiles nice–but they seem to miss the part where many of us voted for Notley because the Albertan NDP had a mostly sane, mostly evidence-based platform.
I’m glad to see that these so called moderate conservatives care about such issues as poverty, unemployment, rampant drug addictions, violent crime, sex trafficking, palliative care, overburdened healthcare providers, enormous class sizes, and so on. But increasingly I am noticing a pattern where actually resolving these issues with time tested methods is met with vocal objections by these moderates.
Canadian oil isn’t as attractive as it used to be, so fewer people are buying it, which means oil companies engaged in massive lay offs to protect their bottom lines in response to the tanking value of their commodity. This isn’t a new phenomenon. It happened under the previous government every few years, too. The nature of Alberta’s oil-dependent economy has always meant being extremely vulnerable to the whims of the global market since it’s the only thing we’re selling that rakes in the big bucks. And if nobody’s buying?
Under a Conservative government, the response would be to put more people out of work. Slash social services, slash education, slash healthcare, slash slash slash. The public sector would shrink at the same time as the private sector. Not only would unemployment rise, but all the social services which could provide a modicum of stability during an oil bust would be understaffed and underfunded despite the abrupt influx of clients who need the services. It’s going to take decades–and money–to break the cycle of poverty that has been exacerbated by neoliberal austerity. We see it in such outcomes as health (Edmonton is the STI capital of Canada), homelessness (also Edmonton), domestic violence (provincewide), crime both petty and violent (most major cities), growing prison populations, massive spikes in addiction referrals, the list goes on.
So, back to the concerns raised by the so called moderates. Unemployment has pervasive effects if left unchecked long enough. I’m glad they care. But unlike previous governments, which often exacerbated the problem, the NDP are running deficits on makework projects to keep people employed. The public sector is expanding to try and fill the void left by the shrinking private sector. This isn’t sustainable in the long term without adopting Scandinavian-levels of welfare & taxation, but does mitigate the unemployment problem until Alberta either: 1) Diversifies its commodities so we start receiving noticeable incomes from other industries; or 2) More likely, we get our next oil boom. So the NDP have been allocating portions of its deficit on things like hospitals, schools, highways, and park restoration.
Yet the conservative moderates complain. “Why are you spending money on trees?!”
Because park restoration is a makework project that puts food on the table for the hundreds of landscapers employed during the 5-year project. It’s a miniature version of the New Deal. Same thing for subsidizing low-income housing, expanding palliative care in Alberta Health, expanding the school boards–these all require construction, administration, front line staff. And it’s worth noting that the NDP is allocating portions of its deficit to assist industry start ups, just not the oil industry. Forestry is booming, but it has a long way to go before it’s as valuable as oil. Solar and wind investment profiles from energy companies are finally receiving government backing. The point is, if more of our income comes from at least one other commodity, then our budgeting is less fragile. To say nothing of how we’re expanding our green energy so that we’ll have a power grid when the coal runs out.
Thus we strike the phenomenon of the “Supportive in Principle, but Not in Action” crowd. If you truly claim to care about unemployment as a provincial issue, then it stands to reason that investing in more stable markets will prevent the vulnerability of boom and bust cycles that Alberta’s been straddled with thanks to 44 years of Conservative corporate bootlicking. Yes, the Have-a-Little-Want-Mores have to pay more taxes. That’s called putting your money where your mouth is. You don’t get to claim you care about unemployment whilst championing an economic technique that creates more unemployment and entraps more people in the poverty cycle.
“I’m not classist, but poverty is the fault of the poor, and I shouldn’t have to bail them out.” Little did they know, a fire and a flood would wipe out many of these conservative ridings–and the residents would receive publicly covered insurance of many types to cover their losses, even if they were uninsured privately.
I’ll point out that I was living below the poverty line for about a year and a half prior to acquiring my current job. I’m so used to budgeting with fuck all to my name that I can comfortably state that my new income–still meagre in comparison to the middle class–could comfortably accommodate an increase of $5,000 a year in my income tax.
The last time my new income bracket received a tax raise, it was worth $140 a year. I question how people are budgeting themselves when $140/year constitutes breaking the bank, considering most of the people whining earn a great deal more than I do–even as the government offers them publicly funded assistance programs to recover from natural disasters. The mind truly boggles.
There’s another demonstration of this “Supportive in Principle, but Not in Action” type: Bill C-16 and in Alberta, Bill 7. Both of these bills explicitly codify gender identity & expression as protected entities under law.
We saw that most Canadians agree that discrimination is bad in principle the last time the public was polled on Bill C-16. This is a side effect of a more liberal education where you get the elementary school version of Social Justice: “Discrimination bad.” This is where folks are generally supportive in principle. All but the most morally bankrupt do not wish violence upon the trans community, or any community in general. Most respondents were supportive of explicitly encoding trans rights.
However, instead of asking them whether trans Canadians should be protected under law, the same poll also framed the issue in terms of specific action. For example, “Should trans women have access to women’s facilities?” The proportion of people who supported trans rights is considerably larger when it is framed in the abstract–when you point out the consequences of trans rights (access to gendered facilities), the support drops noticeably. Thus the actual action of protecting trans people is met with resistance. People are perfectly willing to talk about how awful discrimination is, as long as we never actually do something about it.
And thus, one of the greatest barriers to activism is born. People believe themselves to be good, so they’ll say things like “discrimination bad,” because they’ve been told it is bad. Maybe they don’t specifically want to antagonize minorities. They think lynching is wrong, they think trans panic is an unacceptable defence, they think police have been harsh on black folks. But then when you try to point out that the status quo they seek to maintain is discriminatory, the more common response is to deflect blame, change the topic, post-hoc rationalize or otherwise avoid discussing the topic at hand. “Discrimination bad,” they nod along. “But fuck the NDP for raising taxes [they say, collecting their government funded disaster recovery cheque].”
You could slot in trans rights or unemployment for any number of social issues. Racism bad. Sexual assault bad. War bad. Poverty bad. So on and so forth. As long as we stick to condemning these issues in the abstract, there are no conflicts, because anyone with a sliver of conscience considers these to be ethically problematic. But if you have the audacity to actually do something about it, like install harassment policies or raise taxes on the Have-a-Littles to finance social services or admit refugees from abroad or yes–finance a disaster recovery program, people are suddenly up in arms. “This is a problem that needs fixing,” they agree.
As long as someone else is paying for it.
So much for “tightening belts” and “pulling up bootstraps.” All that talk about “responsibility,” and the so-called moderate conservatives are the first to shirk it the moment our collective duty to fix something costs money. (See: All the moaning over sustainable energy.)
I’m not saying I’m quite as nakedly hostile towards “moderates” as I am towards reactionaries. But I am saying conservative moderates are often hypocritical, inconsistent, lacking perspective, lacking foresight, obstructive to solutions, and frustratingly pointless–and that they don’t get invited to my dinner parties.