In the leaders’ debate in the Alberta election – which was essentially between Alison Redford, the Progressive Conservative Premier, and Danielle Smith, the Wildrose Party Leader – the most important point in dispute was the contrast between Ms. Redford’s promise of capital investment in infrastructure and Ms. Smith’s promise of a balanced budget. The Premier has undertaken to build 50 new schools, as well as family-care clinics, and Ms. Smith has offered a $300 dividend to all Albertans, after a return to fiscal balance.
An active part – accompanied by charges of health-care privatization all too familiar in Canadian politics – was also taken by Raj Sherman, the Liberal Leader, and by Brian Mason, the NDP Leader, but neither of them will form the next government. In effect, they are campaigning for a minority government of either the Conservatives or Wildrose, which would enable them to wield considerable power.
There was heated debate over Ms. Smith’s proposal for referendum legislation, which her opponents sought to link to controversial matters such as abortion and same-sex marriage. She emphasized her resolve not to “legislate on contentious social issues,” and the hurdles such referendums would have to overcome before they could actually take place, but she reassured her social conservative supporters by making the doubtful claim that Wildrose is the one party that “welcomes diversity of opinion.”
On this point, Ms. Redford could have made a stronger defence of representative democracy as opposed to plebiscitarian populism – as Mr. Mason did. Instead, she pronounced the contentious social issues to have been settled. She did, however, present the counterexample of California, where referendums have been an obstacle to effective government.
Unfortunately, the debate was no great help to Albertans in making their choice between the Conservatives and the Wildrose Party. The electors will need to take a hard look at the two platforms before they cast their ballots.