The 2004 Alberta election saw Premier Ralph Klein win a fourth straight term. But the vote also revealed a distinct weakening in the public’s love for the gregarious provincial leader, with his party’s share of the popular vote suffering a 15-point drop from the previous election.
Pondering what to do about his fading popularity, Mr. Klein came up with a not-so-subtle idea: hand out cold, hard cash.
With provincial coffers overflowing with oil riches, Mr. Klein announced that Albertans would be receiving $400 cheques. Dubbed “Ralph Bucks” by the pundits, they ultimately failed to salvage the Premier’s dimming standing inside his party. Nine months after the cheques were mailed out, he would step down as party leader. Alberta Premier Danielle Smith evoked the memory of Mr. Klein in a televised speech to the province this week. Ostensibly, the address was to outline a series of measures to help Albertans struggling with the high costs of inflation and surging gasoline prices.
The highlight was an announced plan to dispense $600 in cash payments over six months to all seniors, while families will get the same amount for each child under 18. The payments will be sent right up until the spring election – the timing of which is pure coincidence I’m sure. Other measures in the $2.4-billion plan include a tax vacation for fuel and extending electricity rebates through the winter. But all anyone was talking about after the speech were the “Dani Dollars” the multitudes would be getting.
As televised addresses go, Ms. Smith’s was what you might expect from someone who has spent years in front of a microphone and camera: polished and professional. It likely helped her regain ground she lost with the public thanks to some of her more bizarre, off-the-wall statements, notably her assertion that unvaccinated Canadians were the “most discriminated group” she’s witnessed in her lifetime, a comment for which she later clarified but did not apologize.
In her address, Ms. Smith went to great lengths to persuade Albertans that her proposed Alberta Sovereignty Act is not the separatist document it has been characterized as, even by some inside her own party. It’s now being called the Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act, which really amounts to putting lipstick on a pig. She still intends to ignore federal laws deemed not to be in her province’s best interests, which is a funny way to keep a country happy and united.
Of course, most talks by the Premier come with cheap, gratuitous shots at the Liberal government in Ottawa. Her 10-minute speech Tuesday night was full of them. For starters, she blamed lavish federal spending by the Liberals for the current rate of inflation, which is absurd. She knows as well as anyone inflation is a global phenomenon not manufactured in Canada.
If there is one province in this country whose hallmark has been reckless, indulgent spending over the last several decades, it’s been Alberta. Moreover, several economists are saying Ms. Smith’s pre-election spending splurge is also inflationary.
The Premier said Ottawa’s “anti-energy policies” were to blame for the high cost of fuel in Canada. Again, not true and she knows it. The war in Ukraine has had a lot to do with rising energy prices, worldwide. And there are other factors.
Ms. Smith devoted a whole section to how devious and unscrupulous Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government is. A government, she said, that has been “intentionally and systematically attempting to control and regulate all aspects of our province’s economy, resources and social programs.” Again, a complete untruth and she knows it.
She even had the gall to accuse the federal Liberals of using equalization funds to finance “vote-buying arrangements in other parts of the country.” Well, yes, she might know something about vote-buying arrangements, after just announcing a $2.4-billion spending plan that includes sending out monthly payments totalling $600 until the next election.
She went on about how Alberta intends to assert control over the development and export of its resources – not Ottawa. Although again, she did not say how she plans to exert her will over those provinces that may not want a pipeline crossing their territory.
All that aside, it was still a good night for Ms. Smith. She needed to look and sound like a serious-minded premier, one Albertans could identify with and have some degree of confidence in. She did that.
A poll last month put her United Conservative Party 15 points behind Rachel Notley’s NDP. There is much ground to make up but still some time in which to do it.
But as Ralph Klein showed, money can buy you many things but it can’t buy you love.