If recent polling is to be believed, Alberta's ultra-conservative Wildrose Party looks poised to capture an electoral majority in the upcoming provincial election only a few years after its creation. While we could just chalk this up to Alberta's peculiar penchant for right-wing populism within it's unique political culture and shrug our shoulders, we would make a grave mistake if we were to believe that Alberta's choice in the next election only effects Albertans. For Saskatchewan, a Wildrose victory has the very real potential to significantly accelerate the implementation of neoliberal economic policy and a de-regulatory regime that has been the hallmark of the Brad Wall government.
By way of understanding the potential impact of a Wildrose victory for Saskatchewan, let's take a look at the actual policies that Wildrose would hope to implement should they emerge victorious in the upcoming election.
Under the leadership of Fraser Institute and Calgary School alum Danielle Smith, the Wildrose Party has adopted a strict market-fundamentalist view on economic policies and an almost libertarian zeal for the protection of property rights. What this means in practice is that Wildrose economic policies read like a conservative utopia:
On the Environment:
"Encourage understanding and support [of Alberta's energy industry] while resisting efforts by other governments and authorities to hinder the growth of the industry through regulation."
"Establish a one-window policy for fast regulatory approvals."
"Assert our provincial constitutional rights by demanding that the federal government cease any initiative which seeks to regulate Alberta industry or property through the auspices of environmental regulation."
"We will empower public, Catholic and charter schools by allowing funding (operational and maintenance) to follow the student to the school each student attends."
On Health Care:
"Foster a culture of patient choice and competition by giving Albertans the right to use their public insurance to obtain needed treatment at the public, private or non-profit health provider of their choosing."
"Independent non-profit and private facilities will be able to treat patients more effectively and efficiently. As long as the needed service is publicly paid for and done safely, it shouldn’t make a difference whether an operating room is run by a public hospital or private surgical centre."
"Create and maintain royalty and tax regimes that attract and sustain investment in our energy industries from research and development right through to bitumen upgrading, value-added products, and spin-off industries."
"Commit to consulting extensively with industry and other affected stakeholders to ensure new policies do not harm Alberta’s investment climate."
"Cut red tape to streamline our energy application, permitting, and regulatory regimes."
"Commit to proactively restoring and maintaining the most competitive tax rates in Canada for individuals and businesses."
"Actively review and reduce the unnecessary regulatory burdens faced by most Alberta industries that harm their competitiveness with other North American jurisdictions. A Wildrose Government will cut red tape and the regulatory burden by 1/3 from 2009 levels."
"A Wildrose government will make sure the role of government is not to own and operate businesses when a competitive business market exists."
On Labour Rights:
"A Wildrose Government will allow individual workers the choice to determine their membership in labour organizations."
"A Wildrose Government will allow competition to the Workers Compensation Board."
"A Wildrose Government will extend to workers the democratic right to a secret ballot vote on labour organization certification under the Labour Code and ensure that the same rules apply for de-certification as for certification.
"A Wildrose Government will examine what services should be categorized as “essential services” and implement reforms that will ensure those employed in “essential services” are treated fairly."
If Alberta's political choices were confined solely to it's own borders, we might lament these unfortunate policies and go about our day. However, for Saskatchewan, our policy climate is profoundly influenced by our western neighbour. Indeed, in Saskatchewan, the public is regularly counselled – by governments of all stripes – that we must emulate or surpass the conservative policies of our neighbour Alberta, lest we be passed over for private investment. Whether it's taxation, royalty regimes, regulatory processes or labour rights, we are consistently told that to not follow or surpass the lead of Alberta is to invite economic catastrophe. So if you thought emulating the policies of the Alberta Tories was bad enough, consider having to run a race to the bottom against Wildrose's laissez-faire nightmare.
This concern is all the more real thanks to the New West Partnership (NWP) Agreement the Wall government entered into in 2010. While proponents of the deal assure us it does not constitute a legislated "race to the bottom" as signatories must "reconcile" and "eliminate differences" in regulatory standards, it certainly seems that in the zero-sum game of attracting private investment it will be the scorched-earth policies of Wildrose that come to set the new "standard" that Saskatchewan will have to emulate or even top. Recent revelations through leaked documents that show a "regulatory race to the bottom" in regards to fracking between the NWP signatories certainly does not inspire confidence in the ability of the NWP to ensure tough environmental standards.
As political commentators ask whether the rise of Wildrose may constitute a fundamental re-alignment in Alberta politics, we should be cognizant that an extreme right-wing turn in our western neighbour will have important and lasting consequences for the politics of Saskatchewan also.
Simon Enoch is the Director of the Saskatchewan Office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. He holds a PhD in Communication and Culture from Ryerson University in Toronto.