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Alberta election: danger ahead

Left JAB by John Bell

May 16, 2023
Danielle Smith and her far-right UCP gang have declared their true colours. They want to convert Alberta into a semi-autonomous fiefdom, modeled after the most far-right state governments in the US: Florida and South Dakota.
At a recent campaign stop, Smith declared: “I look at the Americans. I look at Ron DeSantis in Florida and Kristi Noem in South Dakota. They’ve been able to create little bastions of freedom, and we can create a little bastion of freedom in Alberta as well.”
What would this “bastion of freedom” look like?
DeSantis is famous for: banning books, opposing public health measures during the pandemic, basing policy on conspiracy theories, leading an anti-gay crusade that has brought him into a very public battle with the Disney corporation, restricting abortion, criminalizing trans people, and championing gun ownership.
He, like other Republican politicians, has sought to roll back civil rights for Blacks by stealth. The gerrymanderingof electoral districts and restrictions on registering Florida’s Black voters have reduced Black representation at the state and federal level. As for climate change, DeSantis is not a denier per se, because he has demanded piles of federal money for projects to mitigate dangers like rising sea levels and storm surges; but at the same time opposes measures to limit carbon emissions or promote sustainable energy.
Kristi Noem, South Dakota’s governor, is less known but is even more toxic than DeSantis. A career politician, she has been an anti-abortion, anti-gay crusader from the start. SD has the most restrictive abortion laws in the US, and has recently outlawed gender-affirming surgeries for trans people. She is a major proponent of fossil fuels and pipelines, and has voted against environmental safeguards and regulations throughout her career. Small wonder SD has become a magnet for neo-Nazi groups and militias.
SD set itself up as a tax haven for the oligarchy. The super-rich can create a “trust”, register it in SD, and stash their money safefrom any income or inheritance taxes.
If these are “bastions of freedom”, it is freedom for white-supremacists, bigots and corporate plunderers. 
Alberta conservatives have been courting the far-right and stoking toxic resentment toward the the federal government for decades. They did so with the encouragement and collusion of the fossil fuel industry. This was the base of Stephen Harper’s power. But with the creation of the UCP and the ascent of Smith to premier, the far-right rhetoric has been turned up to 11. Even creepy Jason Kenney denounced them as “extremist”.
They were aided by resentment and skepticism over the federal government’s handling of the pandemic. Instead of strengthening public healthcare, the UCP under both Kenney and Smith used it as a mechanism to discredit and dismantle public heath, attacking doctors and nurses as well as such measures as vaccine requirements and masking. The “freedom convoy” and the far-right splinter groups that led it can all be traced back to Alberta’s tradition of evangelical Christianity, white-supremacy, anti-science conspiracies and O&G money.
Smith has played a game of chicken with Ottawa, dismantling health and education, passing dubious laws to assert provincial jurisdiction over previously federally-mandated matters such as human rights and Indigenous reconciliation, and threatening to scrap the RCMP and replace them with a force loyal to Alberta. All the while she demands that federal transfers to Alberta should increase.
Their reactionary social credentials are a given, so look for Smith and her UCP candidates to keep their lips sealed to avoid any stupid gaffes, and concentrate on their message of “we’ll put money in your pocket”. To that end their first major policy announcement of the official campaign was a major tax cut across the board. This they say will give $750 to $1,200 to taxpayers earning less that $60,000. It is easy to cut taxes when you are hell-bent on dismantling the social programs they fund. They won’t be talking about that part.
But wait! Smith and her crew just couldn't keep their mouths shut. Smith actually went on a right-wing podcast and compared anyone who received COVID vaccine to Nazis. Even a sizeable chunk of her base is vaccinated. This might not work well for her.
As for Rachel Notley’s ANDP, instead of running strongly counter to the UCP’s far-right agenda, they have been trying to prove just how right-wing they too can be. As the press has noted, their platform is a cut-and-paste of policies of past Conservative governments, particularly Peter Lougheed. 
They announced that their economic policy will be guided by Todd Hirsh, chief economist of ATB Financial, and lecturer at University of Calgary. His position is that Alberta should be using its oil revenue to subsidize other corporations, to diversify the economy. But Notley steadfastly promises to support O&G, and wrangle more subsidies out of Ottawa.
Promises to restore social services privatized by the UCP in recent years are vague and secondary.
The strategy, to poach conservative voters unhappy with UCP extremism is shaky at best. The UCP’s crass vote buying, in the midst of an affordability crisis, may tip the scales in the handful of suburban swing ridings that will determine the outcome of the May 29th election.
And in the end, it may be the UCP's mishandling of the wildfire crisis, and the budget cuts that have made it worse that will hand Notley a slim, weak mandate. A recent jump in the polls for the NDP coincides with the fire emergency. Heading into the last days of the campaign it remains too close to call.
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