Sunday, December 10, 2017

On Honesty In Politics

Politicians have always played fast and loose with the idea of truth.  Facts get weighted certain ways to support a narrative, creative "spin" is applied to manipulate the public perception of events and policy announcements and so on.  I get it - everybody is trying to make their version of the story look the best.  For most of my life, that's been "fair game" politics.  Sometimes a leader (or a party) has stepped over a line briefly, but usually has stepped back after public outrage has made it very clear they were way off base.

Then we come to the last few weeks of politics in Alberta.  To put it nicely, the newly created UCP (United Conservative Party - although other less flattering expansions of the acronym are also running about) has been playing well past the "fast-and-loose with the facts" line.

First up was their little rural crime kerfuffle where they tried to play "gotcha politics" with a combination of lies and procedural gimmickry in the legislature to try and make the government look bad.  Susan On The Soapbox has an excellent detailed run-down of the ridiculous nonsense being played out there.  From my point of view, this is just one example of fact-free politics.  Yes, rural crime is an issue, but it isn't exactly spiking - the rate of rural crime has been pretty flat for years, and is only marginally higher than that seen in urban Alberta.  Given the complexities of securing vast areas of land, this should come as no surprise to anyone. The UCP stunt in the legislature was nothing more than grandstanding, and deserves even less attention except for the fact that it is based upon a lie - that rural crime is "skyrocketing" in Alberta.

Then we hit the last week of the legislative session.  The NDP tables Bill 32, which the UCP immediately starts claiming that it removes the residency requirement.  This isn't even close to reality.  To vote in Alberta, you still must be a resident of the province.  What the NDP bill does do is remove the 6 month suspension of voting rights the former PCAA put in last time the elections act was updated (sometime in the 1970s).

I suspect the rationale at the time was that you needed to live in the province for a while to understand the issues of the day, and what they mean.  In the 1970s, that idea had some merit - for the most part, provincial politics seldom made headlines outside of the province, and the odds of someone moving to Alberta from another province knowing enough about the issues to be able to cast an informed vote would be pretty slim.  But that was in the 1970s - before the 24 hour news cycle, and more importantly before the Internet made it relatively easy to access news from anywhere.  Today, that clause is an anachronism.

Further, those kind of clauses are also arguably in violation of Section 3 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (which also did not exist in the 1970s):
3. Every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly and to be qualified for membership therein.
Considering that the SCC has declared that suspending a prisoner's right to vote is unconstitutional, one can imagine that these provincial clauses (most of which likely predate the Charter, as well as the Internet) are similarly unconstitutional, should they ever be challenged.

So, what's fact-free about this?  Several things.  The residency requirement is in no way being removed.  An arguably unconstitutional clause is.  You still have to demonstrate that you actually live here on voting day.  What's the bar for proving you live here?  Provincial ID (e.g. your driver's license), or a document such as a utilities bill showing you live in the province.  The argument that this is going to enable voter fraud from other provinces is laughable.  How many people have the resources to maintain two apparent residences in different provinces?  Come to that, Saskatchewan's population is a quarter of Albertas - it would take a sizeable fraction of Saskatchewan's residents deciding to engage in this fraud in order to influence even a couple of ridings.  BC, has a much larger population, but travelling from much of BC to Alberta by car is a fairly long journey and one would have to imagine that few of BC's residents are particularly interested in engaging in fraud either.

On this file, the UCP has simply "made shit up" in an effort to stir up outrage.

The UCP's propaganda campaign on the Carbon Tax has become increasingly fact-free and outrageous as well.  Their arguments range from "it's the biggest tax increase in Alberta history" (it's not), to "they're killing people's livelihoods" (anybody else forgotten that most Alberta's electricity used to be generated from burning coal, and it's being switched to natural gas and renewables?)  Yeah - along with the rest of the world, we need to stop burning coal for a lot of good reasons.  The NDP government has also directed the funds from the Carbon Tax directly back into the Alberta economy in a variety of programs designed to enable Albertans to become more energy efficient.  This includes bridging finances to assist coal workers who will be unemployed within a decade or so.  So, are they "killing people's livelihoods"?  Yes and no.  If you work in the coal industry, chances are you need to start training for something new, but so what?  Remember when the horse and buggy went obsolete?

Lastly, we come to the dust-up between Saskatchewan and Alberta over contractor license plates.  As outgoing Premier Wall is a known ally of Jason Kenney - and has been quite public in his disdain for Rachel Notley.  I would put good money that the phone lines between the Manning Centre, Kenney and Wall have been going nonstop looking for something else to bolster Kenney as Calgary-Lougheed goes to the polls.  Again, this entire thing is manufactured.  It's about as fact-free a pack of lies as I have ever seen.

On the other side of the coin, the NDP has been attacking Jason Kenney for being "from Ontario".  Frankly, this is a silly attack.  There is a kernel of truth to it, but I think the NDP is stretching the point here.  If they want to attack Kenney on this file, they need to go after the fact he couldn't be bothered to campaign in his own riding for the last several elections.  That's a valid criticism.  The fact he was born in Ontario is irrelevant.  The fact that he maintained a residence in Ontario while an MP is also irrelevant - his absence from his riding is not.

There is an ethical issue here - not just the basics of being honest with others (as I'm sure we all learned growing up), but rather of doing one's job well.  The job of the UCP as the official opposition right now is to present Albertans with an intelligent, and useful set of alternatives to the governing party.  That means proposing meaningful amendments to bills, and articulating reasonable policy alternatives.  Not spouting whatever fictional nonsense you think your audience wants to hear.