You might think the PM could do no wrong in Calgary, the city that shaped him. Think again. “He didn’t have to poke them in the eye,” one prominent Alberta Progressive Conservative said yesterday, referring to the Conservative economic update that proposed to revoke party subsidies. “He was showing his mean streak and that is why he didn’t win a majority.”
A Calgary lobbyist, on the business community’s take: “Harper is making this about national unity—when it’s not. And the opposition is making this about the economic crisis—when its not. It’s just all a bunch of political jockeying.”
Footage of Stephane Dion, Jack Layton and Gilles Duceppe—in the parlance of Alberta, a socialist, a separatist and an incomprehensible francophone—signing an agreement to tear power away from Harper did not particularly enrage as many as you might imagine. Sure, the hardliners blame the East, but “the consensus is, a pox on all their houses,” says Thompson MacDonald, a politically connected Calgary businessman. Although much of the political-constitutional crisis can be attributed to a naked power grab, Harper’s disastrous economic update does not escape judgment. Calgary’s boardroomers will, says MacDonald, “analyze the executive capacity of that particular manoeuvre and probably judge it poorly.”
Worse, the shenanigans risk putting a major crimp in Alberta as a destination for investors—at the worst possible time, as the province’s finances get hit on several fronts. You might expect Alan Hallman, Ralph Klein’s former campaign manager, to be as partisan as anyone. But he sits on the board or directors of a small oil and gas company and shifts the focus from blame to the turmoil’s impact on business. “It’s the uncertainty,” he says. “We’re known as a politically stable place to do business. Investment is just so flighty these days. And in these uncertain times, to have investment capital look at us and say, ‘Oh Christ, they’re turning into a Banana Republic—I’m going to Yemen.”
Alberta in particular would be in deep trouble should Team Dion-Layton-Duceppe wrestle power from the Conservatives—they would go, in the words of University of Calgary political scientist David Taras, “from being in the driver’s seat to not being in the car.” Calgary would go from Harper’s hometown to an environmental version of this:
The Calgary lobbyist spells out Alberta’s coalition nightmare: “Jack Layton becomes Minister of the Environment and gets his hands on the oil sands. Then Calgary starts to tank with the whole rest of the country. And then we decide it’s all the coalition’s fault. And then we just say it’s the National Energy Program all over again and start stoking this western hatred.”
Reform Party founder Preston Manning, for one, doesn’t see that happening: “This would be a coalition of expediency so I frankly wouldn’t expect it to last very long,” he told Maclean’s. So coalition damage would not necessarily be Albertacentric. Yet it would be severe, says Manning. “The damage it will do is it’ll put off for three months, four months, six months, even a year, Parliament’s actually coming to grips with this economic and financial problem.” He adds of the coalition: “They claim to be getting together in order to pass some government stimulus package. But stimulating economy involves not only government expenditures, but restoring consumer confidence and particular restoring investor confidence.”
Could we be heading towards this? Lament.