By David Schneider
Little Bow MLA
Starting in the 1960s and 1970s, there was a registered federal political party called the Rhinoceros Party that lampooned campaigning politicians, as they trotted out promises at election time. The Rhinos promised Canadians that if elected, they’d build sloping bike paths from coast-to-coast, so Canadians really could, “coast-to-coast.” They promised to sell the Canadian Senate at an antique auction in California, and to pave the entire province of Manitoba — turning it into the world’s largest parking lot.
In New Zealand, an equally satirical party promised if elected, they’d cover every highway in the country with carpet, thereby creating thousands of jobs, while ensuring tires would last a lifetime. The point these lampooning comedians made so well is campaigning politicians often get carried away, making promises they can’t or won’t keep.
Ontario Liberal leader Dalton McGuinty is an example. He campaigned hard on a no-new-taxes pledge, was elected premier, and then hiked taxes. Jean Chretien repeatedly told Canadians if we’d only make him Prime Minister, he’d eradicate the G.S.T. We did. He didn’t.
Happily, Canadians have also enjoyed political leaders who have carefully delivered on their promises. These are men and women who recognized campaign promises are the basis of a binding civil agreement or contract. They understood they were duty-bound to honour their word, which is what Albertans are now expecting from their new premier.
Prior to the spring election, Rachel Notley released a 25-page book brimming with promises. She pledged more spending in virtually every category of government one could think of, and at the same time, further promised by 2018 she would produce not just a balanced budget, but a multi-million dollar surplus.
In addition to surplus budgets, Notley’s book pledged honest government, money for transit, emergency rooms, education, job creation, mental health, school construction, school lunches, youth employment, childcare, hospitals, family support, shelters, rural health services, and rural bus services. She made these promises at a point when she was fully informed about Alberta’s massive annual deficit. She also knew energy prices were in the tank. Everybody knew.
Notley further promised to chop school board user-fees. Yet today, school boards across the province are in the process of collecting nearly $200 million for “extras.”
According to the Calgary Herald and a recent Statistics Canada report, the out-of-pocket cost for sending a child to public school in Alberta has nearly tripled over the past five years. Elsewhere in Canada, over that same period, fees rose by a modest 28 per cent.
The burden these fees impose merits an important legislative debate. But there’s a second issue here, which is bigger than money. It’s ethics and accountability. Notley gave her word. She promised. Voters have a right to be told the truth. They deserve respect. And the only way an elected official can show respect for voters is to honour commitments and promises. Words, pleasant smiles, and platitudes are fine, but that’s not respect. That’s public relations.
Notley got elected by promising jobs, surplus budgets, expanded public services, and much more — including a reduction in school fees. Arguably, her promises establish a civil agreement (verbal contract) between herself and Alberta voters, who now have every right to insist she deliver on what she has promised. To view information resources for this commentary: