Pulp fiction: The Economist holds forth on Alberta politics and gets it wrong

The Economist magazine (which may not be exactly as illustrated) provides wistful right-wing drivel about Alberta for credulous capitalists around the globe. Below: How the Economist, oddly enough, sees both Danielle Smith and Ed Stelmach!

What is it about us Canadians that when we get mentioned – usually insultingly – in the British gutter press, the entire national media picks up on it and chatters about it for hours, even days? How very naff!

Usually it’s just the Daily Mirror expressing its outrage that some mayor from Northern Ontario has placed his unwashed paw in the small of Her Britannic Majesty’s back as he guides her up the stairs to the town’s Centennial lookout by the old pit mine or, worse, some unschooled Prairie reporter has asked her an impertinent question.

Last week, however, Albertan airwaves were abuzz with reports that the excruciatingly right-wing Economist magazine, a pretentious publication for people who wish they were rich, had sent a reporter to Alberta to write about the inevitable ascent to power of Danielle Smith and her Wildrose Alliance Party.

Oh my Gawd! the radio waves fluttered, we’ve been mentioned in the Economist! Nous sommes arrivés! The conclusion of the local media seemed to be that, if it was written in the Economist, it must therefore be true.

Alas, as a famous song said of another book alleged to contain inerrant truth, “it ain’t necessarily so.” The Economist, after all, is the publication that lent the concept of “pulp fiction” to business news coverage.

Under the heading “A Canadian conservative split, a wild rose blooms, a prairie echo of the tea party,” the Feb. 18 edition of the Economist offered its credulous international readership the following dubious claims:

  1. That the Wildrose Alliance under Danielle Smith “leads the opinion polls.”
  2. That Albertans’ political and economic views “often align more closely with American Republicans (of the tea party persuasion).”
  3. That Mr. Stelmach’s government is “tacking to the right.”
  4. That Premier Ed Stelmach may soon be dumped by his own party.

Keen observers of Alberta politics will agree that these conclusions are questionable at best, and mostly errant nonsense.

As readers of this blog know, the Wildrose Alliance cannot be said to “lead the polls” until there are polls to support this contention. So far there has only been one that puts the Alliance in the lead, and it is not a poll that inspires much confidence. However, if the Economist’s writer based her research on reading the Alberta press, perhaps we can forgive her for reaching this mistaken conclusion. After all, they repeat this myth constantly and apparently without remorse.

In reality, we will have to wait for the next reliable poll to know what is going on. Several pollsters are likely in the field right now sampling opinion. The smart money is that, just like all the other polls but one, any new poll will show the Conservatives still in the lead among the province’s voters.

Speaking of public opinion polls, there is no sound evidence that Albertans’ views align with the lunatic tea party fringe of the U.S. Republican party. Indeed, all evidence based on sound public opinion research suggests the opposite. And that, of course, is why the Stelmach government eased itself to the left in its Feb. 9 budget.

Given its policies on health care – which the Economist tries unconvincingly to paper over – the claim the Conservatives are tacking to the right is preposterous. The best the Economist’s scribbler could have argued is that the Tories are tacking in two directions a the same time, something governments can do that is best not attempted in a sailboat!

As for the likelihood of Mr. Stelmach being dumped by his own party, well, one supposes our British friends must have concluded that if it could happen to Margaret Thatcher, it could happen to anyone. Well, cry me a river! From the standpoint of the Alberta Conservatives, this might well be a good idea. But we shall see how likely it is to actually come about. Don’t bet cash money on it!

While the article does contain some factual material, it is cast mainly in a supporting role for such right-wing wishful thinking.

It is mildly exciting in an ex-colonial kind of way that a prominent British magazine has seen fit to draft a misleading and shallow article about the parlous state of Alberta politics. But let us not take this kind of nonsense too seriously, as some do.

One would hope that the Economist’s readers do not make actual business decisions based on this kind of drivel.

The Economist article, which is not available to mere plebs like us on-line, is reproduced below:

+ + +

From the Economist:

When the Progressive Conservatives won power in Alberta, Richard Nixon was still in the White House and Britain had only just abandoned shillings. Under various leaders, they have ruled continuously for almost four decades. Alberta, the home of oil, gas and cattle, has become the bedrock of Canadian conservatism. Yet now the Progressive Conservatives face a rebellion on the prairies—from the right, rather than the left.

Ed Stelmach, Alberta’s premier since 2006, won 72 of the 83 seats in the legislature at an election just two years ago. Now he is Canada’s least popular premier, with an approval rating in a recent poll of 14%. The recession has not helped. It has driven up unemployment in a province accustomed to the good life during a prolonged commodity boom, and caused Alberta’s finances to fall into the red for the first time in 15 years. The premier has antagonised the oil and gas industry, first with a bungled attempt to raise royalties and then by his lacklustre defence of the province’s tar sands from attacks on their carbon emissions by greens at home and abroad.

An election does not have to be called until 2012. But Mr Stelmach may be dumped by his own party before then. That is because it feels threatened by the Wildrose Alliance, a more conservative fringe party. This has only three seats in the legislature but leads the opinion polls. It is also setting the political agenda in Alberta.

Danielle Smith, the alliance’s young leader, criticises Mr Stelmach’s government for spending too freely and “blowing through” the province’s savings. Her calls for smaller government are popular with Albertans, whose views often align more closely with American Republicans (of the tea-party persuasion) than with eastern Canadians. Many also like Ms Smith’s unabashed defence of exploiting the tar sands (she argues that it is not clear that human activity causes climate change). Her suggestion that Alberta emulate Quebec and wrest control of a host of joint programmes, such as immigration, income-tax collection, the public pension plan and the police force, plays to a belief that Alberta is being short-changed in Ottawa.

Facing this conservative wind, the provincial government is tacking to the right. Mr Stelmach named Ted Morton, a fiscal and social conservative, as finance minister in a cabinet shuffle last month. The 2010 budget, unveiled on February 9th, involves a spending increase and a deficit, but it came wrapped up in promises of restraint and future balanced budgets.

Most of Ms Smith’s positions hark back to an open letter in 2001 by a group of Calgary intellectuals whose number included Mr Morton. Known as the “firewall letter”, it urged Ralph Klein, then the premier, to build barriers to keep the federal government from encroaching on provincial jurisdiction. As a leading contender for the Conservative leadership if Mr Stelmach jumps or is pushed, Mr Morton may get a chance to implement these ideas. One of the other signatories was Stephen Harper. Since he is now prime minister of Canada, he may be rather less keen to see firewalls going up.

One Comment on "Pulp fiction: The Economist holds forth on Alberta politics and gets it wrong"

  1. Anonymous says:

    Have to wonder why Economist bothered to send someone to Alta. All of its background info could have been lifted from an encyclopedia (and probably was) and the rest from newspaper Websites. Somebody got a nice vacation for no real work. Nonetheless, it is a mistake to call the mag extremely right wing. It has trended right in economics for 150 years but never crossed into the deep waters of Time or the late, unlamented Alberta (Fascist) Report.


You must be logged in to post a comment.