David Staples: UCP and NDP immunizing themselves against politics of fear

United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney and NDP Leader Rachel Notley. Postmedia Archives

The 2019 provincial election in Alberta will be an exercise in fear management. Both leading parties, Rachel Notley’s NDP and Jason Kenney’s UCP, have taken steps — and sometimes gigantic leaps — to immunize themselves from being painted as irresponsible economic extremists.

There are indeed stark differences between the economic plans of the NDP and the UCP, but both parties have moved to the middle in order to calm voters.

Of course, the NDP will shout out that the UCP is plotting to turn Alberta into a divided province of haves and have-nots. As the NDP’s throne speech warned: “For too long, governments in Alberta worked for political insiders, well-heeled special interests and the super rich … We cannot — we must not — allow two different Albertas to form: One for the wealthy and one for everyone else.”

The UCP will holler back about the NDP’s increased taxes, adoration of regulation and anti-pipeline history, which they say has led to a surge of unemployment and rising government debt. As Kenney has put it: “Our province is being damaged every day by an ideological government that takes its inspiration from the failed theories of socialism, by a resentment of success, a distrust of enterprise.”

But, in fact, both parties agree more than they disagree on a number of key economic issues, including areas of pronounced past disagreement, such as the necessity of supporting new pipeline construction, the government’s crucial role in economic diversification, and that the public sector should not be hit with massive cuts.

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On the minimum wage issue, Kenney isn’t planning to slash the NDP’s increases, but keep the minimum wage at $15 per hour, save for cutting the youth minimum wage to $13 per hour (which provides a necessary incentive for employers to hire inexperienced workers).

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