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April 21, 2008
The Seven Habits of Highly Successful Governments
Alberta’s challenges and opportunities
In 1972, historian James MacGregor expressed the perfect symmetry of Alberta’s experience that is yet relevant today: New and long-time Albertans in search of their personal fortunes and awed by the natural splendour of the “wild rose” province.
My Alberta is a magnificent land—a magic land. The seasons transform spring’s new leaves to fall’s blaze of gold, always ending in shelter of winter’s pine forests. For me, no other land can match its rugged grandeur or rival its hold on the heartstrings. Not only is it beautiful, from sage-scented Cypress Hills to the redolent spruce-forested Caribou Mountains, but each of its valleys, hills, and mountain passes is steeped in history, the history of men following their fortunes to Alberta (MacGregor, 1972).
Alberta is a land of economic opportunity with natural beauty. Those opportunities – to seek improvement in one’s own circumstances and to experience Alberta’s natural beauty – must be preserved for future generations. The newly elected government has a chance to push forward with substantial, sensible policy which preserves Alberta economic and natural advantage for future generations.
This report identifies seven areas where the new provincial government, Members of Legislative Assembly, and staff, should review and reform existing government policy measures to: streamline government to make it more effective where it can be and exit areas where it cannot and ought not to be. This brief will provide sensible principles to guide on-the-ground policy in such areas. In short, there are seven issues to which Alberta’s new MLAs should turn their attention:
Successful Habit #1: Smart health care policy
Alberta suffers from shortages of nurses, doctors and other staff and from lengthy queues in hospital and clinics. The richest jurisdiction in North America ought not to have less-than-optimal health care. It is overdue for Alberta to unleash innovative, entrepreneurial Albertans to give other Albertans the best health care system in the world.
Successful Habit #2: Smart education policy
Similarly, Alberta should build on its already excellent approach to education: choice, by imitating best practices from Europe.
Successful Habit #3: Smart municipal policy
The Province should rewrite the Municipal Act to require municipalities to reorganize their departments into business units with the freedom to hire and fire, buy services from the marketplace instead of central agencies, introduce performance-based pay, and thus allow them to focus on outputs and not line-item budgets.
Successful Habit #4: Smart spending and taxation policy
Absent a war or crisis, it’s critical that Alberta not fall back into deficit spending and not squander a once-in-a-generation opportunity with the resource revenue boom and the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund.
Successful Habit #5: Smart, balanced development
There are negative side-effects of Alberta’s booming energy economy – in particular, housing shortages, labour shortages, stresses on infrastructure, environment, and inflationary pressures. How the new Alberta government handles this will be key to Alberta’s future prosperity and quality of life.
Successful Habit #6: Democratic accountability
Democratic participation fell to 41% in the recent provincial election. Democratic participation and accountability needs revitalization in Alberta.
Successful Habit #7: A strong and free Alberta
Alberta’s culture is one of rewarding initiative, of freedom and self-reliance, and where individuals, families and communities voluntary work together with government seen only as a last resort; such values need protection.
Mark Milke, Alberta Senior Fellow
is a lecturer in political philosophy and international relations at the University of Calgary, a doctoral candidate in Political Science, policy analyst, and author of three books on Canadian politics, including the 2006 A Nation of Serfs? How Canada’s Political Culture Corrupts Canadian Values from John Wiley & Sons. He is a former director (first in Alberta and then British Columbia) with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation 1997-2002. Since 2002, among other work, Mark has written policy papers on the Canada Pension Plan, Alberta’s Heritage Fund, automobile insurance, corporate welfare and the flat tax. He is writing his PhD dissertation on the effects of anti-Americanism on deliberative democracy in Canada and is a Sunday columnist for the Calgary Herald. In addition, his columns on politics, hiking, nature and architecture have been published across Canada including in the National Post, Globe and Mail, Reader’s Digest, The Western Standard, Vancouver Sun, and Victoria Times Colonist and the Washington DC magazine on politics, The Weekly Standard.