Pipelines before persons with developmental disabilities?

Alison Redford Christy Clark
Alberta Premier Alison Redford and BC Premier Christy Clark in October, 2011. Photo: PremierofAlberta via Flickr.

Fresh from a surprise election win, British Columbia Premier Christy Clark‘s government formally announced its opposition this week to the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline that would carry bitumen from Alberta to Kitimat. A controversial issue during the heated election campaign, BC Environment Minister Terry Lake told the media that evidence supporting the pipeline “simply is insufficient for us to think it should go forward.”

Perhaps sending a political message to her western counterpart, Alberta Premier Alison Redford is flying to New Brunswick this week, hoping to use Premier David Alward‘s idea of an eastbound pipeline to kickstart her still undefined National Energy Strategy.

Thomas Lukaszuk
Thomas Lukaszuk

Maintaining a presence on the national and international stage appear to be continuing priorities for Premier Redford. The Premier has recently travelled twice to Washington D.C. to advocate for the construction of the TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline and numerous cabinet ministers have been scouting the globe in name of the PC Government’s new slogan – “Building Markets.” Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk is currently travelling in Europe, and Finance Minister Doug Horner and Agriculture Minister Verlyn Olsen recently returned from trips to China and Kazakhstan.

There is certainly value in government leaders travelling internationally, but in Alberta’s case, the perception has become that the Premier is more comfortable travelling outside of Alberta than dealing with the day-to-day domestic issues in the province.

Frank Oberle MLA Peace River
Frank Oberle

For example, a week after the Premier re-announced plans to open five new international trade offices, hundreds of Albertans with developmental disabilities and their families rallied at the Legislature and outside Premier Redford’s Calgary-Elbow constituency office to protest deep cuts to service providers.

The minister responsible for explaining the cuts, Peace River‘s mild-mannered MLA Frank Oberle, has been tongue-tied and delivering confusing diversionary messages to Albertans.

While Minister Oberle correctly states that the entire budget of his department is increasing, he has yet to convincingly explain why $42 million is being cut from programs designed to help the province’s most vulnerable citizens become more employable.

When did Alberta become a have-not province?

Premier Alison Redford
Premier Alison Redford

Eighteen days ago, Alberta became a have-not province.

Eighteen days ago, Premier Alison Redford appeared on Albertans television screens to warn them of the notorious “bitumen bubble” that has been keeping the price of our oil down.

Today, after eighteen days of political spin about deep budget cuts and tough economic times, it would be easy to believe that the federal transfer payments are on their way (finally, equalization will work for us!).

Of course, Alberta is not a have-not province.

Alberta’s economy remains competitive, our population is growing, and job growth is on the rise. Alberta is Canada’s economic engine.

Most of the talk is part of the government’s attempt to manage the expectations of Albertans before the provincial budget is tabled on March 7. From the opposition benches, there are always political points to be gained before a government budget is tabled.

As has been the case each year since the Alberta government began to run “technical deficits,” the earlier projected deficits will likely be much lower when the budget is tabled. As any accountant or political strategist knows, bookkeeping is closer to an art-form than an exact science.

On budget day, a lower than predicted deficit will result in the government looking like better fiscal managers than the opposition has claimed and the opposition researchers will be caught scrambling through the volumes of budget documents to fill their message box.

With this year’s budget ready to be sent to the printers, the first Alberta Economic Summit was held this past Saturday in Calgary.

Initially derided by the opposition parties as a government-sponsored public relations exercise, the day-long event brought together panels of experts from the private, public, and not-for-profit sector to discuss our province’s fiscal future.

Whether it was a PR exercise or not, it did present an opportunity for a continued discussion about the need to raise taxes in Alberta. Our government relies heavily on the sometimes unpredictable revenues from our natural resources to fill the gap created by our low taxes to fund our essential public services.

As Kevin Taft explained last year in his book, Follow the Money, if Alberta increased its tax rates by $11 billion our province would still have the lowest tax rate in Canada

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Onward and eastward, says Alward.

Last week, David Alward, the Premier of a real have-not province, swept into our province boasting the advantage of an eastward oil pipeline to New Brunswick’s deep-water ports as a solution to Alberta’s fiscal woes.

With almost no details or research about whether it would be financially viable, both Premier Redford and Premier Alward touted the Alberta-to-New Brunswick pipeline as progress.

Considering how many problems, both political and geographical, the province has faced with the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline from Alberta to British Columbia (two provinces), I can only imagine the level of political challenges that could be stirred up by an oilsands pipeline running through six provinces.