Sharpen Your Pencils, Alberta. Slash-and-burn is back.

Premier Jim Prentice Alberta PC leadership race

Jim Prentice celebrates his victory in the PC Party leadership contest on September 6, 2014.

Living in the land of the lowest taxation rates in Canada allows many personal benefits but long-term government stability has not been one of them. Relying heavily on natural resource revenues, our political leaders continue to stumble from embarrassment of riches to poverty and never appear to learn from our past.

Robin Campbell Alberta Finance Yellowhead

Robin Campbell

And here we go again. Progressive Conservative Finance Minister Robin Campbell announced plans yesterday for a 9% across the board funding cut in the 2015/2016 provincial budget, which is expected to tabled near the end of March.

Two years ago, we were told that funding for colleges and universities needed to be slashed in order to survive Alison Redford‘s “Bitumen Bubble.” Twenty years ago, many Albertans accepted the deep funding cuts imposed by former Premier Ralph Klein and then watched with cynicism as the government spent the next two decades trying to repair the damage done to our public infrastructure and health and education systems.

Premier Alison Redford

Alison Redford

While claiming “all options” are on the table, the PCs have already ruled out increases to corporate taxes or resource royalties, and likely also the introduction of a provincial sales tax or a return to a progressive taxation system. Rather than looking at alternative revenue sources, Mr. Campbell and Premier Jim Prentice appear to be on an unfortunate course towards drastically cutting public service funding.

Four months ago, Mr. Prentice said he found low morale and high turnover in the public service “shocking.” But with the Finance Minister warning of deep funding cuts across the government, it is difficult to see how he plans to change this situation.

Alberta is now facing a crisis not caused by low oil prices but by decades of poor planning.

As a province with decades worth of dependence on revenues from natural resource royalties, it should not be a shock that we need to be smarter about how we plan and finance our government spending. Maybe our only problem is not our over reliance on cyclical natural resources revenues, but that the Progressive Conservatives are just bad fiscal managers.

One dull pencil

Genia Leskiw MLA Bonnyville Cold Lake

Genia Leskiw

Bonnyville-Cold Lake MLA Genia Leskiw fumbled embarrassingly this week when she tried to explain why the Standing Committee on Legislative Offices, which is controlled by PC MLAs, voted to reject a request from Child and Youth Advocate Del Graff to restore $275,000 in funding that the committee voted to cut in December 2014.

I don’t really believe they’ve sharpened their pencils as sharp as they could have,” Ms. Leskiw told CBC reporter John Archer when asked why the advocate’s request was denied. When pressed for details about why the funding was denied, Ms. Leskiw responded that she was not an accountant.

This is not the first time Ms. Leskiw has used the ‘I’m not an accountant’ defence. In 2012, she pleaded ignorance when asked about the extra money she was collecting from the infamous ‘no-meet committee,’ telling the CBC that “I don’t even look at my paycheque.

Mr. Graff asked for the funds in order to continue investigations into the deaths of children who are in the province’s care or who are supported by the province. In 2014, the PC Government faced harsh criticism when a Calgary Herald-Edmonton Journal investigation revealed the government had dramatically under-reported the number of child welfare deaths over the previous decade.

Mr. Prentice defended the funding cut and ordered the MLA committee to revoke the $500,000 in additional funding it had just granted this week to the Auditor General. The Premier’s heavy-handed move raises the question of why legislative committees exist if he can unilaterally overrule their decisions. Will any of the PC MLAs on the committee have the backbone to stand up for their decision when they meet again next Tuesday? Or will they simply bow to the whim of their party leader?

The cuts in funding for the Child and Youth Advocate and the Auditor General take place as the provincial government provides $18 million to rebuild the Kananaskis Country Golf Course, which was damaged in the 2013 floods. Public funding for the golf course has not been revoked, but plans for other critical projects, like the long promised new Cancer Centre in Calgary, have now been delayed.

13 thoughts on “Sharpen Your Pencils, Alberta. Slash-and-burn is back.

  1. Dan McAvena

    It would appear that Austerity is here again I was under the impression that Ralph Klein and Klein’s austerity campaign was History not our future.

    Reply
  2. Richard

    You forgot back in 2012 prior to the “bitumen bubble” when “costs of rapid growth” was cited as the reason Alberta couldn’t balance it’s budget: http://www.canadiantrendsblog.ca/2012/11/oilsands-prosperity-is-lie.html

    Also, in reference to the “cyclical” nature of oil prices, here is what I wrote earlier today:

    Alberta before this collapse in oil price was already running a deficit, global growth was largely stagnant and that can largely be attributed to the fact that $100 / barrel oil is too expensive for people to afford. What we refer to a “cheap” price today was actually extremely expensive just 10 years ago. Removing the highly unusual volatility of the last 10 years we are at the high-end of oil prices as is, and yet isn’t even remotely close to enough to solve Alberta’s revenue issue.

    Alberta is on a downward spiral, oilsands development without unreasonable exponentially rising unsustainable prices in oil are completely unviable and not profitable what-so-ever if oil companies were paying their fair share of the damage and usage of services their growth incurs as well as if the government was fully funding the services and supports for an exploding population needed to operate the developments. Looking over the past few years and the propaganda levied at the population such as the “bitumen bubble”, or splitting the budget into “capital” and “operational” spending you can clearly see a pattern of excuses for oil revenue that just isn’t materializing at any price.

    The purpose of the Alberta government isn’t to govern the province of Alberta, their purpose is to manufacture the social license and beliefs in prosperity the population needs so public opinion allows the developments to steal our resources and leave unfixable, expensive, destruction in their wake.

    http://www.twitlonger.com/show/n_1skklhh

    Reply
  3. BCBlue

    Slash and burn is exactly what we need. Keep taxes low, grow business and our population. If you don’t like it, there are other provinces like Quebec who will gladly take more than half of what you earn!

    Reply
  4. Richard

    Actually, sorry for the double post but I forgot I made this post here earlier this year that contains a chart showing the “cyclical” nature of oil prices meme is a relatively new occurrence that started in 2005 (which coincidently is also the year of peak conventional oil). It also shows how economic volatility, the “global economic crisis”, low interest rates are all a result of this.

    Sorry folks, “the recovery has been delayed until the end of next year” : http://www.canadiantrendsblog.ca/2015/01/sorry-folks-recovery-has-been-delayed.html

    Reply
  5. Richard

    @BCBlue

    “Slash and burn is exactly what we need. Keep taxes low, grow business and our population. If you don’t like it, there are other provinces like Quebec who will gladly take more than half of what you earn!”

    Ahh yes, let’s grow our population even more and not provide the increased level of service they provide. Oh wait, we already are as evidenced by… http://www.canadiantrendsblog.ca/2014/01/mp-brian-jean-resigns-to-concentrate-on.html

    Now there’s a surprising voice for some of these issues — Brian Jean, the former Conservative MP for Fort McMurray, who has just resigned from the Harper government.
    Redford won’t want him as a tour guide.

    Freed from the caucus discipline, Jean says he can now “concentrate on the things my constituents have told me are important to them.”

    And what concerns them, he says, is deteriorating quality of life because of rapid development.

    “It seems like we are trying to get every bit (of oil) out of the ground right away, but the oil isn’t going anywhere,” he told the Edmonton Journal.

    “Do we need to do it at the cost of people’s lives?”

    Jean said what everybody up there knows; the community is jammed, with services for far fewer residents than the current population of 77,000.

    It’s time, finally, to follow the late Lougheed’s advice.

    There should be a pause on approval of new projects until the province can catch up with problems stemming from development and rising emissions.

    Another sure way to cut emissions quickly, according to the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, is to phase out coal.

    The group says Alberta burns more coal than all other provinces combined, and this produces emissions roughly equal to all those from the oilsands.

    These physicians say coal emissions contribute to more than 100 deaths annually, as well as many asthma attacks and emergency visits.

    Phasing out coal would be costly and could drive up power prices; the companies would deserve compensation. But the benefits to Alberta’s environmental performance would be huge.

    Reply
  6. Liz

    Might I suggest that the ($148,000) severance due to Genia Leskiw be withdrawn and be left in the Treasury, as a gesture to those who she has insulted with her assinine comments about Del Graff’s office. Besides she won’t notice, as by her own earlier admission she doesn’t check her pay stub.

    For that matter, maybe Prentice should just take an axe to that remaining MLA severance program, as he seems quite willing to axe an already agreed small hike in teachers’ pay, plus he has hinted broadly about the public service contracts.

    Reply
  7. Dave

    While we are are on the topic of poor financial management, lets not forget the extra cost of having an election a year ahead of the date legally scheduled. I bet that will cost a lot more than the money saved by not looking into children’s death and funding the Auditor General.

    Of course the real reason the PC’s are reluctant to spend the relatively modest amounts for these two things is because the results might be politically embarrassing for them. The Auditor General usually finds cost savings for the government, so to deny him more funding will probably mean that government waste far exceeding the amount he requested will not be uncovered. I also suspect the government will not spend the money to properly deal with the problems with children in foster care and as a result will eventually get sued for millions of dollars for their negligence. The old saying “penny wise, pound foolish” applies here.

    Reply
  8. Trudy

    So Prentice is sending all-party committee decisions back for reconsideration expecting a “do it my way” change. A veto? Really. What a surprise.
    Hmm, what an aura of power he is creating! What is next?!

    Reply
  9. Allen Gould

    I’m amused that they took a 5% paycut before going for a 9% reduction – now it looks like they consider themselves twice as important.

    So, here’s a challenge to MLAs – figure out what your deepest cut is going to be, and take *that* as your paycut. And not just in your base salary – across the board. Minister bonuses, committee payouts, the works – if you need 9%, I expect that each and every MLA from the premier down is taking that cut.

    Reply
  10. AlbertaRusH

    Alberta’s Premier Putin is panicking! By protecting the privilidges of oil oligarchs, punishing the public service while clinging to a fiscal playbook as dated as his T-bird he invites further disasters.

    Russia’s Putin created a mafia state. Alberta’s Premier Prentice heads a panicky, laughably incompetent, intellectually bereft executive. Pray he doesn’t create a failed state with it.

    Reply
  11. Julie Ali

    The disgusting cut to the Child and Youth Advocate’s office was designed to keep him ineffective. I mean he cannot even say who failed to do their jobs when he does his investigations and now he can’t even do the investigations without staff.

    The Dave Hancock guy who has thankfully retired to be replaced by the Mandel guy –always yapped endlessly in Riverbend —about how pro-child they are and yet at the first opportunity (a downturn in the flow of oil revenues) the Tories take away the ability of the child and youth advocate to do his job in any meaningful way.

    The Prentice has indicated that he also cares about kids (just like Hancock; thankfully Mandel hasn’t yet joined the choir singing the Children First song) but not enough to ensure that the investigations of the deaths of children and youth in Alberta would be funded appropriately.
    Such hypocrisy.
    But then these folks aren’t here to represent us.
    They are here to make the action plans, the myths of the useless premiers who are here to make pipelines and clear the way for the sponsoring oil and gas industry.
    The only surprise to me is why Albertans vote for these politicians who serve everyone except citizens.

    Genia Leskiw knows to follow the party line and the party line is whatever the Prentice says it is. He’s a Harper clone. We’re in for some interesting times ahead and without the money for our investigative bodies we’re going to have investigate government ourselves as citizen journalists.
    Also why aren’t there any cuts to the MLA severance packages which seem to be a tad rich for folks who will soon get lucrative jobs in the private sector?
    The opportunistic cuts to the Auditor General’s Office and the Child and Youth Advocate’s office seem rather odd when there is no cuts to the handsome severance packages of the MLAs who have seen the impoverished future and taken themselves into retirement. Why even have such rich payouts to these useless people?
    Will it take them even a microsecond to get a job in the private sector based on their connections in the government of Alberta?

    This government is a puppet show and it has only one agenda–to stay in power and it will use any myth or lie to keep the show going on.
    I am only curious how the public will enjoy this repeat of the Klein error episodes—-reruns are rarely as fresh and endurable the second and third time around.

    Reply
  12. Jerrymacgp

    It is offensive to the principles of parliamentary democracy for the Premier to overrule an all-party legislative committee on a funding issue. Control of the public purse is supposed to be vested in the legislative branch; it has been thus ever since Charles Stuart lost his head, quite literally. But Alberta is no more democratic than Vladimir Putin’s Russia. The forms are there, but not the substance.

    Reply
  13. altataxpayer

    It is time that the public sector came back to the norm. Boo hoo if you are now only 7% ahead of the rest of canada.

    Reply

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