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Alberta Budget Danielle Smith David Swann Ed Stelmach Gene Zwozdesky Lindsay Blackett Ron Liepert Ted Morton

alberta budget 2010: striking a balance?

Alberta’s 2010 provincial budget, set to be released in 2 hours, is already making headlines. While Finance Minister Ted Morton has framed it as a “give up a little” budget, an Edmonton blogger almost caught a sneak peak of the budget documents:

Low security gives blogger sneak peek at Alberta budget website (see Mack’s blog for more).

Alberta Budget 2010 (updated at 9:50 p.m.)

For the second year in a row, Premier Ed Stelmach‘s government will run a budget deficit, this time estimated at $4.7 billion and total spending is estimated to be a record $38.7 billion. The PCs are counting on increased oilsands production to boost them out of the cycle of deficits before the 2012 election (I am sure they hope it will boost their party in the polls as well). Compared to the intense cut throat budget that many Albertans expected, this budget dealt a mixture of increases and decreases across the government. Overall, fourteen departments will be on the bitter end of cuts and eight departments will be seeing increases to their budgets in 2010.

Ted Morton Budget 2010Mayor Stephen Mandel & Minister Doug Horner Budget 2010

With a 17% increase to its operating budget, Alberta’s health care system is the biggest beneficiary of this budget. Alberta Health Services will also receive a one-time infusion of $759 million for debt repayment (perhaps to the Royal Bankā€¦). Since the 2008 election, health care has been one of the toughest files for the PCs, who have felt public pressure from across the province after the dissolution of the regional health authorities and bottom-line based system reforms. If replacing the blunt and controversial Minister Ron Liepert with the more gentler Minister Gene Zwozdesky was a first major step in the government’s health care public relations shift, this budget increase and debt repayment could be the second most substantial. The challenge will be to turn these budget increases into positive changes on the ground level.

The Municipal Affairs and Infrastructure budgets were also substantially increased, due to what I imagine to be the result of strong lobbying efforts by the AUMA and AAMDC.

Perhaps a statement on the level of political capital that Culture & Community Spirit Minister Lindsay Blackett has left after the Bill 44 controversy, that Ministry will reduce operating expenses by 15%. Among other cuts, Advanced Education & Technology will face a 6% budget decrease to program expenses after being on the better end of budget increases over the past five years. Changes to the student finance section of the Advanced Education budget include decreases to student scholarships by $3 million and grants by $51 million, and increases to student loans by (ie: increased student debt).

Individual department business plans give more detail on income and expenses across the government ministries.

Lindsay Blackett Budget 2010Mary Anne Jablonski Budget 2010

When Liberal leader David Swann criticized the budget and the PCs for not “responsibly managing the public purse,” it may have sounded like a predictable opposition response, but it raises some important points about recent government budgets and the provincial government’s large dependance on natural resource revenues for income. Alberta is a resource-based economy, but the budget turbulence in recent years highlights why Albertans should be concerned about the lack of economic diversification in our province.

Wildrose Alliance leader Danielle Smith (who will be releasing her party’s alternative budget tomorrow) criticized the budget and Finance & Enterprise Minister Ted Morton‘s credentials as a true fiscal conservative, but this budget is just another step in Minister Morton’s public moderation. Since the 2006 PC leadership race, Minister Morton has transformed his public image as the great right-wing fire-wall lighter to a competent and softer governor. This budget includes both cuts and increases, striking a kind of political balance. This was Minister Morton’s first budget and if he is able to survive his tenure in the Finance portfolio, he could be well positioned to be the leading candidate in the next PC leadership race.

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Alberta Budget

the myth of high government spending in alberta.

Here is some recommended reading before tomorrow’s provincial budget announcement:

Concerning the Frequently Repeated Myth of High Government Spending in Alberta

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Alberta Budget Carbon Capture Scheme Ed Stelmach Iris Evans

a year after alberta’s 2008 election, it’s easy to remain cynical.

On March 3, 2008, less than 40% of Albertans ventured into the March cold to exercise their democratic responsibility, and a full year later the debate around that election still rages.

There are likely many reasons why the large majority of Albertans failed to cast their ballot on that day, but one that continually arises in conversations is cynicism. It’s hard to argue that any of our political parties gave Albertans a compelling reason to race to the polls in droves a year ago, and I don’t believe that much has changed a year later.

Entering the second year of Ed Stelmach‘s first term as Premier, our province is facing many challenges. No longer rolling in the billion dollar surpluses that we had been told were thanks to the now dead Alberta Advantage, Finance Minister Iris Evans now tells us that this year’s $1.4 billion deficit is ‘market induced‘ (and not the fault of a political party which has been happy to take credit for Alberta’s fiscal prosperity over the past decade).

Should Albertans blame the Stelmach PCs for the economic downturn? Of course not, because it’s not their fault, but nor should Albertans praise them for the (also market induced) boom.

In their March 2009 edition, National Geographic shined a powerful international spotlight on Alberta’s oilsands, dealing an unintentional blow to the yet to be launched replacement for the Alberta Advantage. The $25 million taxpayer-funded public relations campaign is set to brand Albertans with a new identity by combating international criticism of the oilsands. Do Albertans really need government-hired public relations consultants to determine our identity? Albertans are more than just a brand, and our identity will be determined by our actions, not by government-hired public relations consultants.

The death of the Alberta Advantage has led the Progressive Conservatives to once again return to the realm of budget deficits, and as the government cuts important programs like the $2 billion GreenTRIP funding for public transit in our cities, they are continuing to funnel $2 billion into a Carbon Capture and Storage project.

It wasn’t that long ago that the governing PCs would claim and shame the opposition parties for wanting to spend Alberta back into a deficit. Now faced with a billion dollar deficit, the same PCs are willing to push aside 15 years of fiscal dogma to continue spending billions of dollars on an unproven technology, that if developed would put Alberta at the forefront of collecting yesterday’s dirty pollution, while the rest of the world focuses on tomorrow’s new and renewable energy.

Maybe Albertans are right to be cynical?