Alberta Politics

Why Budget Day matters less every year

1016747_10152283795607556_1252277004_nGenerally speaking, Budget Day and the Speech from the Throne have been big events that gave Albertans an indication about the government’s agenda for the year ahead.

This week, no real agenda was laid out in the Throne Speech or in the provincial budget. Each event is stage-managed to allow the government an opportunity to trumpet its wisdom and the opposition an opportunity to decry the government’s foolishness.

In many ways, the current government’s unpredictable nature has contributed to the folly of these events. Over the past years, major government policies were implemented and major restructuring projects were imposed without notice in the Throne Speech, the provincial budget, or even the Progressive Conservative Party election platform.

When the government turned the health care system on its head by dissolving regional health authorities and creating Alberta Health Services, it was never mentioned in any election platform or Throne Speech.

When deep cuts to colleges and universities were implemented in last year’s provincial budget, it was never promised in any election platform or Throne Speech.

When anti-labour Bill 45 and Bill 46 were abruptly rushed through the legislature last November, it hadn’t been announced in a Throne Speech or even an election platform. The courts have ruled against BIll 46, even going as far to say it may be unconstitutional.

When the government announced it would change the rules governing the pensions paid by and owed to hundreds of thousands of government workers and retirees, there was no advance notice in a Throne Speech or election platform.

On Monday in the Throne Speech, sent positive messages to growing municipalities that it had plans to recommit to GreenTrip funding for public transportation. Yesterday in the budget, the government failed to deliver any significant increases to the transportation funding that municipalities  had been led to believe was coming.

Not surprisingly, Albertans were not given much indication this week in the budget announcement or the Throne Speech about what the government plans to do this year.

Premier Alison Redford should have been able to improve her public approval ratings when she announced the 50th new school to help address the province’s growth, but the ineptitude that led to the airplane scandal quickly derailed that agenda. It was a scandal that fed into her personal narrative, as a high-flying politician removed from the realities of ordinary Albertans. It’s more than likely that more gaffes and scandals are around the corner.

A surplus now exists in the provincial government’s operating budget, but in the capital budget the government in borrowing billions. While I am not opposed to capital financing for public infrastructure projects, any Albertan with a mortgage on a house or line of credit a vehicle will understand that money used to pay back debt is money taken away their operating budget.

Delivered by Finance minister Doug Horner (with the Premier notably absent from extolling the virtues of her own supposedly landmark budget), this budget is a well-packaged piece of public relations, but it honestly does not include a real surplus.

Throne Speeches should be relevant. Budget Day should be important. But lately, these events have become empty public relations exercises. Meanwhile, as Albertans, we wait to see who this government will take in its crosshairs next.

Alberta Politics

Albertans defend modest pensions, Redford staff defend Palm Springs flight

Rally for Pensions Alberta
Close to 2,000 Albertans gathered in Churchill Square on March 2, 2014 to rally for secure public sector pensions.

About 2,000 Albertans from every corner of the province braved the -33C windchill yesterday to defend their modest pension plans at a rally in Edmonton’s Churchill Square. Many municipal and provincial employees are concerned that Finance minister Doug Horner‘s proposed changes to Alberta’s public sector pension plans could impact their retirement security.

David Eggen Deron Bilous NDP MLA Alberta
NDP MLAs Deron Bilous and David Eggen show their support at yesterday’s rally.

Despite rhetoric about ‘gold-plated pension plans,’ the average full pension under the Local Authorities Pension Plan is only $15,000 per year.

Meanwhile, Premier Alison Redford is facing questions about another taxpayer funded flight on a government plane, this time from sunny Palm Springs, California.

After receiving a tip about a suspicious record in the Alberta Government Flight Manifests, I asked Ms. Redford on Twitter why a government plane flew empty to Palm Springs and returned to Calgary with her, her daughter and two members of her security detail onboard in April 2013.

David Climenhaga Laurie Blakeman Liberal Alberta MLA
Blogger David Climenhaga and Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman at yesterday’s rally.

Ms. Redford did not respond to my tweet, but her communications director Stefan Baranski did. He explained that the flight brought the premier back to Alberta from her vacation home in order to attend former premier Ralph Klein‘s memorial service.

While the cost of the $9,200 flight to and from Palm Springs is not as salacious as Ms. Redford’s $45,000 flight to South Africa, it is unclear why the premier did not return to Alberta on one of the many commercial flights available in the six days before the memorial service.

Both the Calgary Herald’s Don Braid and the Calgary Sun’s Rick Bell have penned articles in response to Ms. Redford’s Palm Springs flight.

Here’s the original tweet I sent on February 27, 2014:

Speech from the Throne & Budget
A Speech from the Throne will open the spring sitting of Alberta’s Legislative Assembly today at 3:00 p.m. The 2014 provincial budget will be tabled by Mr. Horner on the afternoon of Thursday, March 6.

NDP to nominate the first candidate of the 2016 election
As was first reported last week on this blog, the Alberta NDP will hold a candidate nomination meeting on March 4 in the Edmonton-Riverview constituency. The NDP are expected to nominate Lori Sigurdson, manager of professional affairs with the Alberta College of Social Workers, as their candidate. The constituency is currently represented by PC MLA Steve Young.