Generally 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.