Much to pretty much nobody’s surprise, the Redford government is putting Alberta back into debt and reversing all the of belt-tightening and sacrifice of Albertans from back in the 90s when we paid off our provincial debt.
During last spring’s election campaign, many in opposition questioned the viability of Redford’s promise to balance the budget in light of the massive spending promises. The bottom line is; Redford knew then that she could not balance the budget at that time and she never intended or expected to. The Redford government promised the moon to Albertans and left it for a post-election exercise to deal with the consequences.
The “Dollars & Sense” roadshow was designed to build the excuses for promises broken during the last election. Through a carefully orchestrated but poorly promoted series of meetings around the province a couple months ago, the Redford government built themselves the excuse that “Albertans want us to go into debt”.
You have to give them some credit in this political move, it gave them at least a sliver of credibility to claim we want this when they dropped the affront on Albertans last week that they would be putting our province back into debt. They can say they went out and listened and this is what they heard.
I went and attended the Calgary meeting for the “Dollar’s and Sense” thing. The first and most notable thing was that there were perhaps only 30 people in the room and at least a few of them were press and MLAs. Among those people, I didn’t see much indication of anybody who could be considered just an interested and atypical Albertan. The people there were representing particular groups and pet interests thus all spoke to and about how to get more money for their causes. Now if one was objectively listening to that small crowd and assumes that it represents Albertans, it has to be assumed that almost all Albertans want massive increases in government spending.
The graphs, numbers and exercises were all somewhat leading as well. We were asked to prioritize spending among pie-charts and speak to how we would re-arrange spending. The constant premise was that we could only shift priorities in spending while cutting spending in itself was not really an option. Are cuts really impossible? We are spending more per-capita in Alberta than any other province in Canada. Is it really impossible to cut some of that? The setup at the “Dollars and Sense” meeting sure made it appear that way.
The worst exercise of the bunch was one that asked where we should spend money should there be a hypothetical budget surplus down the road (rather moot right now). In all of the options for a surplus though, tax reduction was not even given as an option. It is debatable as to whether or not tax cuts are required in Alberta, but in their actually being debatable they should at least have been provided as an option in the exercise no?
Now to the credit of the PCs here: the exercises were good in that they helped demonstrate that it is difficult to pick and choose where funding should be added and where it is removed. Questions from the floor were tempered by that reality in that if you add to one spot, it must come from another and that is important to keep in mind. This was designed to help educate people in attendance as well as hear from them.
I found the attitudes of the presenters to be genuine and patient with the myriad of inquiries that came from that small but vocal crowd. The cookies were excellent too.
Doug Horner and Kyle Fawcett both came to me to ask what I thought of things while I was there. Whether they put much stock into my views or not, I was given a genuine one on one opportunity to share them with them. This is where I am getting to how we failed as politically active Albertans to take advantage of an opportunity to effect budgetary decisions.
In how many large jurisdictions do we get the chance to speak one on one with one of the top cabinet ministers? Keeping that in mind, it is terrible that only about 30 or so people in a city of over a million could take time to pop out on a Thursday night to take part in this.
I understand the cynicism as well as anybody in these forums. I do feel that the outcomes were essentially predetermined and that these meetings were simply held to give the premise of listening. In our refusing to participate though, we have given some higher ground to those who planned these things.
First, MLAs and cabinet ministers are indeed simply people. They can and will be influenced by the views and opinions of people in settings such as this even if that was not their intent. Many people in government do live in bubbles and rarely see the unvarnished opinions of the electorate between elections. Rational and well placed inquiries could have had at least a bit of effect on the planning of these officials.
Second and more important, had we as Albertans attended these meetings, presented our views and then indeed had them ignored we would be in much better standing when we question the government’s claims to have a mandate to mire us into debt. How can we question what they feel they learned from the forums when we wouldn’t even go to them?
We claim to want transparency, communication and accountability yet we can’t trouble ourselves to take part in functions that provide us at least a small amount of all of those things.
Being responsible and active Albertans means being active between elections too. It can mean giving up on a favorite TV episode to go to a townhall meeting at times and it can mean filling out those questionnaires that we periodically get.
When we let the government have a pass on these kinds of things, we give them the means to claim “Albertans want this” and we have little means to counter them on it.
I don’t believe that Albertans want to go back into debt and I do think that this will be the prime factor that gets the Redford government dethroned in the next election. We don’t need to make it any easier for them to hide from accountability.
Our apathy is the Redford government’s best friend.