Alberta is acting as if it is rust-belt Ontario
Troy Media – by Alvin Finkel
There is an air of unreality about the Alberta election. Right-wing parties are stealing spending promises from the NDP and Liberal playbooks, and adding their own, while insisting they will eliminate the provincial deficit and never raise taxes. They are lying of course.
Wildrose leader Danielle Smith claims to be a libertarian but polls indicate that Albertans want guarantees that essential services will be maintained and enhanced. So Ms. Smith, who as a Calgary Herald editorial writer a few years back extolled the idea of parents paying more for their children’s education and the state paying less, now claims a Wildrose government will pay for all the extras that parents currently pay.
Fire the managers!
A year ago, she argued for privatization of the delivery of medicare, but now she avoids the issue and speaks soothingly of increasing funds for long-term care. She’ll also set aside a large portion of oil revenues for future generations. Further, we will have a revival of Ralphbucks, and the Danibucks will be $300 each, or over a billion dollars in cheques from the province to all Albertans, including those of us already paying thousands of dollars less in taxes than we would pay in any other province.
‘How can you do this without cutting programs or increasing taxes?’ I twittered to Ms. Smith, and her hired Twitter double said she would reduce the number of middle managers. This is the myth that Ralph Klein sold to Albertans in the 1993 provincial election: “massive cuts” would not affect service because only managers would be fired. Front-line service providers were to be protected.
But, in fact, their numbers were decimated and services in all areas were affected. Health care cuts resulted in untold numbers of tragedies, causing Premier Klein to deride purveyors of “the horror story of the day.”
A typical one, reported by Dr. Hubert Kammerer, involved a diabetic law professor who suffered from dementia and required two home care visits a day so that he received his insulin. Thanks to cuts, he instead got two visits a week and was left to handle his own insulin shots the rest of the time. One evening he injected himself, forget about it, and re-injected himself, dying soon afterwards of irreversible brain damage. Dr. Kammerer wrote that this demonstrated a “health care system that has had too much cut out of it too quickly and is in danger of falling apart.”
The tax-hating Ms. Smith will aggravate the long-term problems that Alberta already has thanks to parsimony in health, education, and social services spending.
But what about the Redford Conservatives? Ms. Redford has not promised, like Ms. Smith, to permanently freeze Alberta’s tax system, in which someone making $20 million a year pays no more on their last dollar earned than someone earning $20,000. But she will freeze it for three years during which time taxes and expenditures would be reviewed. In the meantime, to prevent Alberta’s health professionals from revealing the extent of the rot in the underfunded health system, she has reneged on her earlier promise for a full inquiry into healthcare in Alberta.
Wildrose has gained points among many voters by suggesting that it would not play favourites in grants to municipalities, school boards, and colleges and universities as the Tories have done, a practice that has resulted in public institutions making contributions to local PC constituency associations in the hope of being remembered when the Tories hand out the scraps. But it is the parsimony of the Tories that has caused such desperate behaviour; Wildrose plans to reduce the scraps will make matters worse.
Provincial government spending as a share of GDP declined from 22 per cent in 1989 to 12 per cent in 2008. Complaints that the province fritters away money on politicians and civil servants and that is why programs are starved are largely absurd. True, the politicians reward themselves with a few million more per year than they should.
But that’s .0001 per cent of the total budget. Most money goes to doctors, nurses, teachers, mental health workers, disability workers, environmental analysts, highway workers, and others providing direct service. Management costs are no greater than in the private sector. There’s too little money in the system. We are acting as if we are rust-belt Ontario rather than a petro-state with large, untapped sources of taxes for needed services.
Tories and Wildrose both financed by Big Oil
Albertans, having experienced first Ralph Klein’s soothing promises and then the painful realities of his cuts, need to demand that all parties provide their detailed plans. What cuts will they make, what new expenditures will they make, and from where will each dollar of the difference be collected?
If Redford and Smith, both heavily financed by Big Oil and representing Alberta’s wealthiest, plan to actually cut services, they should say so. The pretence that they are at one and the same time planning to keep our energy royalties, our corporate taxes, and our taxes on high incomes the lowest in the world, while turning our current inadequate services into an equivalent of the Scandinavian welfare states, is dishonest. We need to see real budgets from our potential leaders with hard numbers for monies to be collected (and from where) and clear numbers for expenditures. Instead we are being fed fantasies.
Alvin Finkel is co-chair of ChangeAlberta.ca, which recommends “winnable” progressive candidates in various constituencies. He teaches History at Athabasca University.