Sorry, boys, you’re all getting a haircut, and it won’t necessarily be a good one! Below: Premier Jim Prentice, Robin Campbell and Ralph Klein. Not a clue in the whole carload!

A year ago, Alberta’s Progressive Conservative Government apparently had no idea there would be a revenue shortfall today. Now they’re confidently predicting we’ll have a $21-billion revenue shortfall after three years.

This speculative and highly dubious conclusion is the basis for Finance Minister Robin Campbell’s grim announcement Wednesday, clearly on the instructions of Premier Jim Prentice, that we are on the verge of replicating the incompetence and foolishness of the Ralph Klein era by slashing almost 10 per cent across-the-board out of all public sector activities.

At the same time, the premier, who with an assist from his Wildrose posse of defectors quite clearly sees himself the real finance minister of Alberta, not to mention the de facto MLA for virtually every riding in the province, insists that nothing will be done to rationalize Alberta’s revenue stream while we get our financial house in order.

The lowest petroleum royalties on the planet? Not a problem. The most unfair taxation system in Canada? Not a problem. Minimal taxation of the foreign dominated corporations that take our resources essentially for free and invest nothing in return? Not a problem.

We’re all just going to have to take a haircut to make sure none of that changes!

In such circumstances, as has been said in this space many times before, anyone who has been paying attention understands that one of the three following conclusions must be true. Alberta’s PC governments …

(a)    Simply don’t get it that resource revenues are cyclical and are thus incapable of the level of planning required to competently run a lemonade stand;
(b)    Are flat-out lying every time we have one of these “surprise” downturns in the economy in order to achieve long-term ideological goals the public would never stand for if presented honestly; or
(c)    Some combination of the two.

My guess is the answer is (c). But whether the explanation is cynical lying or spectacular incompetence, the same conclusion is unavoidable: Alberta’s situation is made far worse by our government’s failure to plan for entirely predictable circumstances. Not only that, but nothing ever changes when the Tories change leaders.

So for this reason alone, citizens of other parts of Canada need to pay close attention to what is happening in Alberta under Mr. Prentice’s increasingly radical leadership, because it helps predict what will likely happen if the Alberta-dominated Conservative Party of Canada manages to secure a second majority government.

These are, after all, the same people, singing from the same hymnbook.

Also relevant to the rest of Canada are questions that increasingly need to be asked about the Alberta PC Government.

First, after the Wildrose Party’s successful reverse takeover of the Tories, with Mr. Prentice late of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s cabinet acting as the inside man, are there any progressives left in the Progressive Conservative Party?

I use the term “progressive” here not in the sense it is usually used on the centre left, but simply to denote a belief in any public services, or indeed a role for government other than the operation of a surveillance state.

We could go farther and ask, are there any democrats left in the Alberta Tory caucus, or anyone who understands how responsible government is supposed to work?

On Wednesday, apparently acting as the province’s single MLA, Premier Prentice simply overruled the decision of a committee of MLAs by dictatorial fiat. Does he have the constitutional authority to do that? Not really, although whether the PC caucus will go along with him, as the seemingly befuddled former union leader who is now the finance minister goes along with him, is another matter entirely.

Moreover, is there anyone who understands or cares about commonsense economics in the caucus?

After all, the impact of the kind of irresponsibility now proposed by Mr. Prentice, when tanking oil prices are already pushing the economy downward, is certain to lead to a recession of unnecessary severity, and one, moreover, that will spread beyond the borders of Alberta as we characteristically download the impact of our unemployment and economic policies onto other provinces.

So if there are progressives, or believers in democracy, or people who understand basic economics in the PC caucus, or even just people who would like to avoid a backlash from the rest of Canada, they seem to be keeping their heads down and their lips zipped, presumably in fear of suffering the same fate as similarly progressive Conservatives in Mr. Harper’s Reform Party caucus.

For sure, new MLAs willing to speak up are not welcome. As former Wildorse MLA Joe Anglin, now the Independent representative for Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre, said in a terse news release yesterday: “I cannot and will not be a passive MLA that will raise his hand when told, and not ask questions. … This is my vision of democracy and I cannot reconcile it with the current PC Party’s understanding of democracy.”

In fairness, the PCs may have had other reasons for not welcoming Mr. Anglin. But his point is well made nonetheless.

The deafening silence of the PC caucus certainly tells a story about the real meaning of the so-called “reunification agreement” cobbled together by Mr. Prentice and former Opposition leader Danielle Smith before the party’s reverse takeover by the Wildrosers, supposedly advocates of more freedom for MLAs to vote their consciences.

This too is relevant to voters elsewhere in Canada because the Alberta model of an opposition-free quasi-democracy is what the Harper Government hopes to replicate in Parliament as well.

If there are any progressives left in the PC caucus – as some PC MLAs are bound to privately insist – then it is time for them to speak up.

It’s all very well to advocate lower spending by governments. There are always efficiencies that can be found, and circumstances when belt-tightening is genuinely appropriate. We can talk about that.

But as we saw what happened to health care during the Klein era, and could very well happen again during the Prentice era, cuts done across the board without a plan or priorities are destructive and dangerous, although they may benefit certain powerful people with an inside track to power and profit.

Indeed, if you think about it, what is being proposed is actually dumber than what Mr. Klein did, since he at least didn’t act during a recessionary moment of falling oil prices.

If those self-described Conservative progressives don’t speak up, and don’t exercise their constitutional right as MLAs in a responsible government to vote as their conscience dictates, all their claims are nothing more than self-delusion.

As former Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney famously told his Liberal counterpart, John Turner, in the 1984 leaders’ debate: “You had an option, sir!”

Mr. Campbell? Thomas Lukaszuk? Other supposedly progressive Conservatives? You have an option too.

This post also appears on

Join the Conversation


  1. I disagree on one small point. There are no more significant efficiencies is to be found, and belts are already as tight as they can be without suffocating the wearer. In a multi-billion dollar budget, saving a half a million by cutting the A-G’s funding, or a quarter-million by defunding the Child Advocate, is just a rounding error.

    The same applies to the so-called “cost containment” measures at AHS, where much of the putative savings will be eaten up in increased overtime costs due to unfilled vacancies created by routine turnover; in addition, there will be reduced quality of service to the public brought about by travel restrictions, especially in North Zone and rural areas elsewhere, where travel is an essential part of delivering health care services to a thinly scattered population, and where continuing professional development opportunities In employees’ home communities are few and far between.

    No, these cuts will bite into core services, and the public will suffer. Once again.

  2. The “tough choices” yawp is always dishonest because it’s followed by the “do more with less” yawp.
    An honest bunch that actually made tough choices could say: we choose to reduce health care funding and we don’t pretend there will be no effects. You get a smaller system, or a worse system. But no deficit.
    Same with education. An honest tough choice would be to say “we’re cutting this thing by 20% and you’re getting 20% fewer university spots.” But no deficit and no pain for the oiligarchs.
    (What we always DO get is the cut plus a dictate that classes simply get bigger, or nurses work more overtime etc.)

  3. I am always surprised voters buy it when the PC’s try to reincarnate themselves as responsible fiscal managers. There is only one party in Alberta that has run deficits in the last 40 years and that is the PC’s, yet somehow they always try to frighten voters by claiming the NDP or Liberals would mismanage the governments finances. I really don’t think either could make a bigger mess of it than the PC’s already have.

    I also have a problem with the PC’s under Klein creating a flat tax system that is really only sustainable if oil and/or natural gas prices are very high. Lougheed had a better approach, charge reasonable royalties/tax rates and when energy prices are high put the windfall in a savings account. Klein had it wrong when he created the flat tax system at a time when natural gas prices were very high so gas royalties could subsidize a tax cut for the wealthiest Albertans. Unfortunately, natural gas prices did not stay so high, but of course the problem did not become obvious until after Klein left and Stelmach inherited a mess. After Stelmach, Redford had her bitumen bubble fiasco in budgeting. Now oil prices have also fallen again and our finances are a mess once again.

    Unless they fix the royalty and tax systems our government finances will continue to be a mess and they seem very reluctant to do fix these things. In baseball three strikes and you are out. I think the PC’s have already been given more than enough chances by voters. If they are re-elected, don’t be surprised if the fiscal mess they created continues and gets worse.

  4. Prentice has a hidden agenda. He wants to decimate the public service so he can then turn around and privatize it. If he was truly concerned by the abysmal morale in the public service, he wouldn’t bash it every chance he gets. Asking front line workers to take a 5% pay cut after 3 years of 0% is offensive. Obscene MLA transition allowances aren’t touched though.

  5. I point out the continuity to in the group you mention: Peter Lougheed was our last “progressive” When Klein took over our royalty was a 32% on finished plants (just coming on line) and 1% on developing not paid for yet plants.
    Klein went on a fishing trip with oil executives to discuss the Firestorm process. Was it part of the paid for plant or does it quality for a 1% perk?

    On his return nothing was said. In fact we would not hear a word on Royalty other than how great we were doing until Auditor General Fred Dunn chastised the Government for only collecting 16% royalty not the 19% they said they were collecting. This prompted a hate Fred Dunn program and they cut his operating budget to the point he could hardly open the doors.

    Skip ahead to present time Prentice first target for Government cuts is the Auditor Generals office. The don’t want a watch dog for what we are facing.

    Klein left at 16% and Stelmach took the chair by a default. Still challenged by lower royalty (Should have been 32% at this time) he went into a new election and published a “New Royalty Regime” .pdf and circulated it. It was full of pie in the sky numbers; no company could survive on the numbers the published. However. in 6pt print at the bottom was the one line of truth. :”All funds computed in Canadian Dollars” At that point in time it was a further 18% loss to Alberta because of exchange rates.

    Probably the most important thing that happened here was Kevin Taft, the Alberta Liberals were expected to win that election! It was heated. Came the debate on TV Kevin Taft had nothing to say until the end of the debate and would not respond to royalty questions.

    Stelmach pulled the health care cards. With full intention of moving to the Oregon model for health care coverage. This was first led out a year previously when the Government said we could learn a lot from Oregon’s health care system. Making health care no charge for very basic services means they have no obligation for covering anything else if push comes to shove! We pay nothing we should have no expectations under the law.

    Throughout all of this Loose Lips Liepert stood in front of the TV camera saying our royalty was now 6% and would only stay there for 5 years and Albertans should tighten their belts! The royalty fell to 0% almost immediately.

    Another Minister, Mike Cardinal was hard at work on our water. An oil company would ask for a bucket of water and he would give them an allotment for a swimming pool of water. In this way he used up all the available water allotments storing them in oil companies. Oil companies in the meantime could claim the high ground by claiming not to have used but a small portion of their allotment when challenged on how they were wasting.

    Brooks needed more water and there were no allotments so Brooks was encouraged to buy from an unnamed oil company for 1 million dollars and a second private party not named (insider) for an additional undisclosed amount. The oil company reported it was turning the million over to a charity (unnamed). Nothing heard back from the insider. We so need decent investigators in our media!

    Cardinal leased or sold crown grazing lands on the east slope of the rocky mountains to Agra Food companies (Nestle?) This is where all of our underground potable water originates. First in line; first in time on water debates.

    He changed the rules to the St. Mary’s water system organization. A person could now only belong if they owned property directly on the St.Mary’s. One lot back members lost their voting rights. Meanwhile rock piles on the edge of St. Mary’s were not titled so, new members arrived proud owners of the rock piles. and precious votes.

    It’s not just bad; this crew should be lynched! Speaking of which, the RCMP cannot investigate the Alberta Government or any of the talked about things above without getting approval of the Alberta Attorney General first.

    They have constantly rejected a central out of province Securities Chief saying it would not work in their business pattern.

    This in my mind leaves us in a two party system. The Conservatives who have stolen trillions, yes, trillions from the Alberta Treasury and tucked it into oil pockets or the NDP who to date are squeaky clean.

    Choice is clear. A party who you know is going to rob you blind or a party who you may be socially alien to who can promise at this point in time to do more than their very best for the province.

    Norway has had a Socialist Government in place since its’ separation from Sweden. They continue to offer their people free university education. They have hundreds of billions of dollars in the bank (Conservatives have taken over 700 billion out of the Heritage Trust fund and used in in place of taxes) Norway are Europe’s bankers and keep their money off shore so it doesn’t interfer with small business. They have an economy of scale (something that Conservatives talk about when they are making excuses) It will cost you 50.00 for a hamburger; the person behind the counter is making 100,000 a year and McDonalds and a number of smaller companies pull it all together.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.