Finance Minister Travis Toews got up on his hind legs in the Alberta Legislature yesterday, promised to spend more on health care and education, set up a billion-dollar special projects fund, pay down debt, and still leave the province with a $2.4-billion dollar surplus.
Bolstered by record royalty revenues, Mr. Toews’s budget calls for the province to spend $68.28 billion in the 2023-2024 fiscal year while collecting $76.02 billion in revenue.
Naturally, this generated many a cheer from the Government benches.
But when is a budget not a budget?
When it’s a pre-election budget, of course.
There’s always a certain performative quality to provincial budgets.
We live in a democracy, after all, and sooner or later all governments must try to get re-elected.
But when the budget’s a few weeks ahead of a provincial election, 90 days in the case of the Alberta Budget Speech read by Mr. Toews yesterday, they come with a palpable air of unreality.
The House is soon to be prorogued. Whichever party forms government after the election will have to introduce a new budget and a new legislative program.
In other words, this Budget Speech is a chimerical document, made up of smoke, mirrors and legerdemain.
It is nothing more than promises, which keen observers of provincial politics, whether they are supporters of the governing United Conservative Party or the Opposition New Democratic Party, do not necessarily expect to be kept.
So if you’re planning to vote based on Mr. Toews’s promise to boost health and education budgets – although by less than the rate of inflation – be prepared to be disappointed after May 29. One way or the other, we’ll be living in a different Alberta by April Fool’s Day.
Mr. Toews also didn’t mention a number of Premier Danielle Smith’s most controversial ideas – including pulling Alberta out of the Canada Pension Plan, dumping the RCMP for an easier-to-control provincial force, and the now-notorious RStar well-cleanup scam. But that also doesn’t mean they’re no longer on the agenda.
Mr. Toews used his speech to directly assail the NDP, although not by name – something decades of Progressive Conservative governments in Alberta would not have contemplated doing, but also never would have felt the need.
“In three months, Albertans will have a decision to make regarding the next government,” he asserted. “As a province, we have the benefit of contrasting two very different approaches to governance and the economy; not theoretical or hypothetical conjecture, but the actual results of two contrasting economic strategies.”
“The Opposition’s economic management model of raising taxes, increasing regulatory burden, high operational spending, and working to expedite the energy transition in conjunction with the federal government was nothing short of disastrous,” he continued, a bit unfairly. After all, the Opposition governed through the collapse of world oil prices and the Smith Government lucked into another boom, which always seems to make balancing a budget a little easier.
But, hey, that’s politics.
The Opposition, which doesn’t get a chance for a riposte on Budget Day, shot back in a news release.
The budget, it said, “includes fake projections, hidden plans, rising costs, and continued underfunding of what matters most to Albertans.” (Viz., health care.)
“Forecasts for GDP growth and employment growth that are much higher than any private sector forecast, with some more than double. Funding for critical services remains below where it should be if adjusted for population growth and inflation, with health care funding short $1.4 billion and education funding short $1.6 billion.”
The budget is a “fraudulent budget designed to buy votes ahead of the election and then spring the costs on Albertans after the polls have closed,” Opposition Leader and former premier Rachel Notley charged, noting that many of the UCP’s affordability programs will end right after the spring election, including electricity rebates and fuel tax relief.
This sense of unreality may explain why the aspect of the Budget Speech story that seemed to generate the most interest yesterday afternoon was the appearance of convoy activist Tamara Lich in the Legislature’s Public Gallery.
She was introduced at the start of the afternoon sitting as if she were a hero by Independent MLA Drew Barnes to the cheers of many UCP MLAs.
Mr. Barnes, who was booted out of the UCP Caucus by former premier Jason Kenney in May 2021 and seems to have made no effort to return to the mothership after the election of Ms. Smith by UCP members last year, did the premier no favours with this stunt.
“Drew Barnes has now made sure that Premier Smith will face questions about whether she supports Tamara Lich,” noted Mount Royal University political scientist Duane Bratt. “A major distraction from a good news budget.”
However, that is presumably exactly what was intended by Mr. Barnes, who is clearly playing his own game.
At least he didn’t give his former UCP colleagues the chance to cheer a convicted murderer, as happened recently in the Saskatchewan Legislature, or a neo-fascist member of the European Parliament.
$76.02 in revenue. That’s not much, is it?
I don’t trust these pretend conservatives and Reformers. If there is any surplus, it has been gobbled up by their very pricey shenanigans, leaving us with nothing. Furthermore, there is a very nasty war between Russia and Ukraine, which has driven up oil prices. Pretend conservatives and Reformers also destroy jobs, not create them. The UCP are known to associate with miscreants, so their credibility is also diminished. If anyone is foolish, they will continue to endorse this. We never had this foolishness under Peter Lougheed. In the CPC, we are seeing a similar thing with Pierre Poilievre. Will he create jobs? If he gets rid of the CBC, he will destroy them. Where is the sense in that?
At least Drew Barnes didn’t ask Tamara Lich to sing. Every dark cloud has a silver lining.
Thanks David, for laying out some of the truth around this circus.
“The House is soon to be prorogued. Whichever party forms government after the election will have to introduce a new budget and a new legislative program.”
Of course, it makes so much sense, after it’s explained. I’m not so sure I would have picked up on that thread were it not so clearly articulated here. And I’m pretty sure there are many others who won’t understand this either. It’s worth shouting this from the rooftops!
Obviously, if (when; fingers crossed) the NDP prevails in this contest we all understand that they will push forward with their legislative agenda.
What is not so well understood is that if the UCP maintains, they too will roll out a new, and to date, undisclosed policy agenda, not necessarily attached to anything proposed is this most recent “chimerical” performance.
Who in their right mind thinks Danielle and her mob of belligerent mouth-breathers are honest? They are opportunists and grifters.
If there are any fiscal Conservatives left in the UCP, the kind that dominated in Kenney’s last few years, this must seem like a disaster of a budget. Yes, there is technically still a surplus, but really a few bad days of oil prices and that will be gone. So, the roller coaster of fluctuating oil prices is exacerbated by the UCP needing to spend to get reelected. Yet oddly they still didn’t manage to make up for years of less than inflation in areas like health and education.
I haven’t seen the details, but what seems notable is what is not there that they previously talked about. I suspect the RStar scheme to give billions to energy companies who generously provide the UCP with political financial support, is buried or somehow hidden in their new, don’t call it a slush fund for “special initiatives”. Probably that slush fund will actually be spent several times over by the UCP in the course of the election with hints of things like an arena here and a blue LRT line there.
I suppose fiscal Conservatives can hope this is not the UCP’s real plan and they will get back to hard core austerity after the election, like Conservatives often do and the UCP did last time. I suppose the fact that they are not extending the supposed inflation relief payments past the election might be a sign of that. I guess in Smith’s world problems with inflation end after the provincial election, although I feel she is conflating a political problem and a real one.
I am not sure how much of a fiscal Conservative Mr. Barnes is, he seems more of a convoy guy to me, but he seems unconvinced about smooth talking Smith. I suspect his inviting Ms. Lich was meant to show that Smith was a fair weather friend to all, so yes it should make her uncomfortable. It also seems at least Barnes does not want to get fooled again, as UCP members and supporters were by their last leader.
Lastly, I can’t imagine this budget is something the Finance Minister is really comfortable with. This is clear by how he bristled when the slush fund was called that. If he is smart, and I believe he knows much more about economics and finances than Smith, he must be quietly thinking about getting the heck out of town before this whole financial sham falls apart. If I were him, I would be.
Finances maybe, I don’t think for a second Toews knows anything about economics.
Lost amidst the hoopla on the very eve of budget week in Alberta was a tweet by Canada’s most famous college dropout, Jason Kenney, announcing his appointment as a senior fellow in the C.D. Howe Institute. Kenney’s bio on the C.D. Howe website (https://www.cdhowe.org/our-people/honourable-jason-kenney-pc-eca) is surprisingly modest—the sections on ‘Expertise’ and Education are left blank while the section for ‘Research’ reads: ‘no results.’ Frankly, I’m surprised the self-loathing academics who run Alberta’s universities—and who will no doubt be falling all over themselves with gratitude over the magnanimous .6 percent increase allocated pse in this week’s pre-election budget—haven’t given any honorary degrees to the man who instituted the deepest pse cuts in Canadian history. Ironically, given the Alberta’s even more extreme shift to the right last fall, such an honour likely wouldn’t go over any better than David Suzuki’s honorary degree did in 2018.
I’m surprised C.D. Howe is listing this guy. He’d be a much better fit at the Fraser Institute.
If the electorate voted based on the past performance of politicians and not their promises of what they will do in the future, the UCP would never get elected. They have been on a path of slash and burn from the day they were elected, transferring the wealth of the 99% to the 1%.
Welcome to New Oilberduh, same as the Old Oilberduh. Spend like crazy when oil prices go up (an election just pushes the dial to 11). Cut like crazy when oil prices inevitably drop. I notice Edmonton is on the list for a new hospital and some new schools. Yay—but how are they gonna staff ‘em?
Duane Bratt called it a “good news budget.” It’s more of a “feel-good budget.” Lots of capital projects (roads, anyone?) and buildings. Promises to provide more funds to hire health-care workers of all kinds. Great, but—and everybody’s asking—where will they hire them?
Queen Dani’s fans will lap this stuff up. She just bought herself an election. And Drew Barnes? Well, I dunno what he’s thinkin’. But giving Tammy Lich a hero’s welcome ain’t gonna hurt Queen Dani any among the Base.
Still waiting for the numbers from the past 4 years. How much money was taken away from health, K-12 education, post-secondary education, infrastructure, municipal transfers, etc. over the course of UCP governance, and how much is the current vote buyer scheme putting back? Better number crunchers than I know need to step up please.
“Private schools do not currently receive transportation funding from the provincial government for Grades 1 through 12.
“The province plans to increase funding for school bus transportation by $414 million over the next three years “to make systemic improvements and offset rising costs while supporting parental choice.””
I can’t wait to find out what the commoners think when they find out that private school students don’t travel to school on yellow buses. Of course not! If parents of the proletariat think their sons and daughters should not be crammed in, three to a bench seat in their early years, they’ll just have to suck it up and send the wee’uns to private school. Private school buses have padded seats, with functional shoulder/lap belts for everyone! One child per plush seat! Bonus: they’re air conditioned. Children need to know that there is a class system in Alberta, so they might as well get used to it at age five.
Here in Alberta, we subsidize the wealthy. Wealthy families deserve the same subsidy as families living in poverty, equality over equity. It might be argued that the choice to go private comes with privilege, and privilege should assume the cost of that decision. Whatever. This is Alberta!
“. . . . a chimerical document, made up of smoke, mirrors and legerdemain.”
Much like the current Premier herself specifically and the entire political stage show more generally, it appears, where; the careful and calculated management of public perception involves deception and duplicity as its core values.
“But here’s the problem with lying: Research shows that the more you lie, the easier it gets, and the more likely you are to do it again.” And where, “If you give people multiple opportunities to lie for their own benefit,” said Tali Sharot, a cognitive neuroscientist at University College London who led the research, “they start with little lies and get bigger and bigger over time.”
Now since Rstar and ‘fraudulent’ are mentioned in the same short essay and analysis above, it is worth carefully noting that:
1. “This problem is thirty years in the making. Industry has carefully orchestrated this. I would call it a Ponzi Scheme to keep these companies alive, to allow hundreds of thousands of wells to sit inactive. . . . This isn’t an accident, this has been carefully orchestrated. . . . This is an orchestrated fraud from multiple angles: industry, CAPP and the Alberta Energy Regulator have enabled this to happen. There’s quite a bit of evidence to support that.”
2. “Five years of regulator incompetence (or malfeasance) saw bankers and oil and gas executives get rich while the citizens of Alberta were left holding the bag, as the unpaid environmental debts of an unprofitable, dying industry piled up. . . . Industry’s promise to fully and immediately fund all orphaned infrastructure is codified in sections 73(2) and 70(1) of Alberta’s Oil and Gas Conservation Act. It’s time for Alberta to stop letting shady companies stick the public with their bills.”
3. Finally, the complicity of the ‘Fourth Estate’ in the Province of Alberta involving the near death silent experience surrounding the apparent decades long history of revolving door corruption and fraud [An industry lobbyist as a Premier is the most recent example of revolving door business as usual politics.] regarding this fiasco cannot be either casually disregarded, nor overlooked. As it is apparently an example of, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”
I think Rachael Notley had better start showing where she spent the money trying to fix the mess she inherited. There are a lot of stupid seniors bashing her for spending too much, and who knows how many other fools maybe listening. Totally ignorant of the fact that she couldn’t fix in only 4 years what these fools created in 25 and how do you build 55 new schools without spending any money.
Alan K. Spiller: I hope she does that. What’s really bizarre, is that there are people who claim that Rachel Notley put in 97 tax increases as premier of Alberta. That’s very farfetched.
And not be outdone in the look-at-me-I’m-a-looney department, Tamara Lich shows up at on Budget Day to lend an air of rousing FreeDUMB to the occasion.
With the UCP’s talk of economic less government, FreeDUMB, free markets, frugality, and pull-up-your-own-straps, this budget spending is all about bigger government and expanding the social safety net. WTF?!
I recall back in 1984, when Brian Mulroney (AKA the chin that walks like a man) in his manifesto entitled ‘Where I Stand” the Bard from the North Shore waxed on about frugality, common sense in governance, free enterprise, and respect for every taxpayer’s dollar. And almost on the same day as the Mulroney Government was elected, every single copy of Mulroney’s book was pulled from bookstore shelves and pitched straight into hundreds of incinerators across Canada. Destroy the evidence, quick!
After forming his government, Mulroney went on a rampage of spending, promising-making, and hyperbole that never stopped. It got him two majority governments, but the aftermath of the Meech Lake Accord (and every Accord thereafter), not to mention the extension of his government into 1993, sealed the fate of the federal PC party. Mulroney’s grand coalition collapsed into oblivion, leaving the weird RPC and the nationaliste BQ in its wake.
Danielle Smith and the UCP have decided to take a completely different tact: go all big government and open that Horn O’ Plenty. The good times have returned, and not even a peek out of the RStar nuisance. Of course, it’s wondered if Smith intends to walkback the good times and big spending after the election, and return to her usual nonsense about grabbing the CPP and founding the Alberta Uber Alles Stormtroopers.
Until then, I’m indulging in Cracker Jacks — another spending excess.
FreeDUMB … DUMB is what this whole charade is all about. This is too ludicrous for words.
I agree. Ludicrous. And scary. Wtf has happened to my province.
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