Ed Stelmach is a dangerous man when he's sober. Which is too often

The British pub is dying. So says this article, titled... "The British Pub is Dying":

In the part of London where I work, 19 pubs have gone under since England went smoke free. This tallies with a Telegraph report that we now have 6,000 fewer pubs than a decade ago.

The pub is a cornerstone of British life, perhaps the only one that is still recognisable. Our churches are empty, our post offices are closing down, and our schools are alien places governed by strange rules.

Normally one associates the campaign to save the pub with real ale drinkers in country villages. But Islington South is far from being a Chestertonian paradise. For the Tories to ever win here the Great Reform Act would have to be repealed: its beautiful Georgian squares are home to some very rich people, but many of its streets are grim. King's Cross is much improved from the early Noughties, when crack addicts shuffled around like extras from a zombie movie, but nearby Caledonian Road is still scary at night, and even scarier at 4 pm.

The area has the highest percentage of economically inactive households in the south of England: almost 50 per cent in 2007 and surely higher now - pretty stunning, since it borders the City of London, the centre of the world economy in the past decade.

The anti-alcohol lobby would say that this supports the case for having fewer pubs. But when pubs close down, people don't drink less, they just drink at home – or in parks (show me a London park that doesn't have at least 20 cans of Tyskie or Lech lying around).
Drinking and smoking comes to mind when looking at the 2009 Alberta budget:
Alberta’s budget today hiked sin taxes instead of making deeper program cuts or raising taxes elsewhere. Cigarette taxes are going up by $3 a carton, while steep increases to the hidden taxes on liquor are the first increase since 2002.

“We’ll have probably the priciest beer, wine and spirits in the country,” said Rick Crook, CEO of Liquor Stores GP, which runs Alberta’s Liquor Depot and Liquor Barn outlets.

He said it was hard to predict whether the hikes would dent sales. “We’ve never faced a tax increase of this magnitude.”

The markups won’t affect liquor currently in stores’ inventory, but will take effect on all bottles and cans stores and bars order from the province’s centralized distributor — meaning that pricier product will hit shelves within days. Higher cigarette taxes, which also go up by more than 50 per cent for loose tobacco, will be in place after midnight today.
(at the very least this answers my twitter question on the topic)

Okay look, I've warned you about this before, and you didn't listen, and now we have minimum drink prices in bars, minimum drink prices in liquor stores, that stupid last call law, and a bunch of other regressive laws that could be avoided if we had a drinking Premier (I am, in fact, interested in the job so you're aware).

So the government couldn't find any program cuts anywhere? Not ditching this stupid "stop homelessness" plan? Not ditching the renter assistance program? Not dumping the money into a giant hole?

Is this a good time to share with you this email from Paul Hinman?
Hello Alberta Taxpayer

March 13, 2009

I send this letter with the hope you will respond and insure that Alberta is better tomorrow than it is today. Together we can do better.

I would like to start by thanking the Premier for being open and sharing his vision to borrow money to make Alberta better. It is our duty now to study the proposal, ask the right questions and see if it makes good business sense for Alberta.

Money is a great enabler and useful servant but it is a cruel and crushing master. I agree with the Premier, as I am sure you do, that now is a much better time to build than one year ago. It's a better time to buy a house, for that matter. Costs are down for labour and materials. Costs are down to borrow. The question is, is this the time to save or to spend?

This is where I part ways with the Premier as I feel his government's spending and management has been anything but stellar. It is one thing to spend capital that has been saved during good times and quite another to borrow during questionable times. I believe, based on their records, that Alberta and Premier Stelmach are more likely to look like Teck Cominco, GM or GE than a debt-free business with cash in the bank, ready for great opportunities.

Teck Cominco got caught up in the boom, borrowed and spent everything they could to make a major purchase at the top of the commodity bubble. Stelmach and company spent every last surplus dollar and even dollars that were not quite in the bank yet to run the first deficit in over a decade.

We do not want Alberta to be like GM, which cannot survive without taxpayers carrying their monstrous unfunded liabilities. Premier Stelmach's government did not keep its own law to pay off all the debt with the surplus dollars. They owed over $3 billion to the teachers’ pension fund and accepted the teachers $3 billion plus portion of their pension fund as well. It would have been one thing to ante up the surplus revenue and be done with it but, in the interest of being re-elected and buying votes with surplus dollars and spending announcements, they failed to do this.

Does this government have a sound economic business plan to pay back a $6 billion dollar debt? No, and despite the Stelmach PC's proclaiming there'll be a quick recovery for the second half of this year, the truth is that nobody knows when the economic pendulum will begin its upswing again. The government has no business gambling with taxpayers’ money.

Let us make sure we keep one Alberta advantage: “Debt Free”, with a balanced budget. We must go through our spending commitments, prioritize them, and keep only the most essential while cutting the discretionary grants to ensure we balance the budget. This means that, if we want to spend an extra billion dollars on roads we will need to raise fuel taxes. Likewise, if we want to spend $1.4 billion on schools then let us double the education portion of our property taxes, and if we want to spend another billion dollars on hospitals and health care then let us put in an "adult handling and processing fee", or start collecting premiums again.

I am not advocating raising taxes, just pointing out the financial realities of an age in which we like to pretend services such as roads, education and health care is free.

If those who say the economy will bounce back by the end of the year are right, then tightening our belt now will leave us stronger and in a much better position if we remain debt free. If they are wrong and this is a long recession we will be better off staying out of debt and, as we leave the recession with no debt payments slowing our recovery, will have revenue to spend and build with.

Governments, especially this one, do not have a great track record when it comes to good fiscal management. It was as if they won the lottery and spent it all in a few fast, short years. We should have had a 10 year infrastructure plan and money in the bank with a priority list that showed the projects' order of importance along with their estimated cost.

If we do not require our governments to have a balanced budget we will not have the economic recovery we desire. Businesses in debt do not flourish when bankers tell them how to run their companies and the economy does not do well when governments burden businesses and taxpayers with high taxes to pay off past spending. Look at the federal situation today. While we have had several years of government surplus, taxes remain too high in part because of interest and principal payments on the still huge national debt.

My personal view is if we want to spend, fine - but we must do it with a balanced budget just as our municipal governments must do and balance that spending with the appropriate taxes to pay for what we say we must have. Albertans do not pass the buck. Not to the next generation, not to another sector of the economy. We have worked hard to insure our children's Alberta is debt free and we have learned from our past mistakes.

Our vision and our goal is to pass to them a province and opportunities that are as good as or better than what we received. We pay our own way. We are debt free. We shall remain "Strong and Free". Fortis et Liber

Paul Hinman F-MLA
Leader Wildrose Alliance