Finance Minister Robin Campbell has announced a ballpark figure for the budget cuts coming to the Alberta government this spring: nine percent (9%).
Well, no wait nevermind, Campbell is already backing away from that.
Campbell said the government is looking at five per cent cuts to departmental spending.No it isn't!
But he said given that the province also won't match the rate of inflation, plus population growth -- which is almost four per cent -- the result is a nine per cent cut.
A 9% cut is just that: a cut (a reduction, spending less, whatever turn of the phrase you need to do to drill this unfamiliar concept into a politician's head). Not a partial cut plus a promise not to spend more money in the future than you were originally planning to spend. Yes, sure, the 2015 Budget will be 9% lower than the original plan if Campbell sticks to his guns. But that just reminds us how insanely crazy the Alberta PCs have been with their original plans.
The far-left in Alberta have been lying, trying to claim they have suffered program cuts. They haven't. From 2004-2014, spending on education (from kindergarten to university) went up 42%. Over the same period, spending on healthcare went up a whopping 149% (when not including the capital expenditures: a "mere" 118%). In other words, when "times were good" they cashed in. The Alberta Teachers Association tweeted today that "well of course salaries are a huge aspect of these departments" and this was their defense of the untenable situation where unionized government workers (never a good idea to begin with) demand their "share" of the boom and then react with horror that they might pay the cost of the bust.
With a slight exception from 1993-1997, they've never had to pay part of the bust.
This is another chance for the provincial government to rectify this problem.
In fact, this is another chance for the provincial government to do right in general. Instead of his ridiculous "1/3,1/3,1/3rd plan" Jim Prentice has a once-in-a-generation chance here to fix Alberta, structurally (unlike Ralph) and long-term. Along with the rest of the member of the legislators of all parties, he has a rare opportunity here to limit the size and scope of the Alberta government.
There really is no better time: with resource revenues falling flat and progressives chomping at the bit to make Alberta into the wastelands they are accustomed to like Ontario or Manitoba, there's a sense of political urgency that doesn't come along all the time. As President Monkey's crack team of game changers would say, "You never let a serious crisis go to waste." This applies perfectly well to the Prentice PCs too, of course. In the fallout from the Stelmach and Redford disasters (well, the Stelmach embarassment, the Redford utter humiliating disaster), there's an opportunity here to repair Alberta.
It would be a shame to let it go to waste. So which is why Campbell's 5% talk is so utterly offensive. Knowing how the modern political culture forces so much compromise, particularly from principled conservative positions, it's a shame that Campbell didn't borrow another page from Klein: massive, rather than brutal or merely severe, cuts to the public sector. (As an added bonus, if you click the link you'll see Getty's spendaholic attempts to diversify the economy away from oil angrered the Decore Liberals as well). FOr one thing, promising a 5% cut and then cutting a deal with the NDP to only cut by about 2% won't help. Promising a 30% cut and then letting yourself get talked down to 10%? Now we're making some progress!
But the great thing about momentum is that you can really get your speed going if you start pushing -- early, and hard -- when the direction moves in the way you want it. Cutting Alberta government services is, on balance, a good thing. Pick a department, and I'll give you a myriad of reasons why it needs to be cut back, needs curtailing, needs its budget slashed, and possibly even eliminated off the face of the earth.
Education? Don't think for a second Alberta Education is anything but a source of evil.
Aboriginal relations? You don't need to "relate" to children. Abolish it.
Advanced Education? The more money they get, the more harm they do. Serious cutbacks would help rather than harm the province.
Human Services? That entire department should be shut down tomorrow.
Ministry of Seniors? Total abolition.
Even departments that do things of value do far more than they should. Municipal affairs is a giant money pit considering that it's basically just a system of funneling money into the municipal governments. So long as municipalities have their own tax collection powers (regardless of cowardly Iveson or Nenshi's opinion of what those are) it's hard to justify the province spending any money on this department. Agriculture Food and Rural Development has a lot of fat they can trim as well [I know, I know. I thought it was a butcher joke too, but he seems to have been totally serious about that phrase. -ed], from the "tremendously popular" Agri-Processing Automation and Efficiency Program to the chicken quota leases. Alberta Energy can save approximately $87 million/year just by abandoning the two CCS projects currently in the works.
Finding $7B in cuts in Alberta should be easy. Hell, finding $8B in cuts allows us to not only not incur new debt, but start paying off the $12.8B debt already rung up by Stelmach and Redford. If we can cut the provincial expenses by $15B, we can have the provincial debt back down to zero within 18 months. And then, even assuming by then oil revenues are still in the toilet, we can start doing what Alberta still needs to be doing.
Cutting taxes, cutting services, and reducing the size of government.