Friday, April 20, 2007

Alberta's NDP Budget

Those outside of Alberta may have missed it, but something truly remarkable happened in our province yesterday (no, not the snow storm or the Flames win - both small miracles in their own right).

Remember the complaints by some on the right about Flaherty's 6-8% increase in spending? Well, yesterday, Lyle Oberg brought in the first Stelmach budget which calls for an unprecedented 17% increase in spending. This may very well make Alberta's Progressive Conservatives the authors of one of the most free spending budgets in Canadian history. After years of gargantuan surpluses, it is projected to shrink to $2.2 billion this year, $1.4 billion in 2008 and $925 million in 2009...that's assuming no out of budget spending and oil prices which match the forecasts. Most alarmingly, instead of banking the surpluses to the Heritage Fund, 2/3 of all surpluses will be spent onto miscellaneous new projects while only 1/3 will actually be saved.

Despite the massive spending, there's no real focus. No plan to make Alberta's Universities world class. Not a penny for the environment. No plan to diversify the economy. No tax cuts. No end to the health care premiums. Not since the Alexei Yashin contract has so much been spent for so little return.

But enough from me, I'll let Rick Bell do the talking:

This is a mess. The Tories cannot say it is a mess because they created it.

Many Albertans, and many Calgarians, cannot say it is a mess because they supported the making of the mess, where loyalty to the Tories trumped common sense.

But make no mistake about it. The numbers aren't lying. In the richest province in the land, we have a mess.

So naturally, there's all kinds of spending on catch-up construction, though off the top there is a big caution.

A good chunk of change is for projects already approved and announced. Lyle Oberg, the finance minister, admits there isn't a "huge amount" for new projects.

And well over a billion bucks covers the costs going through the roofs not yet built because the Tories, in their wisdom, wait to bang nails big-time until the economy is good and hot.

The most interesting thing about this budget is that it opens up a ton of space for the Liberals to pass the Tories on the right (appropriate since as Transport Minister, Ed Stelmach proposed moving the "fast lane" on highways to the right). A focus on long term planning, the Heritage Fund or tax cuts right now from the ALP could very well force a few on the right to hold their nose and vote the very least it would make it very hard for them to justify their continued support of the PCs.

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  • I don't know what levels of support exist for Liberals in rural Alberta constituencies, but there is a strong case to be made for Liberals picking up the urban vote IF IF IF IF IF they start talking about that whole "vision" thing.

    No finger pointing in this commentary of mine other than to say: "Ed Stelmach, nice guy -- shitty Premier" followed closely by - "Alberta Tories - kings of top 40 Accordian Music" -- that's how out of touch they are and the budget proved it to me.

    Kevin Taft and his cohorts need to articulate a clear vision that is so starkly different to politics as usual that it will shake up the political establishment in this province.

    But do they have the ability to produce something that will wake up Albertans? God knows Rick Bell is ready to jump off a building if it will get Albertan's collective heads out of their asses.


    By Blogger Sean Cummings, at 3:42 p.m.  

  • The Liberals currently have the best opportunity since Decore to trump the PCs on the right as the real fiscal conservatives with a clear 5 point plan:

    - You save now -> End health care premiums and lower taxes, more for AISH

    - We save for your children -> Surpluses into Heritage Savings

    - We all save in costs -> Upgrade aging infrastruture now before costs rise

    - We all save our environment -> Renew oil & gas royalties program with focus on environmental incentives and sustain reasonable economic growth

    By Blogger hatrock, at 4:56 p.m.  

  • Oops, one more:

    - We'll deliver better services -> Ensure health and education systems are efficient and offer best services in the world

    By Blogger hatrock, at 4:58 p.m.  

  • Seems like the Alberta PCs just took Flaherty's playbook and decided to go wild with it.

    Definitely with a clear vision and even the promise of tax cuts, the Liberals definitely have some space to gain. It would seem weird to see the Liberals as the right-wing party, but maybe could be a chance to siphon off some centrist voters who's rather have something tangible with their reckless spending.

    By Blogger UWHabs, at 4:59 p.m.  

  • uwhabs - It's not that the Liberals need to be seen as right-wing party, just as fiscally responsible and with the right priorities.

    I agree CG, that this budget is ridiculous. I just hope that Taft and the Liberals can capitalize on it and really shift the politics in this province.

    By Blogger Brandon, at 5:28 p.m.  

  • It's like Bizarro Canada.

    Alberta becomes un-Conservative and Quebec becomes more Conservative.

    What's next? Danny Williams coming out in favour of including offshore revenues in equalization?

    By Blogger Bailey, at 5:30 p.m.  

  • hmmm

    provincial liberals going right

    federal liberals going left

    have fun keeping up Dan

    By Blogger Antonio, at 6:07 p.m.  

  • Why do you call this the mythological NDP budget. Considering it was an NDP govt in Sask that balanced budget 1st when all provs and the feds were in deficit, well that is a cheap shot.
    I remember well, Romi having to come in and clean up after the cons in Sask, where some went to jail. It was so bad they went through a name change, now the Sask. Party.
    Ditto for Manitoba. NDP had to come in and clean up after the cons screwed up and jail time for some.
    Don't use the NDP for cheap political points, particularly when you try to paint yourselves as progressives, but are talking about becoming more right-wing than the right-wing.

    By Blogger janfromthebruce, at 6:08 p.m.  

  • >>Don't use the NDP for cheap political points, particularly when you try to paint yourselves as progressives, but are talking about becoming more right-wing than the right-wing.<<

    I prefer to use the NDP (literature that is) in the cat's litterbox, ut that's just me. The NDP ceased being relevant in Alberta, wait a minute, they're not.

    Sorry if that's mean, but if you look at what's happening with the NDP at the federal level, I don't know whether to laugh or slow my slippers at Peter Mansbridge.

    By Blogger Sean Cummings, at 7:16 p.m.  

  • I know he is dead, but now would be a good time for the Liberals to run Decore.

    By Blogger hosertohoosier, at 7:49 p.m.  

  • I was talking with a Tory at U of C campus today and they actually used the "this had to be a spending budget because we need to seem moderate now for when we go conservative next time" argument.

    My head exploded shortly afterwards.

    By Blogger Glen, at 8:00 p.m.  

  • sean; The mere fact that the NDP would take offense to calling this an NDP budget just shows what a joke it is.

    Others; It's not so much that the Libs need to be "right wing" - they just need to show fiscal responsibility the way Chretien/Martin did in the early 90s. They can still tackle things like the environment, poverty, social issues from the left.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 8:05 p.m.  

  • Where do you get 17%? I make it 11.7%.

    By Blogger AC, at 8:26 p.m.  

  • The increase is 11.7% - I look at this budget like I look at all of them in gov't finance. Most interestingly in the budget speech, Alberta suggested issuing debt to finance the giant unfunded pension liability. Well it may seem shocking to some Albertans that Alberta would go back into debt (their crown corps already borrow in the public markets), it actually makes a lot of sense, as does investment in capital assets, which is what the budget focused on.

    By Blogger Ramsey, at 8:38 p.m.  

  • AC, Herald says 17%
    "Total spending is projected to increase 17 per cent over last year."
    CG, this increase in spending isn't unprecedented, in 2001 the increase was 24%

    By Blogger Kyle G. Olsen, at 8:56 p.m.  

  • "High-spending" budget and "NDP" budget shouldn't be synonymous, for surely it has been proven that all parties are capable of massive overspending.

    An "NDP" budget would have to also include efforts to undermine the economy's ability to generate revenue (this budget doesn't) and a deliberate attempt to impose a particular social agenda (it doesn't).

    Too bad the Liberals have a dud leader, or they'd be able to capitalize on all the messes the Tories are making lately. Maybe Social Credit can pick up some momentum?

    By Blogger Robert Vollman, at 9:32 p.m.  

  • ""Alberta Tories - kings of top 40 Accordian Music"

    Nice. Going for the ethnic vote, are we? Or more to the point, going AFTER them?

    Beer & popcorn, anyone?

    By Blogger Candace, at 9:45 p.m.  

  • Kyle; numbers vary - Herald and CBC say 17%. I think the 10% is above and beyond what Ralph had already budgeted for spending this year.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 10:55 p.m.  

  • In a province where so much of the economy is based upon capital expenditures in the oil and gas industry, I wonder what lies in store 10 yrs from now when most of the oilsands investment has been completed, and the oil and gas royalties have fallen appreciably, as predicted.

    What will all of the construction people do?

    Who will pay the taxes when all of the buffalo hunters leave town?

    By Blogger The Anonymous Green, at 11:48 p.m.  

  • Alberta "NDP" Budget is kind of a joke headline - just like Alberta's "Liberal" Ethics Package would be.

    By Blogger Greg, at 8:42 a.m.  

  • Okay, look, I'm not right wing by any stretch of the imagination (I think), but if you're going to increase spending by 17%, and you still leave yourself open to complaints by a Liberal that there is no focus on where that spending goes, I have to ask: what is Ed Stelmach spending that money *on*?

    From what little I know about Alberta, there is a need to invest in the province's infrastructure, so it can further and sustain its oil boom. It needs more roads, better roads, improved transit, improved electrical transmission capacity, et cetera, but not a %17 increase in such, surely. And if this *isn't* the focus of the Alberta budget, what is?!

    Colour me surprised.

    By Blogger James Bow, at 10:37 a.m.  

  • Others; It's not so much that the Libs need to be "right wing" - they just need to show fiscal responsibility the way Chretien/Martin did in the early 90s. They can still tackle things like the environment, poverty, social issues from the left.

    Yes, their hearts can bleed for the unfortunates as they pass more tax cuts. That's the Liberal way.

    By Blogger Greg, at 10:49 a.m.  

  • What's next? Danny Williams coming out in favour of including offshore revenues in equalization?

    No, the real shocker would be Danny Williams revealing himself to be a federalist.

    By Blogger WJM, at 11:32 a.m.  

  • Ok, if this was an NDP budget, what was the 13% increase last year, and the 10+% increase the year before? Weren't they also NDP budgets, or were those just Liberal budgets?

    Just asking . . .

    By Blogger Mustafa Hirji, at 11:36 a.m.  

  • Two questions: what's the multi-year budget (i.e. past and next five years) look like on a per-capita basis? And against the economic growth of the province (% of GDP; PPP)?

    I'm sure it's still grown. I'm just not as sure whether it's catching up on past restraint, or exceeding the rate of growth by an exceptional amount.

    By Blogger paul.obeda@, at 3:10 p.m.  

  • I would suggest thast you all the read the Calgsry Herald on either Monday or Tuesday.

    By Blogger uriel, at 9:04 p.m.  

  • Just a quick note about the article...

    Anyone who suggests that Rick Bell is capable of writing or worth quoting, knows absolutely nothing about journalism. Rick Bell represents his own ego and nothing else...very sad state affairs when we start quoting Rick.

    By Blogger Calgary girl, at 9:55 p.m.  

  • Dan,

    It's always curious to me how self-proclaimed conservatives champion big spending, so long as it is spent by conservatives. It is an oddity that I can't explain.

    By Blogger Jason Bo Green, at 10:22 p.m.  

  • Alberta's NDP Budget

    Nice drive by. But how about getting back to reality.

    By Blogger Robert McClelland, at 9:30 a.m.  

  • >>Anyone who suggests that Rick Bell is capable of writing or worth quoting, knows absolutely nothing about journalism. Rick Bell represents his own ego and nothing else...very sad state affairs when we start quoting Rick.<<

    Actually Rick Bell has been one of the few voices in the wilderness screaming for Albertans to wake up and smell the coffee. His columns might be poorly written, but he's long been a harsh critic of the Alberta PC's.

    By Blogger Sean Cummings, at 11:07 a.m.  

  • James Bow; I guess you could fairly say that the focus is on infrastructure. Of course, the problem is that building during boom times costs a lot more which is where the problem arises. If Klein had commited the neccesary money to infrastructure (after the economy turned around) instead of being hell bent on so quickly erasing the debt, the province could have saved several billion dollars on expenses for this.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 3:40 p.m.  

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