Oh my God! The world is coming to an end!
I'm not talking about the Mayan calendar, either, which says the jig is up tomorrow, which is going to be a big disappointment to those of us who were looking forward to a nice weekend followed by a little time off for the holiday.
But this time, it's way worse than that. This is the Alberta Tory Calendar, after all, in which the End Times just keep coming around again and again with the regularity of a metronome. Tick-tock!
I'm telling you, it's so bad that by the end of this post I’m going to have entirely used up my quota of italics for the rest of the year!
Right on schedule -- Tick! -- Alberta Finance Minister Doug Horner was up on his hind legs in Edmonton yesterday -- Tock! -- to grimly inform us all that this time he really means it – Tick! – really, the world as we know it is coming to an end, we're all going to have to wear sackcloth and ashes – Tock! – and get a haircut too, because, oh golly, the world's most volatile commodity seems to have shown some volatility again.
Oil prices. Fluctuating! Who'd've thought?
But yes, the sands of time are finally running out -- and, this being Alberta, we thought for sure it would take longer than this because the sand in question was all clumped together with oily goo. But, nope, this is it, people. We're screwed. It's all over. Finished. Done. Finis. …
You get the picture. And if you don't, you will when you watch the evening news.
Here are the key parts of the Edmonton Journal's story about Horner's dire warning yesterday. I've left out nothing important: "Tough choices … plunging price … big bite out of provincial revenue … warned his colleagues … facing financial constraints … not the greatest Christmas news … we have to adjust … everything is on the table … taken off the table … facing a deficit … oil has fallen to a record low … different than in the past … might not be able to count on any increases … live within their means … reining in and restraining our spending … meet our targets … tough stuff … tough decisions … spending freeze …" yadda-yadda.
Yes, everything is in there except the bit about tightening our belts, and, count on it, they'll have added that by lunchtime today.
Alberta Energy Minister Ken Hughes warned us the same warning the day before yesterday, by the way, and Premier Alison Redford added a dire warning or two in the afternoon. Prime Minister Harper and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty are known to be fretting about this too, so count on them to weigh in on the need for more austerity momentarily.
And they just found out!
So, seriously, how stupid is this?
Of course we've got a freaking revenue problem! We don't collect enough taxes.
We don't collect enough taxes on purpose, because it keeps the oil companies who own our government's soul happy and behaving themselves, politically speaking.
Last time they got exercised about this particular issue, they cooked up the Wildrose Party, which stands for exactly the same thing as the Horner's PCs -- only even more of it!
We also don’t collect enough taxes -- and those that we do we take from the people who can least afford them through our thoroughly regressive and unproductive tax system -- because it keeps voters disengaged.
Disengaged voters behave themselves too -- by not voting.
That is, disengaged voters are good from the "conservative" perspective because they don’t feel like they have a stake in the province or anything it does, and so you get to stay in power for 41 years and counting.
Alberta politicians like Harper -- the prime minister of Calgary -- took this idea to Ottawa and would like to put it to work nation-wide. It was disengaged Alberta voters, you might say, combined with a useful split on the centre left, that got Joan Crockatt elected in the recent Calgary Centre federal by-election. Joan Crockatt!
Of course we have a cash shortage. We insist on paying cash for everything, including the house, the car and the new washing machine.
If I didn't know better, I'd think we were run by economic imbeciles who hadn't figured out that commodity prices go up and down like one of those pump jacks out on the Prairie. But we know for a fact these folks aren’t imbeciles -- in fact, some of them, like Horner and Redford, for example, are quite smart. So something else must be going on.
Maybe they've actually bought the political calculus pushed by the right for three decades that you can't do the sensible and prudent thing no matter what because … that's just not the way we do things in North America. (“No taxes!” Redford barked this afternoon. She meant, presumably, no new taxes.)
Or maybe it's because they have a plan to completely destroy our public institutions and they need the cash flow-through from a 'round the clock out-of-control boom non-renewable resources boom to keep us all distracted while they privatize everything.
While you think about those possibilities, here's a home truth. Commodity prices are cyclical. They go up and down and they're never going to stop going up and down. So plan for it! Put a little money in the bank. Don't always pay cash. Have another revenue stream -- you know, like a reasonable level of taxation.
Indeed, we could add a nice round figure like $10 billion to the taxes we collect here in Alberta and they'd still be the lowest in the country!
In the mean time, though, the world is ending, and the fact that the fixes are pretty obvious, easy to implement and relatively painless for everyone involved doesn't mean for one second that they've got a snowball's chance in hell of being implemented.
So have a wonderful holiday and a great 2013 … and if the world doesn't really end tomorrow, tighten your belt.
This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.