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'Leading thinkers' to set Alberta's new economic course lickety-split -- and you’re not invited

Stefan Baranski

In just 10 days, "Alberta's leading thinkers, key industry, non-profit and academic leaders, Members of the Legislative Assembly and passionate citizens will gather together for a spirited discussion on Alberta's future." You're not invited.

The government announced yesterday in a terse yet effusive press release that the economic summit Premier Alison Redford promised in her "State of the Province" Address one week ago will take place on Saturday, Feb. 9, at Mount Royal University in Calgary.

But don't worry about having to give up a day of your weekend -- only the usual suspects will be invited, plus 87 citizens chosen one each by their MLAs.

I'm pretty passionate about this stuff myself, so I'll be waiting by the phone for my call from Finance Minister Doug Horner, who happens to be my MLA. I'll let you know how that turns out.

Meanwhile, Rome may not have been built in a day, but thankfully Alberta's future can be -- at least for a year, as this event has been billed a "first annual" in the press release from Redford's communications director, Stefan Baranski. 

"This summit will be a very important opportunity to discuss the economic challenges facing the province while also offering potential solutions for Albertans," Baranski's press release stated.

And thanks to your absence, Dear Readers, there's no danger a crazy idea like a fair progressive tax system will be suggested to replace the Ralph Klein flat tax that the Calgary Herald, fearless champion of the overdog, likes so much.

Indeed, the absence of anyone on the invite list whose views haven't already been thoroughly vetted is presumably the key to the success of this aspect of the "conversation" Premier Redford promised to start with us all in her SOTP message back on Jan. 24.

Lots of ideas have already been floated by people with connections to the right people -- going after physicians' compensation, going after teachers' compensation, going after public service compensation, to name but a few -- so it's not hard to guess what will emerge from this glorified one-day seminar, which will feature four moderated panels, "each consisting of three to five participants with unique perspectives on areas relevant to Alberta’s fiscal framework."

Topic areas will be as follows:

1) Alberta's economy, and the need for cuts

2) Balancing expectations on the services Albertans need when things have to be cut

3) Alberta's revenue mix, and why we won't change it when we can just cut stuff

4) Responsible spending, including the need for cuts

The bit about the cuts doesn't actually come out of the press release, I just threw it in to be a smart aleck, but you get the idea.

In fact, yesterday morning Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk was already telegraphing the government's pre-summit plans for cuts via Twitter.

Meanwhile, while there suddenly seems to be some sympathy for the idea of an Alberta sales tax in Alberta Progressive Conservative circles -- as well as among the deepest of the Globe and Mail's deep thinkers -- don’t count on this one being part of the government's post-summit playbook. Too risky given all the opposition from the unwashed masses of both the right and left in the form of the Opposition Wildrose Party (no new taxes) and the NDP (no new regressive taxes).

Anyway, thanks to Klein, who was God's gift to Alberta's ultra-rich, it can't be done without either passing a controversial new law or holding a doomed referendum.

Redford also briefly floated the idea of a return to health care premiums -- which were cancelled by premier Ed Stelmach in 2009. That too would be unpopular, but at least could be re-branded and passed off as a user fee and not the regressive tax it in fact would be. Still, yesterday it appeared to have been judged too risky and dropped as well.

Getting back to the one-day, four-panel summit that will solve Alberta's economic woes, if you're not invited and are still anxious to take part, according Baranski – who managed George Smitherman's campaign to be mayor of Toronto shortly before Rob Ford, that city's answer to Ralph Klein, was elected -- you can participate through social media, details to follow.

You can watch the Youtube video, I guess, or read the Tweets. Just don't say you weren't consulted!

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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