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The interview we wish we had with Premier Prentice on Budget 2015

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Image: Flickr/Kempton

"I believe we show who we are, and how much we care, by what we do." -- Stephen Harper, Canada’s prime minister.

In his March 24 "State of the Province Address" Jim Prentice urged Albertans to receive his new budget in a spirit of openness. He said if we all act responsibly we can dig the government out of the $7 billion financial hole it created for itself.

Budget 2015 is Fiscal Fairyland. So its promoter, Mr. Prentice, should have no problem giving Ms. Soapbox an imaginary interview to discuss its imaginary benefits.

Mr. Premier, you say the current fiscal structure is unsustainable and that thoughtful, measured, fair and balanced leadership is required to dig Albertans out of this mess. Take me through the "thoughtful and measured" part.

"Thoughtful and measured" refers to the teeny tiny changes I made to the fiscal structure.

I told Albertans the sky was falling and that I would table a "once in a generation" budget so shocking that Albertans would demand I call an early election to get the mandate to proceed...then I changed my mind.

Instead of going hog wild I created a second flat tax. Anyone making less than $100,000 will continue to pay the same old 10 per cent flat tax. Anyone making more than $100,000 will pay a 11.5 per cent flat tax in 2019.

That's a "thoughtful and measured" (and miniscule) increase 1.5 per cent.

Oh, and I layered in 59 mini-taxes. I prefer to call them "fees" and "levies."

The 11.5 per cent tax rate is significantly lower than our neighbours. In B.C., personal taxes top out at 16.8 per cent. In Saskatchewan it’s 15 per cent.    

Exactly! The 1.5 per cent bump pushes our top tax rate up to a pitiful 11.5 per cent but the Wildrosers will go wild! Chortle.

What about the "fair and balanced" part? Why didn’t you raise the 10 per cent corporate flat tax by a "miniscule" one per cent? That would generate $500 million in revenue.    

Sigh. How many times do I have to say this? Raising corporate taxes is a job killer. Besides I promised Corporate Alberta that I'd do everything I could to protect their profits which, as you know, drive bonuses and protect stock option value. (You'll notice I didn’t touch royalties either).

You could raise corporate taxes by one per cent and still be lower than the rest of Canada. It's not like Corporate Alberta is going to throw the oilsands in the back of a truck and hit the road. 

*Grits his teeth* Raising corporate taxes is a J.O.B. K.I.L.L.E.R.

Is the corollary also true? Not raising corporate taxes will save jobs?

Heck no. I can't tell corporations not to fire people. But let me be clear, corporations are resilient. They will weather this downturn. We will return to a healthy economy in 2018-19 because…well, because I say so…

Right. Moving on. You said despite what amounts to a $1 billion cut in the health budget and the $90 million cut in classroom support there will be no impact on front line workers in healthcare and education. You also said 80,000 people will move to Alberta this year. And an additional 12,000 kids will go to school. But you’re not hiring a single new teacher and Alberta Health Services is under a hiring freeze.

Yes, well the front lines are well positioned to find ways of ensuring Albertans receive superior value for their tax dollars, through eliminating waste and enhancing efficiency, by changing how we buy drugs and eliminating overcharges on cell phones, and streamlining bureaucracy and improving the quality and responsiveness of services by putting seniors into restorative care beds after surgery.

Uh huh. Let's talk about streamlining bureaucracy. Half our tax dollars go to 200 agencies, boards and tribunals that multiply like rabbits and provide a cosy resting place for PC insiders. For example, Travel Alberta costs Albertans $50 million. It's got 50 managers who supervise 100 employees. Sounds a tad top-heavy, don’t you think?  

I reject the implication they're run by PC insiders. I've passed laws to ensure transparency. I've set up a sunshine list for jobs with salaries over $100,000. I’ve capped severance at six months' salary.

Really? How did that work with the Gaming and Liquor Commission? Last year it paid $370,000 in severance (three times base salary) to dump its VP strategy, transformation and ethics and $567,000 severance to get rid of the VP lottery and gaming services. That money would have filled the hole in the Auditor General’s budget and the Child Advocate’s budget with $150,000 left over. Care to comment?

No.    

Notwithstanding the cuts to public services you’re spending an additional $54 million on MLAs'budgets, yes?

Yes. We need more help with communications and policy strategies.   

No kidding! (Ooops, sorry).

Let’s talk about debt. Your budget will put us $31 billion in debt by 2018. You say you'll adopt "innovative and alternative approaches" to fund public services. Would that be public-private partnerships (P3s)?

Yes.

Like the private seniors care facilities that made a 27 per cent profit last year?

*The premier fidgets in his chair*

One last question Mr Premier. Danielle Smith lost the Tory nomination in Highwood notwithstanding your personal endorsement and the support of four of your cabinet ministers. Any comment?  

Who cares. She served her purpose and now she's gone.

Any else you’d like to add?

As Stephen Harper once said: “I believe we show who we are, and how much we care, by what we do.”

This budget shows Albertans who I am and how much I care.

It does indeed Mr Premier, it does indeed.

 

Image: Flickr/Kempton

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