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Gee, it sure sounds as if the grownups are finally in charge here in Alberta, doesn't it?
Faced with a steep downturn in the province's resource-based economy, the NDP government of Alberta Premier Rachel Notley has decided to keep its election promises and ensure that truly essential services continue to be provided as they are needed, and that if spending is restrained, it is in truly non-essential areas.
You'd almost think the NDP had concluded its job is to govern the province during a difficult economic time, instead of just handing it over to the hobgoblins of the market and letting it implode like Detroit.
Really, the budget tabled yesterday afternoon by Finance Minister Joe Ceci is unique in recent Alberta history.
We haven't really had a government since before Ralph Klein became premier that was willing to work very hard to protect Albertans, their jobs and their families in the face of one of the periodic downturns typical of an economy based on sales of a single, volatile natural resource. Maybe successive Progressive Conservative premiers just assumed the families impacted would quietly move back to the Maritimes.
It was Klein, of course, who entrenched the obsession with balancing the budget at all costs as Alberta's official state religion. This unhealthy psychological syndrome persists to this day, unsupported by evidence trusted by real economists, who say deficits of up to about three per cent of GDP a year can be sustained without adding to the debt as long as the economy is generally on an upward trend. But the thought of a deficit of well under two per cent in the very kind of economic situation that requires stimulus financing sent the Wildrose Party right over the hyperbolic edge.
Apparently the notion of "the largest deficit in the province’s history" (it's not, in GDP terms, but never mind) had Opposition spokespersons predicting a full-blown fiscal apocalypse with unembarrassed market-fundamentalist fire and brimstone.
The NDP's slogan for yesterday's Budget Speech was: "Supporting jobs. Supporting families. The Alberta Way." Indeed, the government expects it to create up to 27,000 jobs through 2017.
This certainly wasn't the Alberta Way under Klein, or any of Tory premiers Alison Redford (except for about two weeks when it looked like she might lose the 2012 election to Danielle Smith's kinder, gentler version of the Wildrose Party), Dave Hancock or Jim Prentice. I'm willing to give Ed Stelmach credit for at least thinking about it.
Still, like much of the rest of the world, what we've grown used to here in Alberta is extremist market-fundamentalist governments that use such circumstances as an excuse to slash, slash, slash -- with all the slashing in aid of handing essential government services over to be held hostage for ever-bigger profits by the private sector.
Needless to say, when resource prices improve, as they always have so far in our cyclical economy, these things are never put back the way they were.
Tragically, this version of the Alberta Way became the model for Canada's federal government as well, as Stephen Harper's so-called Conservatives tried to emulate Margaret Thatcher in good times and bad, using high petroleum prices to finance tax breaks that left government services on life support and bad times as an excuse for more slashing and privatization.
Canadians saw through this more quickly than Albertans did, thank goodness, but it will take longer than one elected term to repair the damage at both levels of government.
When Albertans cottoned on to this and elected the NDP under Notley last spring, they finally got a government that didn't instinctively react to a cash flow constriction by concluding that instead of getting our house in order, we needed to burn it down.
Looking at Ceci's sane approach to financing health care and education, I can't shake the feeling most Albertans -- including many who think of themselves as die-hard "conservatives" -- are secretly relieved, even pleased, that the NDP is serious about keeping the province's head above water, and not incidentally helping the economy along while they do it.
At least they know that if times get really tough while the downturn continues, the services they need to sustain them will be there.
As for the NDP's planned return to perfectly balanced annual budgets within four years, and its reluctance to raise revenue streams through taxes and royalties to sustainable levels, those are political necessities, not economic ones.
But in the mean time, as blogger Dave Cournoyer observed last night, the sky didn’t fall when the NDP tabled its first budget. And it won’t, either, regardless of what the Chicken Littles in the Opposition are promising.
Wow! Wildrose finance critic doubles down on media relations lunacy!
Apparently Wildrose Finance Critic Derek Fildebrandt wants to revolutionize the way right-wing politicians do media relations.
Faced with a reporter from an out-of-town newspaper who unsympathetically reported his deep thought that the NDP's campaign promises weren't really meant to be kept, and therefore shouldn't have been, he insulted her by tweeting that she was a "B-list reporter who wrote an intentionally torqued… story."
The newspaper in question, the Toronto Globe and Mail, which actually has a pretty good reputation as such publications go, supported its reporter, Carrie Tait, and ignored him. Best PR practice says that should have been the end of it.
Instead, yesterday Fildebrandt doubled down on his fumble and refused to acknowledge a question from Tait: "Sorry we're not taking questions from political journalists," he huffed. He did it with Wildrose Leader Brian Jean standing right beside him, with a blank look on his face.
This sparked a storm of Twitter outrage by other journalists, which apparently prompted Fildebrandt to accuse Tait by Tweet of "auditioning for a job as the latest press secretary in the Premier's Office."
Well, it'll be open warfare now. The Globe and Mail versus Derek Fildebrandt. I'm sure the government is watching this with unalloyed delight.
This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca
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