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Standard & Poor's downgrades Saskatchewan's credit rating and The Anger Machine falls silent

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Brad Wall

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The Anger Machine fell strangely silent yesterday.

It's unlikely to last, but it's restful for the moment. We should be thankful for small mercies.

The wholly owned Alberta subsidiary of the Canadian Perpetual Outrage Industry was in a spitting fury a couple of weeks ago when Alberta Premier Rachel Notley made reference in her speech to the New Democratic Party's annual general meeting about how her caucus is standing up to what she termed "the anger machine."

More recently, The Anger Machine has been in a similar fulminating swivet over the suggestion by some observers of the recent British "Brexit" vote that, um, a certain lack of tolerance may have played a role in the Leave side's campaign. 

Same people. Same comments. Same outrage. Always on the same day.

But last night? As some wag put itcrickets.

So what, you may ask, is the likely cause of this unnerving silence?

The answer is simple: Saskatchewan.

Or, more specifically, Saskatchewan's vaunted credit rating. Yesterday, Standard & Poor's, the New York-based bond-rating agency, downgraded Saskatchewan's AAA rating to AA+.

The reasons given were similar to the explanations provided by S&P and other private sector U.S. bond-rating agencies when they downgraded Alberta's rating from AAA to AA+ last December, and again to AA in May, prompting a nationwide howl of outrage among all the Usual Suspects on the right.

Meanwhile, Saskatchewan's S&P rating had remained at Triple-A, which has been widely taken as proof among the Alberta right that Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall is the Colossus of the Prairies and all other premiers should bow before him.

Alas, S&P has now downgraded Saskatchewan's rating to Double-A-plus, and one gets the distinct impression it will soon follow Alberta's to Double-A and perhaps below, which, in the eyes of the Canadian Right, has to be seen as being double-plus-ungood! 

After all, The Angry Machine has done nothing but scream at Premier Notley here in Alberta and at Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, holding them personally responsible for their provinces' ratings downgrades by S&P and other bond-rating agencies.

Now Wall, who was supposed to be able to do no wrong, has achieved the same unhappy thing -- personally too, I guess -- and stunned silence reigns.

While there are naturally recent policy differences between Alberta's NDP government and Wall's conservative Saskatchewan Party Government, the fundamental problem is much the same in both jurisdictions. Like the Tories that ruled Alberta for nearly 44 years, Wall's party never saved anything from the resource boom in his province, and the recent decline in oil prices has left both provinces in a royalty bind.

One difference -- which does not show Wall in a particularly good light -- is that Saskatchewan has done this with a 5-per-cent sales tax, which the Alberta Tories then and the Alberta New Democrats now unwisely eschew.

Luckily for Wall, he was able to fib his way through Saskatchewan's recent election campaign before the stuff began to hit the fan.

S&P opined that, in the words of the Canadian Press, "in the next two years there is a one-in-three chance the province will not be able to meet its budget targets of low or no growth in operating expenditures." So, the province's credit rating is quite likely to get worse.

What reporting there has been on this development has been very muted. A short and colourless story was provided by the Canadian Press, without a single word of fulminating commentary from the opposition, as when the same thing happened to NDP governments.

No major Canadian newspaper seems to have provided its own copy for this story. Every one relied on the 150-word CP story. Even that couldn't be found last night in most of the debt-ridden Postmedia newspapers, with their own Single-B-minus credit rating from S&P and shares that fell a penny each yesterday to an undignified 2 cents. Perhaps the aptly named company's management was too busy heading to the lifeboats.

There was no press release from the Wildrose Party either. No statement from Wildrose Finance Critic Derek Fildebrant saying the credit downgrade shows "just how dangerous and out of touch the Saskatchewan Party plan is," to paraphrase the 'Rosers' commentary the last time the same thing happened here.

And not a peep Commandante Ezra Levant's "Rebel" media, apparently, which had worked itself into a lather over Notley's Angry Machine reference, described by their correspondent as proof the premier hates Albertans.

Nothing from former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper, busy these days having regular breakfast strategy meetings with would be provincial Conservative leader Jason Kenney.

The self-described Canadian Taxpayers Federation bravely wrote something, using the unhappy news as an opportunity to attack … Alberta and Ontario.

On social media, where right-wing commentators normally wheel and spin like a flock of clamorous starlings … barely a chirp.

What do you want to bet they're back with a vengeance tomorrow, screaming about something completely different.

Why, it's almost enough to make you wonder if there really is ... you know ... a right-wing anger machine.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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