It was a quiet, but substantive blow to the dignity of our province and it isn’t worth the cost.
The NDP government is now on track to run a $10 billion deficit, more than twice as large as the next largest deficit ever run in Alberta. The federal bailout money will cover just 2.5 per cent of the projected deficit for 2016. It is a drop in the proverbial bucket of the massive fiscal shortfall that the province faces in what will be our ninth consecutive year of deficit budgets. It will do nothing to solve the long-term structural fiscal problems that the province faces
The only thing that the federal bailout money has done is to allow the federal government to claim that it has done its part to help Alberta.
There is one thing that the federal government can do – and do tomorrow – that won’t cost taxpayers a cent: approve Energy East. The Energy East pipeline would create billions of dollars in economic activity across Canada and allow Alberta to finally get our products to international markets. It’s a no-brainer for any government that cares about Alberta and our constitutional right to trade across provincial borders without parochial extortion.
Instead, the federal government is abandoning its constitutional obligations under pressure from the likes of Montreal mayor Denis Coderre and the government of Quebec, which recently filed an injunction against Energy East in court.
The response from our NDP government to this injunction was to plead with Albertans to understand the viewpoint of the Quebec government and to not get upset. It was a response unbecoming of the leader of a province that has contributed so much to confederation, and asked so little of it in return.
Since 2007, the federal government has transferred $79.9 billion in Equalization payments to Quebec, and it will receive another $10 billion this year. The federal government is additionally considering a $1 billion corporate welfare bailout to the perennially troubled, Montreal-based Bombardier.
Rather than remind Quebec’s myopic politicians that Alberta’s net contribution to their federal largesse should encourage them to start behaving like members of a united country, our government has merely pleaded for a few scraps of our own from the federal table.
Asking for this money may have weakened Alberta’s negotiating hand, and for a bargain-basement price.
The fact is that only Alberta can solve Alberta’s fiscal problems. It is Alberta’s government that has annually overspent since the mid-2000s. It is Alberta’s government that borrowed money to finance our deficits, even when oil was over $100 a barrel. It is Alberta’s government that is right now driving investment and jobs away beyond our borders in the name of NDP economic experiments.
These are problems that only Albertans can solve. Federal handouts that cover just 2.5 per cent of a single year’s deficit will do nothing to solve our structural fiscal challenges. Ottawa can keep the change.
Alberta’s government does not control the price of oil, but we do control how much we spend, how much we tax, and what kind of business climate we want to create.
A return to balanced budgets is a challenge that needs to be addressed with a multi-year plan that sees reasonable reductions in expenditures and that focuses on getting the best value for taxpayers’ money while protecting front-line services.
Also key to balancing the budget, however, is stimulating economic growth and job creation. This won’t be accomplished by lavish new spending programs, but by fostering a competitive business climate that we once called the Alberta Advantage.
Alberta has what it takes to stand on our own two feet if we will only just do it
Derek Fildebrandt is the Wildrose Shadow Minister of Finance and the MLA for Strathmore-Brooks