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Dear Opposition: Even Quebec thinks Alberta is a big spender

December 05, 2019
Dear Opposition: Even Quebec thinks Alberta is a big spender

These days there doesn’t seem to be much that Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and Quebec politicians can agree on. But they can both agree that Alberta has a spending problem.

“Actually, Alberta is a bigger spender than its leaders would like you to believe,” wrote Pascal Bérubé, parliamentary leader for the Parti Québécois. “Alberta is not some libertarian’s dream, as some would like you to believe. The province is a perfect example of big government.”

Ouch.

If anyone could diagnose a spending problem, it would be a politician from Quebec. After installing a costly provincial daycare program, handing over millions of dollars to a blimp business that hasn’t sold any blimps and subsidizing a money-losing diamond company, Quebec politicians aren’t much like Scrooge McDuck.

The numbers show that Bérubé’s right on Alberta’s spending. The Alberta government dishes out about $500 more per person every year on program expenses than big-spending Quebec, according to a 2019 RBC report.

Kenney has also known the true cause of Alberta’s budget woes for quite some time. Only a few weeks after becoming premier, he commissioned the Blue Ribbon Panel to dive into Alberta’s finances and identify ways to eliminate wasteful spending.  

And the panel dropped a bombshell of a report. The experts found that Alberta taxpayers would save more than $10 billion every year if the government brought its spending in line with similar provinces. The entire report can be summed up with the key statement from the panel’s chair: “Alberta has a spending problem.

It seems like the only people left on planet Earth who don’t understand the spending problem are Alberta’s New Democrat Opposition and government union bosses.

“We knew we were going to see cuts … what he [Kenney] didn’t tell us is just how deep those cuts would go,” responded Opposition Leader Rachel Notley to the United Conservative’s recent budget.

Kenney should be making big cuts after more than a decade of runaway government spending. But by the end of his fourth year, Kenney’s budget is expected to increase the NDP’s total spending by $174 million and add over $30 billion to the government’s debt tab.

Government union bosses aren’t even close to hitting the mark.

“[The cuts are] far-reaching and far deeper than we have ever seen in this province,” said Mike Parker, president of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta.

That’s just plain false.

While Kenney is increasing spending, the late premier Ralph Klein actually cut total spending by more than 15 per cent between 1992 and 1996.

The only people who think the Alberta government spends and taxes too little are the people who get paid to think that. Of course, union bosses want to cover up the spending problem with higher taxes. How else would they be able to get their eight-per-cent pay hikes while hundreds of Albertans outside of government continue to be added to the ranks of the unemployed?

“These advocates want a sales tax not for society’s sake but for their own,” wrote columnist Chris Nelson. “Because, if governments manage to get their clammy paws on even more cash courtesy of ordinary Albertans … poof go those current threats of cuts, rollbacks and frozen spending.”

The opposition NDP and union bosses have painted themselves into a corner. Anything less than a major spending increase from Kenney will result in them lighting their collective hair on fire. Kenney’s not going to score any E-for-effort points with them.

But Albertans are ready for cuts. For heaven’s sake, even Quebec politicians are calling Alberta a big spender. Kenney needs to balance the books, begin paying down the debt and offer more tax relief. To do that, he’s going to have to get tougher on Alberta’s spending problem.

This column was originally published in the Calgary Sun on December 5, 2019.

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