Saturday, April 25, 2015

Time for a change, Alberta

This is the first of a periodic series of posts that are intended to be a more polished topical essay, rather than the multi-topic blog posts I bang out every day and a half or so, on average. Some of you have liked my rants (thank you very much) and there are well over 100 to read. Some of them are emotional frothings that make me feel better. Some are a perplexed reaction to something.

But I don't think any are an actual essay making an argument for a particular point of view, with nothing else to detract from it. I don't think you'll have much difficulty in understanding the point of these essays. This point of view will be mine. I'm not a shill for anyone else. Commentary is welcome, even if you disagree, but tell me why you disagree. I love getting comments, but as always, I'm going to insist they are polite.

Change is likely to be a catalyst for a number of these essays. Overdue change, reactions to change, inadvisable change or resignation to inevitable change could all be applied to many situations. Hold onto your hat though, you never know what you'll get.

“Politicians and diapers must be changed often, and for the same reason.” Mark Twain.

Not just politicians, but the government that is made of those same politicians needs to be changed too. What then are we to make of a 44 year old provincial government? This one certainly fails the sniff test. Time to be changed.

The biggest thing for me is simple financial competence. Much of the revenue for the Alberta government comes from oil and gas royalties. The theory is that Albertans own the resource, and the various oil and gas companies pay us royalties to be allowed to extract and sell it. The unfortunate thing is that we don't set the market price of oil and gas. Any teenager knows that price fluctuates. If they've been paying attention, they know it could and does fluctuate a lot.

The problem is the PC government doesn't seem to get this in any practical way. I know as a contractor my income can fluctuate from my normal rate to nothing on very little notice. I have emergency money set aside for that. So does every other contractor I know.

What does Alberta do? They spend it all, and sometimes more. They, along with almost everyone else is notoriously poor at predicting the price of oil. So duh, budget for it cheap, and bank the excess. We used to have a Heritage Fund. The intent was to set aside part of the royalty income for days when that income might not be there, and there were still schools, roads, and hospitals to be built. Like, (surprise!) now.

In the mean time that money can be invested to earn further income. This might mean buying bonds from other provinces as a bedrock position. It won't earn much, but they aren't going to go bankrupt. Part of the money could go to diversifying our economy. The problem there is that critics accuse the government of picking winners and losers, as if getting a loan from the government guarantees success. They also think that if that business goes under, then the government has lost money, which is true in a technical sense, and someone should be fired. As any commercial loan manager will tell you, if a few loans don't go bad, you aren't making as much money as you could because you're too conservative. (In an economic, not political sense.)

Over the years, incompetent politicians stopped adding to the fund, then started raiding it, even when times were good. This is criminally stupid, prima facie evidence of incompetence. If you believe that Alberta's oil and gas wealth belongs to all Albertan's, including ones not born yet, you have to weep and rage at the folly of the government.

There used to be a bumper sticker. "Please God, let there be another oil boom. I promise not to piss it all away this time." It's an oldie but a goodie, because it keeps on happening.

Part of the problem is indeed us, the taxpayers. There was an element of truth to Prentice's claim that we should look in a mirror. As taxpayers in a wealthy province, we want it all, as in all the goodies and none of the prices. Politicians, poor helpless creatures that they are, merely try to deliver so they can keep their snouts in the trough.

In the debate the other day the leader of the Wildrose party kept saying "we won't raise taxes". More evidence of stupidity. Sometimes raising taxes is the right thing to do. Nobody likes it, me included, but golly, I sure like having the various benefits of living in a civilized society. There is more to governing than lowering taxes. He kept saying it over and over. We get it, but I suspect his base needs to hear it again and again. Who needs to be told something more than a few times?

I know there will be another oil boom, and another crash. I know this like I know there will be eclipses of the moon and sun. I personally don't know when, but I could find out about the eclipses. Smart people have figured that out. Nobody knows when the next boom and crash will be. The difference is that smart people know they will happen, and plan for it.

Which leads me to my main point. The PC party has repeatedly demonstrated incompetence at planning for the inevitable. Time to give another party a chance. My advice? If you don't vote PC anyway, carry on. You're doing just fine. Unless, maybe, if you vote Liberal you might want to consider switching your vote to the NDP or Alberta Party. They're on their way up. The Liberals are down and out, and getting downer and outer all the time.

If you normally vote PC I implore you, consider an alternative. You have party choices to the left and right of the PC's. If you like no new taxes as a rule, and don't mind the lake of fire, then vote Wildrose. If you're a bit of a red tory, then please look around. The NDP are doing really well lately. Ms Notley cleaned up in the recent debate, and has been getting great press. I like the idea of the Alberta Party, and you might prefer to vote for them rather than "the socialist hordes", as it was expressed to me. However they aren't running in my riding so that isn't a choice for me. I'm not sure if the Greens are running provincially, and if their people were half as good as the federal MP Elizabeth May, I'd vote for them hands down.

At this point I don't have an opinion on how the election will turn out. Last time Wildrose was doing really well, till the lake of fire and it's implications sank in. Redford very cleverly played the fear card, and lots of people swung back to the PC's. Prentice is trying to do that this time round, only using fear of the socialists, but I don't know if it will work. My own MLA tried playing that card today after he knocked on my door. "They will wreak the economy and put people out of jobs." Bah, I say. BAH! Lots of my buddies are out of a job just now, and many companies are flirting with bankruptcy. Tell me again who is in government?

Time for a change. I think having a weak majority NDP, with a strong opposition Wildrose would be a great thing. Wildrose has demonstrated competence at holding the government's feet to the fire. Knowing they have a guy that only thinks about not raising taxes in opposition means NDP will prepare well, and explain why their raising taxes, and what it's for. Having a few Greens, Aberta Party, and even Liberals filling out the remaining seats would be just fine.

A minority government has never happened in the entire history of Alberta. Not even close. The words interesting times don't even begin to cover that possibility.

I'm not so happy about a weak majority Wildrose. Remember, they are the older, more intolerant, more religious, and much more conservative wing of the PC party that took their marbles and went away. The lake of fire was just fine with them before, and is likely still just fine now, given some of what I've read from their members. I don't see them as competent to deal with the complexities of government, even though some of them have been in government.

Last thing. If you are an Albertan eligible to vote, get your butt down to the polling station and do it. There's lots of advance polling options. Your employer is required by law to give you time to vote if your work shift overlaps the hours the polling stations are open. You can't say this isn't an interesting election; it's the most interesting, most contested election since the Conservatives took over from Social Credit. Normally the PC's rack up such huge majorities I can understand people thinking their vote doesn't count. That isn't true now. Every vote counts this time. Every one. Get out there and vote!


  1. An excellent, thoughtful commentary. I'm going to share it with my Alberta friends, Keith. Here's hoping for better days ahead.

    1. Thanks Janice! It's been brewing for a while, then it suddenly burst out. That it's too cold to work on the lawn or garden is a coincidence.


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