There’s a faintly Babylonian feel about Alberta politics as we wander, somewhat uneasily, into these early days of a hopeful 2018.
It’s all this current chatter about paying down debts and returning what’s been borrowed that’s doing it. Not that our collection of provincial politicians have actually gone as far as setting down a precise and serious plan to make Wild Rose Country once again debt free. Heaven help us if and when that will ever happen. But at least we are hearing more serious rumblings about stopping borrowing oodles of dough just to keep the darn lights on.
You see it is the Babylonians who are credited with being the first folk to engage in the ritual of New Year’s resolutions, something they got into about 4,000 years ago. The calendar was different back then so this inaugural annual promise drive took place at the start of the spring harvest, rather than today’s January 1.
Still, that was their year’s beginning so each time it rolled around the normally thrifty Babylonians held a wild 12-day party in which they either reaffirmed their allegiance to the current king or, instead, tossed that loser out and brought in some new fellow. Interestingly enough, and where the resolution bit comes from, they also pledged to pay all their debts and return anything they’d borrowed.
Unfortunately us Albertans don’t get a chance to kick our leaders from power once a year, following a jolly booze up. We’ll have to make do with going to the polls in about 18 months to elect a new provincial government. That increasingly closer date with political destiny is why the chatter about borrowing and deficits is becoming a lot more specific.
Now at first blush you’d be forgiven for thinking the deficit-reducing plans of the ruling NDP government (even closing in on three years it still seems slightly odd typing that, here in Alberta) and the United Conservative Party, under its new head honcho, Jason Kenney, are so many miles apart. Surely the divide between their future financial blueprints must challenge the Grand Canyon? Certainly the rhetoric would have us believe so.
But ignore the blather and instead look at their actual time-frames for bringing us back to balance and something strange happens. One bunch reckons we can do it in 2022 and the other a year later.
Now, to those ancient Babylonians, a single year was indeed a long time – ask one of their kings who lasted barely that long – but in modern-day economies 12 months is simply a paper-thin divide, especially when talking about a $300-billion business like Alberta’s.
Just a week ago Provincial Treasurer Joe Ceci, no doubt feeling flush from news that the unemployment rate is dropping in Alberta and the oil price is clinging to around $60-a-barrel, reiterated that his government’s mission is to balance the books by 2023. Heck his boss, Premier Rachel Notley, said the same thing during those seemingly endless media interviews at year-end.
Now let us not forget that currently, despite all these recent glad tidings, we are borrowing well over $10-billion this year in our province. That’s a lot to cut away in spending or grow from revenue in a bare five years.
But according to Notley that can be done with … compassionately. OK, so that’s not like the social Armageddon to be unleashed if Kenney and his UCP lot take the reins in 2019.
No those dreadful UCP people are set on balancing the budget in, wait for it, 2022. Yep, that’s 12 months earlier than Notley’s plan. This illusion isn’t the Grand Canyon; it’s hardly a crack in the sidewalk.
Chris Nelson is a long-time journalist. His columns on Alberta politics run monthly in the St. Albert Gazette.