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$2 billion ‘windfall’ nothing to cheer about

Two bald men fighting over a comb couldn’t match the ludicrous spectacle of our provincial NDP suddenly portraying themselves as past stalwart keepers of the public purse here in Alberta.

Apparently they were ignominiously turfed out of office at exactly the wrong time because, were it not for this daft blunder by voters, their much-ballyhooed ‘path to fiscal balance’ would soon have put the acrobats from Cirque de Soleil to shame, such was the financial sure-footedness of Notley’s crew.

“We over-performed in terms of our projections,” is how the former premier described latest figures showing Alberta spent $6.7-billion more than it brought in during her government’s last year in charge.

Only politicians could gloat about such dreadful profligacy. Heck, even Maple Leaf fans aren’t so deluded they’d brag about their team’s over-performance during the past half century.

This descent into pure farce arose after it was announced in the 12 months ending April that Alberta spent $56.3-billion while raking in $49.6-billion in revenues. Notely’s claim of over-performance arising from this fiscal bloodletting is based upon this being a couple of billion less than her government envisaged when tabling what would be their final budget.
Really? Are we in such a financial mess these days such news is reason for high fives all around? Of course this not-quite-so dreadful amount of red ink was mainly due to higher oil prices (half a century later we still blather on about diversification yet remain yoked to energy prices, as always.)

Anyhow, the actual reason for this outbreak of smugness about only over-spending by about a million bucks every waking hour during the past year was that the new head honcho in these parts, Premier Jason Kenney, recently reckoned this particular hole would be even deeper. Hey, maybe he can’t count either. Maybe it’s all those zeroes. They do tend to numb the mind.

But seriously, this is a sad sight: claiming some sort of victory for stewardship while we all slide deeper and deeper into debt.

Meanwhile this $2 billion ‘windfall’ – yes, I’m being facetious – has some folk in Alberta licking their chops while fighting to retain a prime spot at the taxpayer-funded trough.

Step right up Guy Smith, president of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees.

“Figures showed the province is more than $2 billion better off than expected thanks to increased revenue. Imagine how it feels to be a front-line worker who has accepted a two-year wage freeze to see these headlines and then read about how vital it is to attack them. It’s insulting,” was his battle cry.
‘Better off’ is not how most people would describe owing $6 billion more than we did a year ago as a province.

But Smith’s members won’t see it that way. No, they’re miffed this new government is deferring wage arbitration for public sector workers, even though such talks are built into some existing contracts.

Apparently they’ve never been so angry and are ready to fight in the courts and the streets. Well, go ahead. That’s their right, after all.

But if not getting a wage hike for two years is the most of their worries then what about those who haven’t had a raise in half-a-dozen years and yet thank someone, somewhere they still have a job. That’s the tough reality for many folk not fortunate to have the blessed security of a public sector gig.

Still, there’s $2 billion more than could have been grabbed and spent so let’s get down and dirty and nab as much as we can. Before the lights go out altogether.

Chris Nelson is a long-time journalist. His columns on Alberta politics run monthly in the St. Albert Gazette.

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