Gil McGowan, President
Our current provincial government wants Albertans to believe that these are tough times.
They want us to believe that the recession has left them with no choice but to trim budgets and cut funding ... even for vital services like education.
People like Premier Stelmach and Education Minister Dave Hancock put on their most sorrowful faces and said things like:
"We're sorry, but – really – there is no alternative."
But ordinary Albertans know in their hearts and their guts that there is something seriously wrong with this picture.
They see mega projects ramping up; they see glitzy office towers rising; they see the economy springing back to life.
And they wonder: Why?
Why, amidst such plenty, should we be laying off teachers and other education workers?
Why should we be under-funding our universities, colleges and technical schools?
Why should we be cutting services for the needy and the disabled?
Why should we be skimping on the services and programs that we need to build a stronger foundation for the future of our province and its citizens?
The truth is: There is no good reason.
The truth is: It is ordinary Albertans, with hearts and their guts, who are right, and it's our politicians, with their pious pronouncements, who are wrong.
Facts are sometimes inconvenient for politicians. They get in the way of the stories they tell voters and tell themselves.
But when we're talking about our schools and our hospitals ... about services for our kids, our grandparents and the most vulnerable members of our society ... then we can't afford to ignore the facts.
And what do the facts tell us?
Well, they tell us that Alberta is one of the most prosperous jurisdictions not only in Canada, but in the entire world.
They tell us that we still have no public debt ...
...that, on a person basis, our provincial economy is 75 percent larger than the Canadian average...
...that corporate profits in the province have increased by more than 400 percent over the past decade...
...that ten of billions of dollars in investment continue to pour into the oil sands each year.
These are NOT tough times.
We are a province that can think big and dream big. And we are certainly a province that can afford to provide adequate, stable long-term funding for core services like education.
There is another part of the government story that doesn't stand up to scrutiny.
That's the part where they tell Albertans that we has a spending problem – that costs are out of control for public services.
But, once again, the facts tell a different story.
They tell us that, despite our wealth, Alberta's per person spending on public services is bang on the national average.
They tell us that overall spending on public services has barely kept up with our province's robust population growth.
And they tell us that, as a share of our provinces overall economic pie, spending on public services has actually gone down over the last 20 years – and not by just a little bit.
All of this begs the question: if we can afford our services (which, clearly, we can) and if spending is under control (which, clearly, it is) why, then, is the Stelmach government still recording deficits?
This is the real question that Albertans need to be asking themselves and their politicians: now; during the Tory leadership race and in the next election.
And the answer is clear: the reason our cupboard is bare is because our provincial government has decided to make it bare.
Successive governments here in Alberta have deliberately stopped collecting a reasonable and responsible share of our province's economic pie to fund the public services that Albertans need. Years and years of ill-conceived tax and royalty cuts have left us with an inadequate and unreliable revenue base.
Alberta is like a rich guy with a big hole in his pocket. He keeps shoving the money in, but his pockets are always empty at the end of the month. The answer is not for the rich guy to sell his house, or tell his kids they're going to live on Kraft dinner. The answer is to fix the hole.
That's why we've re-established the Join Together Alberta coalition ... and it's why we'll be circulating our declaration and hosting townhalls across the province.
We want to help Albertans understand that lay-offs and larger class sizes are not inevitable or unavoidable.
We want to remind our leaders and the public about the important role that public services play in building a more sustainable, equitable and prosperous future.
We want to demonstrate that what we have is a revenue problem, not a spending problem.
We want to pressure our politicians to stop preaching austerity when it is clearly unwarranted.
And we to call on the government to deal with the real problem: which is Alberta's broken system for revenue generation.
The good news is that thoughtful members of our provincial community are starting to wake up and speak out. Peter Lougheed, members of the premier's advisory panel on economic strategy, think tanks like the Parkland Institute and the Canada West Foundation: they're all calling for a discussion on revenue reform.
Politicians don't like to talk about taxes. But for the sake of our kids, our families and our future, this is a discussion we have to have. We're going to do our part to make sure that happens.
River Valley Room, Chateau Lacombe
March 26, 2011