In a fiery address at the end of a conference on economic and social policy, Ricardo Acuna urged Alberta's left to lay out what it wants in health care and education, rather than just organizing to battle against periodic cuts.
"It's time to stop fighting back and start moving forward," Acuna told the audience of about 80.
"It's time to stop being embarrassed or apologizing for our political positions. It's time to stop defending a status quo we find inadequate and start fighting for radical proposals."
Acuna was speaking after two days of sessions organized by the Parkland Institute and the Alberta Federation of Labour.
In one talk earlier Saturday, economist Greg Flanagan told the crowd that despite ballooning deficits, Alberta's budget problems are about revenue, not spending.
Adjusted for population, Alberta takes in billions less in tax revenue than any other province, said Flanagan, who recently retired from the University of Lethbridge. Even minor boosts to consumption or income taxes could easily eliminate the province's nearly $5-billion deficit, he added.
Flanagan's talk hit on a number of recurring themes at the conference, most notably that Alberta's tax system is unfair and that, during a recession, more public spending, not less, is needed.
Acuna, though, urged the attendees to move away from talk about balance sheets. Progressives should lay out explicit plans for the systems they want and only then ask people to pay more for them, he said.
"How did we get here?" Acuna asked. "How did we start talking about the bottom line, not people?"
Answering his own question, he laid part of the blame on the news media.
"Twenty years ago, we had labour reporters in this province," he said.
He also called on progressives to make their voices heard.
"Can you imagine if we had commentators as far to the left as (radio host Dave) Rutherford is to the right?" he asked.
"Can you imagine if we had columnists as far to the left as ( Edmonton Journal columnist) Lorne Gunter is to the right?"
The weekend conference, which took place at the University of Alberta, featured panels on alternatives to tax and spending cuts, lessons learned from the Klein-era cuts and public policy solutions, among others.
The Parkland Institute is a nonpartisan research centre at the university.
Edmonton Journal, Sun Feb 14 2010
Byline: Richard Warnica