EDMONTON - As a result of the provincial government's on-going obsession with debt repayment, Albertans are not getting the kind of high-quality public services they deserve - and which they can afford, says the president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
"This government has spent the past seven years trying to convince Albertans that we can no longer afford to maintain the quality of public services in this province," says Audrey Cormack.
"But the huge budget surpluses that have been recorded over the past six years prove that this isn't the case. The truth is that this government has an embarrassment of riches. There is no good reason why citizens living in such a wealthy province should be forced to accept chronically under-funded services like education and health care."
Cormack's comments came after it was revealed that the government is predicting a $2 billion budget surplus for the 1999-2000 fiscal year. This would be on top of the $8 billion in surpluses accumulated since 1994.
"It's hard to understand how a province that has so much potential revenue at its disposal could have problems with over-crowded classrooms, health care waiting lists and crumbling roads," says Cormack. "Yet that's exactly what's happening. Members of the Klein government should be ashamed of themselves."
The problems currently being experienced in education, health care and other public services are the direct result of the government's obsession with eliminating every cent of debt, says Cormack. She says the government's "radical approach" to issues of debt repayment is best exemplified by the so-called Fiscal Responsibility Act, which prohibits the government from spending any portion of its surplus on programs. Only one-time expenditures are allowed.
"What this legislation means is that we are locked into inadequate levels of spending on programs like health care, education and transportation for the next 20 years," says Cormack, adding that one-time cash infusions won't change the situation.
"The one-time spending initiative promised by the Premier and the Treasurer won't solve the problems in our hospital and schools," she says. "What good is it to build a new hospital or school if you don't have on-going program funding to staff it? And what good is using a one-time grant to pave a road if you don't have enough program funding to maintain it properly?"
Cormack says the time has come for the government to admit that the so-called debt crisis of the early 90s is over and to adopt a more balanced approach to debt repayment and program spending.
"Alberta's debt is under control. We currently only spend about $1 billion - or 6.8 percent of the annual budget - on debt servicing. This is a truly enviable position. Surely we could ease off on efforts to eliminate the debt entirely. Instead, the government should turn its attention to an area where there is a real crisis - and that's the area of on-going program spending for important public services."
For more information call:
Alberta Federation of Labour @ 483-3021 (work) 499-6530 (cell) 428-9367 (home)