September 07, 2016

With Alberta's finances this bad, now is no time for a pub crawl

Paige MacPhersonAlberta CTF Director

(This op-ed was published in the Edmonton Journal on September 6, 2016.)

Alberta’s NDP government is missing the forest for the weeds.

In the lead up to the recent whopper of a first quarter fiscal update, the finance minister should have been focusing on the budget quickly snowballing out of control. Instead, Minister Ceci spent his time flitting about from brewery to brewery, promoting his enormous tax hike on all craft beers and subsequent corporate welfare to the local breweries the government deems worthy.

On Tuesday, he was back in Edmonton to field questions on the province’s budgetary woes – clearly in dire straits – but failed to take a pint of responsibility for the role his government’s policy choices have played.

The province is now in a net debt position for the first time in 18 years. Our operational deficit has ballooned to $10.9 billion.

Albertans will now officially be lighting $1 billion on fire every year to pay the interest on the debt. And the government still has no real plan to balance the budget.

There’s a vague promise of budget balance by 2024 – a date that’s been revised time and again. Recall, it was only months ago that Alberta Finance Minister Joe Ceci said deciding on any budget date at all was “wishful thinking.”

The government has put 100 per cent of the budgetary blame on unexpected wildfires and the price of oil. Of course those are major factors – but government policies played a major role, too.

Choices matter when you’re the big boss of a province. That’s why we elect governments: to make choices and to take responsibility for the outcomes.

Minister Ceci said his government doesn’t want to make “knee-jerk cuts” and put families “in a worse position.”

Knee-jerk cuts? The NDP government was elected nearly a year and a half ago. They must be aware that we have a system wherein governments are elected for four or five years. Their mandate is one-quarter eaten up. We’ve blown past the ‘benefit of the doubt’ period. This government has had time to plan – and to act. At this point, ‘knee-jerk’ is nothing more than a talking point. 

Inaction is just as much a choice as action. Instead of making tough calls, the government has chosen to sit on its hands. What’s required is a serious plan to reduce spending and tighten government’s belt. Alberta’s per-capita spending is among the highest in Canada, and when it comes to healthcare – Alberta’s largest ministry – we’re the biggest per-capita spenders.

The government has increased a whole host of taxes, including an incoming multi-billion dollar carbon tax that will raise the price of almost everything (despite the government’s claim that it doesn’t want to make things worse for families).

But notwithstanding carefully worded promises from every tax-and-spend government in history, raising taxes doesn’t always mean an automatic increase in revenues. The main cause for the spike in Alberta’s deficit is declining business tax revenues, which are down by $877 million.

Meanwhile, the gravy train chugs forward. Total expenses increased by $1.2 billion, up to $52.3 billion. Part of that new spending is the $12 million subsidy to small brewers (which Ceci says could grow to $20 million annually).

“We’re doing this to incentivize production in Alberta, to diversify our economy,” Ceci said in July after he raised beer taxes for the second time since being elected.

Set aside the downer that this policy will increase beer prices for cash-strapped Albertan consumers. This is the government’s grand “economic diversification” plan?

Everyone loves a good craft beer. In fact, we all need a beer now more than ever. But big picture: corporate profits are expected to drop by 27 per cent. Investment is draining out of the province. Alberta’s unemployment rate is now higher than Nova Scotia’s.

The government assured us that its tax hikes were wonderful, coupled with economic diversification that, like our valiant steed, would gallop in and save the day. They had a plan: like governments’ (failed) efforts before this, “economic diversification” would save the day.

Well, the taxes are rising, and the revenues are declining. The debt is ballooning.

And the finance minister is pub-crawling.    

(Paige MacPherson is Alberta Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.)

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commented 2016-09-11 00:28:44 -0400
Kline raised taxes so is Notley. Notley raise the taxes so they lower than Kline’s. But people complain but worship Kline. This is stupid party politics period. Notley was and is the best choice for Alberta now and the future. She know Ralph Kline for over 20years personally. Even went the the family funeral as she was invited and even other Mla s were not. So I have to say is th ki for one moment for yourself and say is she actually like Ralph Kline. If for one party you think yes. Then you understand what they post here is all from a bulls rear end.
commented 2016-09-07 20:25:44 -0400
Let Ceci go and have his little party. They can all have their little parties.

And when there is nothing left, the only that will be dead will be socialism.

Decertify the NDP and wipe them from the face of the Earth. And expose every single thing they did for the criminality that we all know was going on.

Sure. Notley will have flown the coop and become leader of the federal NDP, leaving her whole caucus to run for themselves or be crushed on election day.
commented 2016-09-07 18:47:02 -0400
Deborah Graupner commented 2 hours ago
Their goal is to bankrupt every province in Canada, and then they will turn our country over to the IMF.

Close – global government – elements already being set up in Texas of all places – unless of course that is what you meant by IMF.
commented 2016-09-07 18:25:12 -0400
I must ask the socialists out there , once again, what is in this for the people? Longer wait times, less freedom, less of our hard earned money to spend on ourselves. God forbid we have some spare money to go out tasting beer. That is not for us peasants, only for our socialist betters in power. And the useful idiots still think only capitalism has elites. Well at least in capitalism people choose to give their money to someone , in socialism it is taken away by force.
commented 2016-09-07 18:21:34 -0400
I thought the NDP and the rest of the socialists hated rich people, unless of course it is through their debt and incompetence that rich people get another billion a year , making them uhhhh RICHER.

So certain breweries get help, in other words the ones who give kickbacks.
commented 2016-09-07 16:56:00 -0400
Their goal is to bankrupt every province in Canada, and then they will turn our country over to the IMF.
commented 2016-09-07 16:08:48 -0400
If Ontario can do it so can we, I guess.

As a country we have the highest per capita debt of any western nation and probably the world. It will come home to roost soon.
commented 2016-09-07 15:55:20 -0400
The hurt won’t stop until these dickheads are swinging by their pencil necks from the light poles around the Alberta legislation
commented 2016-09-07 15:23:38 -0400
“Albertans will now officially be lighting $1 billion on fire every year to pay the interest on the debt. And the government still has no real plan to balance the budget.”

Every moron who placed a ‘X’ beside NDP on the last Provincial ballot, is about to find out that government debt is nothing more than deferred taxation. And it’s going to hurt wage earners good and hard this time because low energy prices mean the bulk of tax revenues will have to come from those who are still lucky enough to have a job, not "the big evil oil corps™ "