by Don MacIntyre
MLA, Innisfail-Sylvan Lake
The economy changes. Employment changes. Nowadays, the average person holds ten jobs prior to the age of forty. Changing jobs and changing employers is part of a modern economy.
Years ago, major cities overflowed with livery stables employing tens of thousands of people. Today, there are none. Barrel-makers, switchboard operators, and milkmen have also been put out of business. Yet new jobs emerge. Ten years ago, no one had heard of an app developer, social media manager, or sustainability advisor. Today, these are high-paying careers.
There are entire departments of government that don’t exist anymore. Some of them employed a lot of people. Ottawa once had cabinet ministers (and supporting bureaucracies) for railways, canals, and colonization. And for more than sixty years, Alberta operated a Department of Telephones. These jobs have all disappeared.
Sometimes jobs are eliminated because it’s cheaper to hire someone than to do it yourself. For example, a family in need of a new concrete driveway won’t buy a redi-mix truck, hire workers, and go into the concrete business. Instead, they phone around, compare prices, check company references, and hire someone else to do the work.
Unfortunately, in a figurative sense, some governments will go out and buy the redi-mix truck, expanding the size and cost of government. In 1991, when Roy Romanow became Saskatchewan’s premier, his province was verging on insolvency. Previous administrations had spent too much and tried to do too much. Romanow eliminated twenty government programs, reduced the size of the civil service, and chopped program spending by 10%. It was the only responsible thing to do.
In 1992, Ralph Klein became Alberta’s premier, eventually facing a $23 billion debt — even more than Saskatchewan. The projected one-year deficit that he inherited was nearly $3 billion. The province was borrowing 25 per cent of its annual revenue. Yearly interest on debt was $1.4 billion. Klein had two options — cut spending, or send Alberta down the same path as present-day Greece. He cut spending.
Many people believe Klein cut healthcare by double digit percentages. He didn’t. They also think he gutted infrastructure spending. He didn’t. Subsequent budget documents state that Klein’s fiscal strategy had been to cut the size of government by 20 per cent over a four-year period, but there were never any across-the-board cuts. Numerous categories outside health and education were cut by 35-40 per cent, but healthcare was trimmed by only 7.7 per cent and education by a mere 5.1 per cent. Klein’s infrastructure spending, averaged annually over the years he was premier, exceeded the national average.
Today, Alberta is again facing fiscal calamity. Our debt is within a stone’s throw of the $23 billion Klein had to address. Resource revenues are declining. Key commodity prices have crashed. Jobs are evaporating. Yet Premier Notley’s solution has been to hike government spending, borrow more money, boost the minimum wage, raise taxes on struggling businesses, and announce a royalty review.
Roy Romanow was an NDP icon, yet he chose responsibility over ideology. Now it’s Rachel Notley’s turn. Her options are to follow Romanow’s austerity path toward fiscal health, or to pursue an agenda similar to that of the Greek government, which recently referred to its own nation as a “debt colony.”
The fact is that cutting government spending is not a philosophic decision. It’s a responsible government decision. It reflects sound judgement, and it’s Notley’s duty to make the right choice.