Deja Vu In Alberta

May 1st, 2015 | K. McGregor 


Looking back at 1971, Albertans were getting tired of 40 years of the bible thumbing, back-to-the-Bible-hour, William Aberhart and Ernest C. Manning of the Social Credit Party. Men-only bars and a 21 year old drinking age really ticked off the emerging baby boomers. Insufficient infrastructure in the cities, government bureaucracy and a lack of understanding the public doomed the Social Credit party. On August 30, 1971, Peter Lougheed’s party, with their fresh plan for Alberta's future, won 49 of 75 seats and became Alberta’s first PC government. Now, 43 years later, the PC party is looking a lot like the old Social Credit party they took over from: tired and worn out. What happened?

Today, Albertans like Peter Lougheed and the public in 1971, think Alberta can do a lot better. With the oil wealth squandered, health care in a mess and a looming billion dollar debt and high taxes, it's an embarrassment to Albertans who prided themselves on being fiscally responsible. Unfortunately, like Harry Storm and the Social Credit Party, Jim Prentice is out of tune with Albertans. His answer to fixing Alberta's financial mess is to increase taxes, pile on the debt and blame Albertans. Prentice, like his traditional Red Tory predecessors, Ed Stelmach and socialist Alison Redford, has taken the Liberal road of tax, spend and borrow to solve Alberta's fiscal woes, unlike his very successful counter part, Blue Tory PM, Steven Harper. He balanced the federal budget in hard times with tax cuts and good management. The Prentice budget predicted debt of $30 billion by 2020. That's very depressing to leave this as a legacy to the next generations.

Today's troubles that Prentice inherited in Alberta are very similar to the ones that Don Getty inherited (2.1 billion deficit) when he became Premier in November 1, 1985. Low oil prices and declining housing prices all added to Alberta's problems. Getty, like the Prentice 2015 budget, decided to intervene by raising taxes by $1 billion and cutting program spending and ignoring possible government spending reductions. By the time he left politics, he increased the public debt from $0 to $11 billion and had a chronic deficit of $3.4-billion. Prentice is echoing Getty and it will have the same outcome. Failure.

The solution to Alberta’s fiscal woes is to duplicate the Blue Tory Klein government of the 1990's. Klein recognized that spending was the problem and refused to raise taxes. He even passed the Taxpayer Protection Act, a law in place today that would require the Prentice government to take the PST to a province-wide referendum. When Klein took over as Alberta's Premier, the total government debt amounted to $23 billion, which cost taxpayers $1.3 billion per year to service. Even with this huge debt, the Klein government said no to tax increases, new taxes and any sales tax. Instead, they embarked on a 3 year business plan for every single government department to reduce costs, reduced the size of the public service and to reduce actual program spending. In the end, Klein paid off Alberta's debt of $23 billion, putting Alberta back on the road to prosperity.

Its like Déjà vu. Harry Strom, the leader of the Social Credit Party at the time, called a snap election in July 1971 and lost. Jim Prentice, following the same paths as Harry Storm and Getty, with Storm's snap election and Getty's tax and spend could very well lose the 2015 election . It's just history repeating itself. Let's hope Albertans have learned their history and will vote accordingly.

As the saying goes, if you keep doing the same thing over and over again, you will get the same results. I want a Klein result.