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TERRAZZANO: Alberta’s union leaders out of touch with reality

Union campaigns to protest non-existent spending cuts won’t sit well with Albertans who gave Premier Kenney a clear mandate to balance the books.

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Alberta’s union leaders want to keep milking their favourite cash cow: taxpayers.

The Alberta Federation of Labour along with government unions such as the Health Sciences Association of Alberta and the Canadian Union of Public Employees have launched a campaign to “resist Kenney’s cuts.” The crux of the campaign is that government union leaders, who are ultimately funded by taxpayers, want to force taxpayers to fork over more money.

Someone must have forgotten to tell these union leaders that Alberta government spending is going up by $2.4 billion this year. “[The cuts are] far-reaching and far deeper than we have ever seen in this province,” said Mike Parker, President of the HSAA. This is false. From 1992 to 1996 total spending dropped by $2.6 billion, or 15 per cent. By the end of Premier Jason Kenney’s first term he’s projected to increase total spending by $174 million.

Union leaders may claim that government spending would be higher if it increased with population and inflation. There are a few issues with this.

First, this would suggest that current spending isn’t too high. But the Alberta government just spent more than a decade on the runaway spending train. Between 2004 and 2015, the Progressive Conservatives doubled program spending. Then the New Democrats jacked-up spending by more than 16 per cent. The Alberta government already spends more per-person than any other provincial government.

Second, other organizations can’t increase spending just because population and inflation have increased. When the money isn’t there for families and businesses, they make tough decisions. And they’ve been making tough decisions for years. Now it’s the Alberta government’s turn.

Union leaders are going nuclear over a budget that increases total spending and adds $30 billion to the debt bill. So, when would these union leaders be happy? After taxpayers fork over an extra $5 billion? How about $10 billion? Cue the Dr. Evil jokes. It’s clear that union leaders think the government doesn’t take enough from taxpayers. But last year the Alberta government brought in more revenue per person than British Columbia.

Alberta’s union leaders have completely lost touch with the realities facing Albertans. About a week after Husky laid off hundreds of Albertans, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation obtained a document showing the leaders of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees are pushing for a 7.9 per cent wage increase. Kenney was extremely polite when he called this demand “out of touch with reality.” Could you imagine the colourful comments at pubs when Albertans found out AUPE leaders want taxpayers to pay for 7.9 per cent wage hikes? If the government increased its total compensation costs by that much, taxpayers would be on the hook for another $2 billion.

Union leaders are forgetting who ultimately pays their salaries.

“When you withdraw billions of dollars from the economy you run the risk of tipping it into recession,” stated AFL President Gil McGowan in reference to hypothetical Alberta government spending cuts.

McGowan’s point would only make sense if the government’s money sprang from the ground like Jack’s magical beanstalk. But in the real world, the government’s revenue comes from taxpayers’ wallets. Cutting spending and taxes will keep more money in the pockets of families and job creators.

Worse, union leaders have been pushing for wasteful spending. The AFL sat on the committee that recommended the province dole out corporate welfare under the guise of energy diversification. And the government just announced $950 million for petrochemical firms. That’s a ton of money that could have been used to support frontline programs and lower taxes.

The union campaigns to counter spending cuts when government spending is increasing won’t sit well with Albertans who gave Kenney a clear mandate to balance the books and stop milking taxpayers.

Franco Terrazzano is the Alberta Director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

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Opinion

FRANKS: Time for conservatives to come out on gay rights

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Conservatism is at a crossroads in Canada. The values we identify as being conservative are not the values that the majority of Canadians identify us with. Until this is rectified, our movement will have continued electoral defeats. We see our parties (CPC, UCP) as the one for individual rights; others see us at the party fighting Gay Straight Alliances (GSAs). 

This was apparent in October. The Conservative Party of Canada lost the 905, every major non-Prairie city, and we lost seats in rural Quebec. We have reached the peak of what Reform could ever have done. Congrats everyone from 1993, but now what do we do in 2020 onwards? 

Well, making inroads to the LGBTQ2+ is one. Until we do, and the community knows that we understand their issues, and works towards solving them, then we will remain in the backbenches with this large and politically motivated group. This is not an overnight change. It took years to make inroads with new Canadians under our then federal Immigration Minster Jason Kenney, and this is no less of a struggle. 

As a gay man living in downtown Calgary, and having been a part of the PC Party (now UCP) and worked in Ottawa as a Conservative staffer, I have seen over the last 15 years what has changed for the better, and what still needs to done. More still can be done, and we can be a part of that progress.

The blood donation ban is still in place; members of the trans community still face discrimination; a disproportionate number of homeless youth are LGBTQ2+ who had to flee their home, or were kicked out; which in some part is a result of the barbaric practice of conversion therapy that still occurs in Canada. These issues need to be addressed, and our party can show leadership by taking them on. 

Even after winning a large majority, the Liberals in Ottawa have done nothing. Everything I wrote above still occurs. Let us show the LGBTQ2+ community that we value them, and will fight for their equality as we do with the same passion for every other individual rights and freedoms.

Bridges are built by handshakes, and for many of us in the community a gin and soda also. Pride is just one time of the year, but it does not stop after the parade ends. There are countless community events to attend throughout the year, and even more groups that do amazing work, but lack stable funding sources. 

Conservative politicians regularly attend hundreds of ethnic community events and hand out grants to support them every year. But no UCP MLAs showed up this year to the Calgary Pride Parade, or to the beer gardens. 

Only our newly elected Calgary Centre Conservative MP did. For an event brings in 100,000 people on a single day, the lack of representation from conservative ranks was noticed. If conservatives do not show up, the politicians on the left will, and they carry the narrative that we do not care and that only they have their back, an argument that has some merit. If we are to make inroads, showing up is the first step. 

Finally, there are many gay conservatives, but it is not an easy thing to say you voted conservative in the LGBTQ2+ community, when many believe our party to be a direct threat to their values, and rights. Many friends have whispered in my ear that they voted for conservative, but we need to better, and faster. If we make inroads, and start moving on the issues that matter to the LGBTQ2+ community listed above, then instead of whispering to me they can say it louder, and the ballot box will start to change in our favour in ridings where 100 votes does make the difference. 

Actions matter, and our conservative family, on all levels of government needs to be better. Until we make the first steps and in a meaningful way, the results of Octobers federal election will be a frustrating, and common occurrence.

Dustin Franks is a longtime Conservative organizer and political staffer 

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Opinion

HARDING: It might be a joke to the CBC, but Washington would treat Alberta better than Ottawa

It’s unlikely a real-world Trump will add Alberta and Saskatchewan to make the United States into a 52-state deck of cards. But there’s reasons to wish he would.

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“Today I’m excited to announce that I am going to make Alberta the 51st state, I really am,” said President Trump. 

Okay, actually that was a parody news article from the CBC. But, to continue with the This Hour Has 22 Minutessketch…

“Alberta, come with us, come be the Hannah to our Montana. I’d like to congratulate Alberta on its decision to separate from Canada. Face it, Canada’s best days are over. It’s time for Alberta to get a divorce and move on to a hotter country, it really is.”

That joke just got real with the latest employment stats.

The United States picked up 266,000 new jobs in November, including 54,000 ones in manufacturing. Average hourly earnings were up 3.1 percent. Unemployment was at 3.5 per cent, a mark not seen since 1969. 

“This is the best number I’ve ever seen in my life!” Jim Cramer told CNBC.

And Canada? Canada lost 71,000 jobs in November. That’s the worst since the “Great Recession” of 2009! 

The president’s son, Donald Trump Jr. tweeted, “For perspective the US is about 10X the population of Canada so this would be the equivalent of America shedding 700,000 jobs. Yikes! Maybe Justin should watch @realDonaldTrump & learn how to create jobs… or go back to being a substitute drama teacher. Either way Canada wins!”

So what’s happening now?

Sean Hannity thinks he knows. “Under the far-left leadership of that two-faced Trudeau, our friends to the north in Canada, their economy is declining in a massive way.”

The truth hurts. Unemployment is 5.9 per cent nationally, and 7.2 per cent in Alberta – the worst anywhere west of the Maritimes.

“Now Trudeau, you might want to take note,” Hannity says. “President Trump, he lowered taxes in this country, got rid of burdensome regulation, fought for better trade deals—yeah, you have to pay more, and empowered America and its energy sector. We are not for the first time in 75 years a net exporter of energy. And by the way now Canada, you’re suffering. This economy in America is the envy of the world.”

Yeah, we know.

Canada could do the right thing to make Alberta and all the provinces strong, but it doesn’t. The best that Ottawa offers Alberta is more socialism to compensate for the socialism and stupidity that created the low performance in the first place.  

For example, when job losses hit the oil patch in 2016, Trudeau gave effected workers an extra 5 weeks of Employment Insurance. Almost $9 billion vanished from the Alberta budget, but Equalization and other programs continued to drain a net $20 billion from Alberta to Ottawa. Now all Premier Kenney can do is smile about a chance at more a billion dollars and change it might receive from the Fiscal Stabilization Fund, which he has renamed the “Equalization Rebate,” which it most certainly is not. 

Alberta and Saskatchewan don’t need a federal government that punches it in the gut, and then walks alongside while it tries to catch its breath. It wants to prosper by its own labour. Canada ties up the west with cords and strands, while the United States is letting industry be. . . industrious.

Compare the two country’s approach to regulation. Canadian oil country braces for the “no pipelines” Bill C-69. All they can do is beg Ottawa to let them have purely provincial in-situ oil development left alone.

Trump took a hatchet to red tape. He cut 22 regulations for every new one introduced. Whereas Trudeau banned the Northern Gateway pipeline and oil tankers from northern B.C., Trump repealed Obama-era regulations for resource development in domestic waters. 

When a Montana court blocked Keystone XL claiming that environmental consultation was inadequate, Trump took only two days to respond. He cancelled the old approval and made a new one by executive order. Trudeau was less than feisty in similar circumstances. When a judge in B.C. quashed the TMX pipeline expansion over apparent First Nations and environmental consultation issues, the Trudeau government didn’t even challenge it. It started new consultations, ones that environmental groups are already challenging in court for their supposed inadequacy.

The Liberal government signed us onto the Paris Climate Accord and the Conservatives supported it. Trump revoked Obama’s signature. There’s no federal carbon tax there, unlike in Canada, where it is set to rise through 2022—and probably again thereafter to meet those aggressive climate targets.

Alberta has its own ideas for 2022. It will continue its corporate tax reductions until then. At that point, the provincial portion will be 30 percent lower than its closest provincial rival. Yet, six U.S. states will have a better state-federal combined rate, including Texas. Alas, Alberta can’t do anything about federal taxes. It’s one of many reasons that business is leaving Alberta to go stateside.

Additionally, everyone working south of the border will pay less personal income taxes. Whereas Trudeau created new tax brackets for those making more than $200,000 (a group disproportionately found in Alberta), Trump reduced taxes across the board at both personal and corporate levels. Keeping what you work for—that’s the Alberta ethic. Constant theft by Ottawa, then begging for a little back is not.

When Gwyn Morgan left his role as Encana’s CEO in 2006, it had the highest stock value of any Canadian-headquartered company. Now it’s an American company with a new name. Last month, he wrote, “the re-election of a national government ideologically opposed to the oil and gas industry’s very existence . . . struck the final blow to Encana as a Canadian headquartered company.”

It’s enough to make some wish that Trump comedy skit was real.

“America is going to wear Alberta like a tiny little MAGA hat. It’s time to make MAGA stand for: Make Alberta Great Again,” said the parodied Trump.

“And if they’re not careful, I’m gonna grab Saskatchewan right by the Regina! When you’re famous you can do that, you really can, they let you.”

Or not. It’s unlikely a real-world Trump will add Alberta and Saskatchewan to make the United States into a 52-state deck of cards. But there’s reasons to wish he would.

In 2016, Trump told his supporters, “You are going to be so proud of your country. And we’re going to start winning again . . . we’re going to win so much, you may even get tired of winning!”

By now, winning is America’s reality. Canada, not so much. 

Lee Harding is the Saskatchewan Political Columnist for the Western Standard

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Opinion

FILDEBRANDT: Albertans tell Fair Deal Panel to get one. Or Else.

The federalists missed the point entirely: Unless the beast rearing its head can be fed in a cage, it will come hunting.

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The Fair Deal roadshow came to Calgary Tuesday night, and it didn’t disappoint. The panel charged by Premier Jason Kenney with examining and consulting Albertans on proposals for increased provincial autonomy attracted a near-full hall with three main camps: federalists, federalist-reformers, and sovereigntists.

A few also showed up to speak on other issues entirely, like the gentleman that called for the simultaneous legalization of prostitution, and criminalization of misgendering the pronouns of transpeople.

Most of the federalists appeared to be there at the behest of unions and had a clear partisan stripe to them: Liberal and NDP. Most of them declared their allegiance to Canada and proclaimed the entire event to be an exercise in betrayal. The reasoning went, that anyone supporting Alberta doing as Quebec has done and starting its own pension plan independent of the CPP, is unpatriotic.

A speaker takes the microphone at the Alberta Fair Deal Panel hearings in Calgary.

The clear majority of the room were there to express the degree to which they were angry. The big difference between them were those demanding a fair deal within confederation, and those demanding a whole new deal outside of confederation.

Many said that they want a fair deal within confederation, but if it wasn’t possible, then they would join those wanting one outside. It is this swing group that keeps UCP strategists up at night.

Longtime former Wildrose and and Reform Party members took the microphone. Some said that they supported the Fair Deal Panel’s proposals. Others said that unless Alberta gets a fair deal, they will turn their support towards independence. The loudest cheers went to those who said the whole thing is a waste of time, and that the only option left was to go whole-hog on sovereignty, with many not-quite on the independence train applauding them as an expression of anger.

It’s impossible to say without a survey of those in attendance where their hearts lay, but I got the strong impression that the most common vein of support was for radical reform of confederation, backed by a real threat of secession.

The dedicated federalists in the hall were not just hostile to the proposals, but to the exercise itself. They regularly took to the microphone to declare that “Alberta is getting a fair deal,” and that the FDP roadshow was just there to whip up anger. To them, nothing was wrong, and Albertans should just shut up and move on.

Fair Deal Panel meeting in Calgary, Alberta

Their view of the anger felt by most Albertans is wildly out of touch.

Kenney did not strike the FDP to stoke anger, but to throw a wet blanket on it. The more charitable UCP supporters have a reasonable argument that Kenney wants to move on the items under its consideration. More realistically, Kenney is genuinely afraid that the anger burning across Alberta that helped propel him to power could get out of control, and turn on him if not satisfied.

For three years, Kenney has built a strong case against Ottawa’s treatment of Alberta. It first made him PC leader, then UCP leader, then premier. While his critics on the left brush it off as disingenuous demagoguery, his most ardent supporters expect him to deliver. Without the prospect of Ottawa meeting most of his original demands, he is now in serious danger of a large portion of his base – hungry for a feast of victory at Ottawa’s expense – being told to settle for an appetizer. Namely, a single pipeline built a decade late, and a $1.7 billion one-time handout from Ottawa to make up for hundred of billions of dollars in net-transfers out of Alberta over the last 50 years.

The federalists at the microphone declaring it unpatriotic for Alberta to assert its own jurisdiction under the constitution missed the point entirely: Unless the beast rearing its head can be fed in a cage, it will come hunting.

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