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Opinion

FILDEBRANDT: With another credit downgrade, Kenney needs to do more than a trim

The UCP does have to take some responsibility; if not for the hole left by the NDP, then for the tepid pace at which they are trying to dig out of it.

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They’re running six-to-one right now. That is, six credit downgrades under the NDP, and one under the Tories. Tuesday evening, Moody’s bloodied the UCP fiscal record by lowering Alberta’s rating from AA2, to AA3.

Predictably, the NDP blame it entirely on the Tories.

Predictably, the Tories blame it entirely on the NDP.

“The $4.7 billion corporate giveaway has created no jobs to date, and this government’s corruption and pro-separatist rhetoric has chased away investors,” was the line fired off by NDP Finance Critic Shannon Philips.

That the Tories have cut corporate taxes and have fired the Elections Commissioner isn’t in question, but it’s news to this columnist that the UCP now supports Western independence.

Still, the NDP can make a case that the corporate tax reductions will hurt the government’s bottom line, but it isn’t on entirely solid grounds in any case. Reducing taxes on businesses is probably the strongest ace in the hole Alberta has for attracting investment right now; but in the NDP world where businesses operate entirely without regard to the tax or regulatory environment, this makes sense.

On the other side, UCP Finance Minister Travis Toews predictably laid the entire thing at the feet of the NDP.

“This decision shows how previous governments’ fiscal mismanagement and inability to gain market access for Alberta’s energy continues to affect our province.”

He has a stronger case to make – the NDP drove the provincial finances into the ground – but it isn’t complete. The UCP government does have to take some responsibility; if not for the hole left by the NDP, then for the tepid pace at which they are trying to dig out of it.

At his party’s annual convention in Calgary over the weekend, Premier Jason Kenney went to pains to emphasize that his government is only shaving a paltry 2.8 per cent from the budget, in contrast to Ralph Klein who lobed off in excess of 20 per cent. It is a strong argument in the face of government union bosses like Alberta Federation of Labour president Gill McGowan suggesting that assaulting female political opponents is acceptable because of the spending haircut.

After a full decade of deficits – run by premiers Stelmach, Redford, Prentice and Notley – fuelled by spending far in excess of Alberta’s ability to pay, few outside of the NDP and their affiliated unions think that balancing the budget shouldn’t be a priority. But the UCP’s approach is overly timid and balanced on a knife’s edge.

Both the UCP platform and first budget were predicated on a significant economic rebound to power revenue growth to match spending that was effectively frozen for four years. This was always going to be a gamble. While government can influence economic growth (downwards easier than upwards), spending is entirely within its purview.

Clearly, Moody’s does not believe that economic growth will match spending on the timeline presented by the government.

The Tories have three options before them now: do nothing, do as the NDP recommend, or get serious about spending cuts.

Kenney himself admits that the 2.8 per cent reduction in Alberta’s massive budget – after a decade of deficits – is just a drop in the bucket. The premier should recommit himself to the seriousness of deficit elimination that possessed him as the former president of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, and as a candidate for the UCP leadership.

Failure to do so will likely lead to more credit downgrades to come.

Opinion

BARNES: Albertans deserve the right to make the big decisions in referenda law

Guest column from Drew Barnes says that Alberta’s referendum law should be expanded to allow votes on big constitutional issues.

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Guest opinion column from Alberta MLA Drew Barnes

“I am and I will remain a populist, because those who listen to the people are doing their job.” Matteo Salvini.

At its core the word populism is the action that government policies should be determined by the will of the people, not the will of the elite. Direct democracy is the institutional populism in action.

There is debate over whether populism should be termed as a movement or an ideology. Since the actions of populist engagement can transcend the ideological spectrum, I believe it should be viewed as a movement, that can sometimes manifest itself ideologically. As a movement, populist participation can take place on all points of the spectrum. Ultimately, that is what is wanted from a democratic society – engagement from all points of the spectrum.

Now more than ever, we need a new grassroots-populist approach to politics. Grassroots politics by its nature suggests that it is a movement that is sparked from the bottom-up. Politicians who came from grassroots movements must never forget where they came from, or lose sight of what they came to do. We need more of the bottom-up approach to politics, and make listening to the people that elected us a priority.

This is taking place in some measure here in Alberta. Political party policy processes allow for constituency associations to generate policy proposals for conventions, where they are voted on by the membership. Every party in Alberta – with the exception of the NDP – uses a ‘one member, one vote’ system.

Another grassroots/populist tool is referenda, that when used the right way are a valuable democratic tool. Referendums however, must stay true to their purpose, and the process for bringing them forward must allow for citizens to craft their own – fair – wording on a question. This is not to say that any question – however subjectively worded – that anyone wants to ask should be put to a referendum. Therefore, the rules on the use of referendums must not be overly onerous, nor overly temperate.

Switzerland is a prime example of a country that takes full advantage of referendums, including citizens’ initiative. In their democratic system, referendums can occur up to four times annually. All citizens registered to vote can cast their ballot on issues affecting decisions within both their federal government and their cantons (autonomous provinces). Before each vote, all registered voters receive a package of booklets in the mail which provide details on the coming referendums. Since these referendums began in 1848, just under half of the referendum proposals have passed. Even if they don’t always pass, the process is crucial to starting conversations and keeping citizens involved in debate. Referendums also force political parties to reach beyond partisan lines to reach consensus.

Alberta’s legislature recently passed a bill that guides referendums on non-constitutional matters. While this is a positive step forward, there are issues in this bill that need improvement. 

For example, Albertans initiating a referendum might go through the process of collecting hundreds of thousands of signatures, only to have the cabinet alter the wording the question. While fair wording of the question is critical to the integrity of direct democracy, that issue is not best dealt with by politicians who may have a stake in the result. Instead, clear guidelines should be established in law on question wording, and left to non-partisan officials at Elections Alberta. 

And while the new referendum legislation is a big step forward over the status quo (that is, nothing), it deliberately bans citizens-initiated referendums on constitutional questions. This means that if Albertans wished to force a vote on adding property rights to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, that they would not be allowed. Similarly, Albertans are barred from forcing a vote on reforming the Senate, equalization, or internal free trade. Ominously, Albertans have no right to force a vote over the heads of the legislature on independence or other forms of sovereignty. 

I believe that Albertans can be trusted with the right of citizens’ initiative on all questions, both constitutional and non-constitutional. 

We trust the people to elect a government to run our systems, so why can’t we trust them to bring their own questions forward? 

Drew Barnes is the UCP MLA for Cypress-Medicine Hat

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Opinion

LETTER: Erin O’Toole isn’t “woke” enough to beat Trudeau in the East

A reader says that Erin O’Toole isn’t “woke” enough to beat Trudeau in the East.

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In this ‘Era of Wokeness” along with the ascension of Black Lives Matter into the public consciousness, I believe that it would be detrimental to the Conservative Party of Canada to have Erin O’Toole as
it’s leader.

Mr O’Toole recently refused to use the word ‘racism’ and did not answer clearly when pressed on whether he believes it even exists. Erin O’Toole will hand the Trudeau Liberals an easy victory during the next election, should he become Tory leader. Canada cannot afford another four years of Justin Trudeau. 

Like it or not, most people in Ontario and Quebec (where all federal elections are ultimately decided owing to their number of allotted seats), are very much ‘woke’ on the issue of racism, as well as
sexism, homophobia, ect. In my experience, this also includes most Conservative Party of Canada voters in Eastern Canada.

Right-wing populism and social conservatism does well in Western Canada – but centrist Red Toryism is all they are prepared to accept in most of Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada. CPC members in Western Canada need to keep this in mind when voting for their next leader. 

CPC members need to be sensible and realistic if they want to win the next federal election. 

Gila Kibner 
Edmonton, Alberta

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Opinion

LETTER: While Trudeau mislabels regular guns “military-style”, he is handing real assault weapons to the police

A reader says that Trudeau is militarizing the police while disarming Canadians.

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RE: Canada’s cops worried Liberal gun ban will hamper training

I enjoyed your article on the gun ban and how it will affect cops. A point of view the CBC would never share.

Perhaps another topic should be brought to the public is this: Although Justin Trudeau said there is no place for these weapons in Canada and Bill Blair said these  weapons have only one purpose – and that is for one soldier to kill another soldier – they gifted more deadly weapons to our local police forces through the Canadian Armed Forces., as was done recently in my hometown of St Thomas, Ontario.

What is the government’s agenda in giving true military assault weapons to the police and banning “military-style” (no legal definition) weapons from civilians. 

John Siberry
St. Thomas, ON

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