fbpx
Connect with us

Opinion

FILDEBRANDT: Alberta’s budget is shot, and will need a new one entirely

Alberta can now rely on next to zero oil revenue if these prices hold up, and the budget on which it is based, is entirely shot.

mm

Published

on

Every Alberta budget since striking it lucky at Leduc Number One in 1947 has been tied to the sweet allure of natural resource revenues. And every five years or so, governments listen to the prognostications of academics and experts warning that this is a bad idea, and promise to do something about it. And then they don’t. It’s just politics, and it’s unlikely to change regardless of the party in government. You don’t have to like it, but you probably have to accept it.

However much government revenues in Alberta may be tied to revenues from oil and gas, Albertans have a reasonable expectation that government’s will make reasonable, conservative projections for prices in their budgets. Sometimes they do; most of the time they don’t.

The dramatic crash in world oil prices caused by Saudi Arabia and Russia’s price war has Alberta’s benchmark oil price (WTI) sitting at US $34.06/bbl as of writing this column. This is no fault of anyone in Alberta, or North America, but it is a crisis that will hit Alberta directly.

Recent Alberta governments of all partisan hues have a less than stellar record in projecting oil prices in their budgets, especially further out than the next fiscal year.

NDP MLA and former Alberta Finance Minister Joe Ceci

Former Alberta NDP Finance Minister Joe Ceci canned the practice of long-term five-year projections, reducing the budget to a mere three years. Long-term projections were always a bit of a crap-shoot, but this was mostly likely done to allow him to claim that the government was headed towards a balanced budget at some point in the distant future, without ever having to show the math about how he would do it.

But even the NDP’s shorter three-year fiscal plans were on average, poor at forecasting oil prices.

WTI Budget Projections (source: Western Standard, Derek Fildebrandt using data from Alberta Budgets)

In Rachel Notley’s four NDP budgets as premier, they overshot WTI prices by an average of US$5.23/bbl, if we use today’s sad WTI spot price as the benchmark for 2020-21. If we are more charitable and leave 2020-21 out of it, they still overshoot by US$3.07.

The first UCP budget undershot oil prices by a modest US$1.00/bbl, but that budget was tabled late in the fiscal year when predictions are always easier to make. That being said, the NDP’s first budget was also late in the year, and still managed to overshoot by US$5.00/bbl.

WTI Budget Projections (source: Western Standard, Derek Fildebrandt using data from Alberta Budgets)

The real test comes in the next three fiscal years, when UCP Finance Minister Travis Toews projected relatively (but not wildly) optimistic oil prices to reach US$62.00/bbl by 2021-22. This was key in their very (quite wildly) optimistic projections of an extra $8 billion in extra annual government revenues over the final two years of the budget.

The budget has only been tabled and the speech read in the legislature. It is currently being debated and is still roughly a month away from being passed into law.

So while the government defends a budget based on oil that was US$49.78/bbl when it was tabled – and projected to reach US$63.00/bbl, it now sits at a paltry US$34.06/bbl.

That, is a very, very big hole.

Let’s put it into more tangible terms. According to the budget’s own “revenue sensitivities” in the fiscal plan, every US$1.00 fluctuation in the price of WTI is worth $355 million to the government coffers.

With WTI now hovering around half of what the Toews projected in his budget, that would mean a theoretical shock of $8.5 billion a year to the government’s balance sheet. That however, is quite impossible for the simple reason that it only expects to net $5.1 billion in all non-renewable resources revenues (combined) in 2021-22.

The government’s “revenue sensitivities” are only useful within a range of relative sanity, after which they have to be rewritten. It goes without saying that if today’s WTI numbers hold anywhere near their current range, they will have to be thrown out entirely.

In fact, the entire Alberta budget may need to be thrown out. The revenue projections when it was tabled on February 27th were already optimistic – now, they are downright delusional, if they hold to them.

Chances of reaching the UCP’s balanced budget platform commitment by 2022-23 were already tenuous enough with the modest $1 billion spending cut spread over four year. They were relying on a thundering economy to do the heavy lifting for them – plus a few (relatively modest) tax increases here and there.

Since the UCP came to power, Ottawa has passed bills C-69 (no more pipelines), C-48 (tanker ban), and killed the Teck Frontier oil sands mine. As of today, global oil prices have fallen through the floor. None of those things are the UCP’s fault, but it is now the hand they are dealt.

If they wish to have a prayer of reaching a balanced budget by 2022-23, they will have to shelve this budget and reintroduce a new one with updated, realistic oil prices, and much more serious spending restraint.

Derek Fildebrandt is Publisher of the Western Standard and the President and CEO of Wildrose Media Corp.

Opinion

WAGNER: How Pierre Trudeau created the Alberta independence movement, and his son made it mainstream

Michael Wagner writes that before 1980, independence was a tiny fringe movement. In 2020, it is approaching a majority of Albertans.

mm

Published

on

A fundamental change occurred in Alberta in 1980. On February 18 of that year, Pierre Trudeau’s Liberals defeated Joe Clark’s Progressive Conservatives, restoring Trudeau to the office of prime minister. Consequently, on October 28 – a day that will live in infamy – the National Energy Program (NEP) was unleashed as a blatant attack on Alberta and its oil industry. These historical events generated a credibility for Alberta’s independence movement that had never before existed. After 1980, support for independence was no longer a tiny fringe phenomenon.

Until the fateful events of 1980, polling data measuring support for Alberta independence were generally in the low single digits. This can be seen in the early polls on sovereigntist sentiment that were reported in a 1979 article by political scientists David Elton and Roger Gibbins entitled, “Western Alienation and Political Culture,” in the book The Canadian Political Process. As Elton and Gibbins noted, a 1969 provincial poll found that only 5 per cent of “respondents expressed interest in even discussing the merits of separation.” Five years later, a 1974 survey conducted in Calgary found less than 4 per cent “expressed even the most cautious support for separatism.” And in a 1977 survey commissioned by the Calgary Herald, only 2.7 per cent said yes to the question, “Would you like Alberta to separate?” 

Clearly – at least as far as polling data suggests – support for independence was disappointingly low before 1980. 

But then Canada experienced the second-coming of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau – who can rightly be called the father of the Alberta independence movement because his policies gave the movement its original credibility and momentum. 

The effect of Trudeau’s aggressive anti-Alberta posture was immediate. Data from a number of post-NEP polls are presented in an article entitled, “Separatism and Quasi-Separatism in Alberta” by sociologist Edward Bell in the Fall 2007 issue of Prairie Forum. On November 1, 1980 (shortly after the NEP was announced), the Calgary Herald reported on a poll indicating that 23 per cent of Albertans were in favour of Western Canadian independence. A subsequent study – undertaken in Edmonton from February to April 1981 – found that “about one in four respondents either supported Alberta independence or were willing to give their provincial government a mandate to negotiate it.” 

Surprisingly, in a March 1981 poll conducted by the Canada West Foundation, 49 per cent of Albertans agreed with the statement: “Western Canadians get so few benefits from being part of Canada that they might as well go it on their own.” That question did not measure outright commitment to independence as such, but it does seem rather high. Nevertheless, it is not inconsistent with some later polling. 

Sociologist Trevor Harrison, in his 1995 book, Of Passionate Intensity: Right-Wing Populism and the Reform Party of Canada, reports on a 1992 poll with a question very similar to the one from the Canada West Foundation. Harrison writes, a “poll of 710 Westerners conducted by Environics Research in March 1992 found that 42 per cent of respondents agreed with the question: ‘Western Canada gets so few benefits from Confederation the region might as well be on its own.’” At that time, of course, Brian Mulroney was prime minister, and like Pierre Trudeau, he catered to Central Canada at the expense of the West. In fact, Mulroney’s policies led to the rise of the Reform Party.

Edward Bell adds one more poll result to fill things out. In 2005, a poll found 35.6 per cent of Westerners agreed with the statement: “Western Canadians should begin to explore the idea of forming their own country.” 

More recently, on August 1, 2014, Insights West released a poll of Albertans that found, “Only 23 per cent of residents believe the province would be better off as its own country.” “Only” 23 per cent? Actually, 23 percent is rather high, especially considering that Stephen Harper – an Albertan – was prime minister at the time.

Two years later, on July 28, 2016, Insights West released another poll noting that “23 per cent of Albertans say the province would be better off as its own country.” The percentage remained the same as before, but the harmful effects of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s anti-Alberta policies were not yet fully realized. Things have since changed.

On May 25 of this year, in a poll conducted for the Western Standard, “45 per cent of decided Albertans surveyed said that they would defiantly vote yes or were leaning yes if there was a referendum on Alberta’s independence.” That is to say, support for independence is likely higher in 2020 than at any previous time. The more moderate position of supporting independence if proposals for constitutional reform were first rejected by Ottawa, was just shy of a majority at 48 per cent. 

The point is this: before 1980, polls showed support for Alberta independence to be in the low single digits. After 1980, polls show support in the double digits, usually a quarter of the population or more. This suggests that a fundamental change occurred in 1980 as a result of Pierre Trudeau. Before Trudeau, Albertans really weren’t interested in thinking about independence – but he made it respectable and credible. Support for independence never seems to have returned to the low single digit range. 

Support for Alberta independence is not going away. It is not a passing fad. Under the current Liberal government – with its agenda of phasing out Alberta’s key industry – the independence movement will likely continue to grow. The question is whether a leader will emerge to articulate the Alberta cause and gather Alberta patriots into a coherent and effective political body.

Michael Wagner is columnist for the Western Standard. He has a PhD in political science from the University of Alberta. His books include ‘Alberta: Separatism Then and Now’ and ‘True Right: Genuine Conservative Leaders of Western Canada.’

Continue Reading

Opinion

SELICK: The Two Sides to the Vaccine Safety Debate

Karen Selick takes on the politicians trying to use government to force vaccinations.

mm

Published

on

EDITORS NOTE: The Western Standard Editorial Board encourages open debate by its columnists. The column below reflects the views of its author, but not necessarily that of the WS Editorial Board.

This article is about a recent event in Eastern Canada, but it should ring a cautionary bell for all Canadians since we will all soon be facing a similar issue.

New Brunswick’s Education Minister Dominic Cardy is fuming because an amendment to provincial legislation that he championed was recently defeated in a free vote. Had it been successful, the amendment would have made numerous vaccinations mandatory for school children in New Brunswick, removing an exemption that previously existed for students whose parents filed a written objection.  

According to Mr. Cardy, “There are no two sides [to the debate] around the safety of vaccines.” He described opponents of his bill as having given in to “medieval conspiracy theories.” Rhetoric like this is common in the vaccine debate.

However, existing legislation in Ontario indicates that Mr. Cardy and those who make similar statements are profoundly misinformed on this subject. 

In June, 1987, Ontario adopted a law on immunization that’s now section 38 of the Health Protection and Promotion Act.  It applies to the vaccines for 13 different diseases, including diphtheria, polio, measles and influenza. It requires doctors, nurses and pharmacists to watch for and report any adverse reactions to the vaccines they administer, including: 

  • Persistent crying or screaming, or anaphylactic shock, within 48 hours of vaccination
  • Shock-like collapse, high fever, or convulsions occurring within 3 days of vaccination
  • Arthritis occurring within 42 days of vaccination
  • Hives, seizures, encephalopathy, brain inflammation or other significant occurrence within 15 days of vaccination
  • Death following any of the symptoms already described. 

The 1987 legislation came about through the efforts of then MPP Jack Pierce, who spoke in the legislature about eight cases of severe vaccine injuries that had recently occurred in his riding of only 30,000 people. It was drafted after extensive consultations with the medical community. It was “doctor-approved” law, in a day when it was still permitted to discuss all sides of the vaccine issue without being ridiculed or silenced.

Patients can and do suffer vaccine injuries of the kind described in Ontario’s legislation far more often than Mr. Cardy seems to be aware of. 

The vaccines used in Canada are the same as those used in the United States, and there’s a little-known database of vaccine injuries available to anyone who cares to look. That’s because the US abolished tort liability against vaccine manufacturers in 1986 through the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Compensation Act. Instead of suing vaccine manufacturers, injured persons are now restricted to making a claim against a government-run compensation fund called the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. The program reports monthly on the compensation it pays out. 

Since inception, the program has paid out more than $4 billion in compensation to 7,252 individuals suffering vaccine injuries (figures as of May 1, 2020). This is a significant amount of money. Some vaccine injuries are devastating. They can include permanent brain damage. 

These figures underestimate the extent of the damage done by vaccines because the compensation program has a strict time limit for making application. Many parents of vaccine-injured children don’t find out about the compensation fund until after that window of opportunity has shut. 

According to a World Health Organization publication from 2011, there are 19 countries around the world that have recognized the dangers inherent in vaccines by implementing compensation programs for individuals who have been injured by them. Germany was the first to implement such a program in 1961, eight years after the German Supreme Court ruled that people injured by mandatory vaccinations (smallpox, in that case) were entitled to compensation. 

In the 1970s, eight countries recognized the dangers of the “DTP” (diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis) vaccine by adopting compensation programs for the vaccine-injured. These included Japan, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK.

In 1972, a five-year-old girl in Quebec was vaccinated against measles as part of the province’s large-scale free vaccination program. She developed acute viral encephalitis, resulting in almost total permanent disability. The family sued the Quebec government, and initially obtained a judgment of $385,000. The trial court explicitly found a causal relationship between the vaccine and the child’s encephalitis. The compensation award was eventually overturned by the Quebec Court of Appeal on the grounds that Quebec civil law does not recognize no-fault liability. However, even at the Supreme Court of Canada in 1985, “the Attorney General [was] no longer disputing the causal link between the vaccine and the encephalitis.”

As a result of this case, Quebec became the only Canadian province to adopt a vaccine compensation program. Between its inception in 1988 and April 1, 2019 (the latest date for which statistics are available), it had paid compensation to 51 vaccine-injured individuals, in an amount totaling $5,797,000.  

A study was published in 2011 by scientists associated with the University of Ottawa and the University of Toronto. It showed that when infants aged 12 months or 18 months were injected with live vaccines (such as the MMR—measles, mumps, rubella vaccine), they were significantly more likely to visit the hospital emergency room within the next twelve days, as compared with the number of visits they would make during a control period that did not follow vaccination.

What additional evidence would it take for Mr. Cardy to recognize that there are indeed two sides to the vaccine safety debate?

Parents faced with the prospect of mandatory vaccinations for their children are perfectly justified in their concerns. They are not part of a “medieval conspiracy theory”. It is very disturbing that an individual in a position of power such as education minister Cardy is both ignorant of the facts and willing to vilify individuals who are more knowledgeable than he is himself. 

Karen Selick is a Columnist for the Western Standard. She has previously written for the original Western Standard, National Post, Canadian Lawyer Magazine. She is the former Litigation Lawyer of the Canadian Constitution Foundation and is the owner of KeenEyesEditing.ca.

Continue Reading

Opinion

CLEMENT: Banning paid blood donations only forces us to pay for foreign donations

David Clement writes about why the Voluntary Blood Donations Repeal Act will allow Alberta to stop paying for paid donations from the United States.

mm

Published

on

Alberta’s United Conservative Party is proposing a new way to help supply hospitals with much-needed blood plasma therapies, and it would mean letting Albertans receive cash for their donations.

MLA Tany Yao will introduce a bill that would repeal the former government’s Voluntary Blood Donations Act. This would allow for blood plasma donors in Alberta to be compensated for their donations, which the NDP previously made illegal. While this might sound like an obscure policy for most, it is incredibly important that Alberta continues down this path and legalizes compensation for plasma donors.

Blood plasma is a valuable resource used to create medicines that treat burns, help those with immune deficiencies, coagulation disorders and respiratory diseases. Unfortunately, Canada does not collect enough plasma to meet our domestic need for plasma therapies. That’s why for years, we have imported these medicines from the United States. More than 80 per cent of these therapies come from south of the border, where plasma donors are compensated for their donations.

That fact alone makes the NDP’s Voluntary Blood Donations Act a farce, and one worthy of repeal.

Critics of paid plasma argue that compensating donors increases risks and is less safe than voluntary donations. We know that this isn’t true, and can’t be true, because Canada relies on paid plasma donors for their medicines – they just happen to be American instead of Canadian. If compensating donors was really unsafe and risky, we wouldn’t be so comfortable importing these medicines from our American friends. There is also no data to support the claim that paid plasma is risky. There has not been a single instance of viral or bacterial transmission from plasma products since modern processing practices were implemented over 25 years ago. That is exactly why Canadian Blood Services CEO Graham Sher said the following about the existence of a paid plasma sector.

“I certainly need to be very clear that we don’t believe the existence of a paid plasma sector is a safety threat to product or to patients and I don’t think there is data or evidence to support that.”

Critics also posit that compensating donors for their time is exploitation, and that “blood brokers” will be praying on vulnerable citizens. This also doesn’t pass the smell test, because if it were true, critics such as the NDP, Bloodwatch, and their public-sector union partners would be lobbying for a ban on the import of American-made plasma therapies. They aren’t doing that, and haven’t done that, because they know that such a move would be devastating to the patients who rely on these therapies. Compensating donors for their time simply acknowledges the reality that pure altruism isn’t always enough. There is nothing exploitative about informed, medically screened and healthy adults being compensated for their plasma donations to aid the process of making much-needed plasma therapies for patients.

If the UCP succeeds with legalizing paid plasma collection in Alberta, it can be expected that plasma collection will increase in the province, as it has in other jurisdictions. Czechia for example (formerly known as the Czech Republic) legalized compensation and saw donations increase by 700 per cent. Because of that decision, Czechia is now entirely self-sufficient when it comes to blood plasma collection and doesn’t need imports at all. In fact, the only countries who are self-sufficient for plasma collection are the USA, Germany, Austria and Czechia, and they all allow for donors to be compensated. Anti paid plasma organizations like Bloodwatch have long been calling on Canada to become self-sufficient when it comes to plasma collection, but rebuff the obvious solution. It’s a sad fact that they have actively, and successfully, fought the only proven tool to increase domestic supply.

The need for paid plasma becomes even more necessary in these uncertain times. Just this April, President Donald Trump empowered FEMA to prevent the shipment of essential medical goods into Canada as a response to Covid-19. What if Trump banned the export of plasma therapies into Canada? Stranger things have happened. Would our entirely voluntary public system, which accounts for less than 20 per cent of the supply we need, be able to cover the difference? Our country would be struck by severe medical shortages, and the public system wouldn’t be able to cover the gap. To say that this would be devastating for patients would be an understatement.

Luckily there is a way to help avoid that nightmare scenario. Alberta should follow through with its plan to legalize paid plasma, and other provinces should follow suit. Doing so would put patients over politics, and that is something certainly worth celebrating.

David Clement is a columnist for the Western Standard and the North American Affairs Manager of the Consumer Choice Center

Continue Reading

Sign up for the Western Standard Newsletter

Free news and updates
* = required field

Trending

Copyright © Western Standard owned by Wildrose Media Corp.