It could be seen a mile away; to those paying attention at least. Alberta’s decades-long deficit will not be balanced. Not even close.
Contrary to the NDP’s apocalyptic warnings that a potential Kenney administration would burn government spending to the ground, the then opposition leader promised during the election that he would balance the budget by the following election (2022-23), without any actual cuts to spending.
“This is a very mainstream, balanced approach to gradually getting to balance without any absolute reductions in spending.”
A few of us at the time said that this was a fantasy, for all the good it did. The NDP closed the fiscal year of 2018 with a deficit north of $8 billion. They too promised to balance the budget without spending cuts; they just didn’t put any hard date on it (spoiler: never).
The platform commitment required an economic and oil super-boom unlike anything in Alberta’s history. The Tory’s last budget tabled in March contained their long-term plan to eliminate the deficit. In the great Getty-Stelmach-Redford-Prentice-Notley tradition, it relied on rosy economic growth and oil projections. Try as Rachel Notley does to claim otherwise, the Tories only committed to cutting $1 billion over four years from NDP spending levels.
Even without events getting in the way, it was a scenario highly unlikely to materialize.
The budget was stillborn when soon after the budget was tabled, a price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia tanked the price of oil. The already optimistic projections went from hopeful to delusional. Despite the numbers being clearly not credible even as MLAs debated the budget in the legislature, the government refused to revise its projections.
Then came COVID-19. Piling onto low prices was a draconian shutdown of nearly the entire economy. The Alberta government followed the lead of Ottawa and the other provinces, throwing the already teetering economy into a tailspin.
Fast forward to August 27th, and we finally get the first quarter fiscal update. Alberta’s projected $8 billion deficit has exploded to $24 billion. This isn’t just a new record deficit. It’s twice the size of the previous record, set by Rachel Notley in 2016.
Predictably, Finance Minister Travis Toews blamed the mess on events. That is, not themselves.
And to a large extend, that’s fair. The oil price crash and Covid-19 are obviously far beyond the control of a government in Edmonton. But those who understand the numbers from the government’s 2019 budget, know that they weren’t going to get to balance on time anyway. These events just make the deficit larger.
But they shouldn’t make the deficit last longer. These two fiscal obstacles are temporary in nature. The oil price collapse is artificial, created by government policies oversees. Covid-19 will run its course, and the continuing semi-lockdown of the economy is no longer necessary, at least for younger, healthier people.
An increase in the deficit can be explained. A prolonging of the deficit cannot be, but they are trying.
“The reality is balancing the budget will almost certainly need to be necessarily delayed,” said Toews.
If swallowed by the media – most being financially illiterate, tend to trust government numbers – this will give the Tories a convenient excuse come election time in 2023, if they have not kept their key promise to balance the budget. They will be able to claim that they tried, and did a good job, but that events elsewhere have prevented them from doing it.
And what are voters upset about deficits and overspending going to do? Vote NDP?
There was some hopeful language used by Toews in his press conference, hinting that the Tories might just be able to find more than $1 billion over four years from the NDP’s baseline budget.
“We need to deliver the most cost-effective government services possible… Alberta can no longer afford to be an outlier in terms of the cost of delivering services to Albertans.”
All true. But the last two budgets from the UCP signal that they are only prepared to tinker with the fiscal monstrosity left them by the NDP.
The UCP was elected on no small part to balance the budget after a generation of deficits that began in 2008. If they can’t, they will go into the next election without a good excuse for it.
Derek Fildebrandt is Publisher of the Western Standard and President of Wildrose Media Corp. email@example.com
WAGNER: W. P. Kinsella – Alberta’s famous “redneck” writer
Michael Wagner profiles the Alberta man that wrote the book behind ‘Field of Dreams”, scorned by Canada’s literary establishment.
One of Canada’s most famous fiction writers was Alberta born and bred W. P. (William Patrick) Kinsella. He’s probably best known for the fact that his book Shoeless Joe was made into the 1989 movie Field of Dreams that starred Kevin Costner and received nominations for three Academy Awards. Because of Shoeless Joe, Kinsella also won a couple of major book awards.
Kinsella’s stories tend to focus on either baseball (such as Shoeless Joe) or the lives of First Nations people. His book The Fencepost Chronicles, with fictional stories about the lives of “Indians” from Hobbema (now known as Maskwacis), won the Stephen Leacock Award for Humour in 1987. Kinsella was criticized for his portrayal of First Nations people and for the offence of “cultural appropriation.” Nevertheless, he rejected such criticism, and considered the fact that his books sold well as vindication of his writing.
Interestingly, Kinsella was politically conservative and this set him apart from Canada’s literary elite. His political views are described by University of Calgary Canadian Studies professor George Melnyk in Volume Two of The Literary History of Alberta which was published in 1999.
Literary figures in Canada tend to be leftists, with Margaret Atwood being a prominent example. Partly because of his political views, Kinsella was disconnected from Canada’s literary establishment. As Melnyk put it, “His pro-Americanism, his rejection of political correctness on such issues as appropriation of voice, and his championing of right-wing causes such as the Reform Party have isolated him from many members of the Albertan and Canadian writing community.”
Kinsella was not at all bothered by such isolation. For as Melnyk explains, “This lone-wolf image is rooted in his solitary childhood (he has acknowledged that ‘childhood is the most influential part of a writer’s life’) and an American-influenced individualism in which writing is simply a means to an economic end.”
Melnyk points out that Kinsella’s writing has been well-received by the reading public – it’s only Canada’s literary elite that found him wanting…As a novelist, Kinsella has successfully blended both American and Canadian contexts; but the price of this popular success has been a certain ostracism by the Canadian literary establishment, where neither Kinsella’s personality, his political and literary pronouncements, nor his writing have found much favour. Despite the controversy, his writing remains popular with the general public.”
According to Melnyk, there are three distinct elements influencing Kinsella’s fiction. The first is an affinity for the loner and the outsider. “The second feature is his right-wing, pro-American sympathies which are reflective of popular sentiments in Alberta, but which are anathema to the Canadian academics with whom he has waged an ongoing battle for more than a decade. Kinsella certainly has not been averse to identifying with the image and values of a traditional Alberta redneck.”
The third element is his view of the value of commercial success: “In private-industry-oriented Alberta, he shares the popular conviction that the marketplace is the great judge of real value and success.” This view contrasts with the idea that success is determined by the favourable judgment of the academic community. Kinsella’s emphasis on the market as the standard for success reflects a much more populist view than that of many scholars in the Canadian literary establishment.
It’s likely that most successful fiction writers in Canada are left-wing, so Kinsella is very much an exception to that pattern. But if there’s going to be an exception to the leftist conformism of Canada’s literary elite, it’s only fitting that he should be an Albertan. One could even say that he was a bit of a maverick.
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.’
NAVARRO-GENIE: ‘Second wave’ fears further threaten civil liberties
Navarro-Genie writes that politicians are using inflated numbers to justify an increasingly authoritarian crackdown on people living their lives.
On September 18, Israel relocked down the country for the following three weeks, becoming the first developed country to shut down for the second time. This second COVID-19 lockdown comes four months after lifting the first one instituted in March. How Israeli citizens react to the unsustainable nature of re-lockdowns will be instructive for the Canadian jurisdictions that have increased a rhetoric of fear about a second wave.
As of September 21, Israel counted 190,929 COVID-19 cases, with 1,273 deaths (among 8.7 million Israelis). Israel currently has 58,976 active cases, the fastest infection rate in the world, and 653 of its cases are considered serious.
Reactions to the first weekend of the second Israeli lockdown seem worrisome. Shops and restaurants opened in protest despite fines of $1,500 US per day, religious gatherings and public protests organized in defiance of the new orders. Over 7000 police officers patrolled streets and manned check points. They handed nearly 5000 tickets to people violating the 1-kilometre radius zone from their domiciles that is permitted, and close to 200 tickets for failing to wear mandatory masks. Some restaurant owners were even arrested for refusing to close. Given the enforcement and levels of resistance, discontent and civil disobedience may increase. Reluctant liberal democratic societies can only tolerate so much enforcement.
On this side of the world – in reaction to increasing numbers of COVID-19 infections in the province – Quebec may grant greater police powers, including the power to violate private domiciles to stop gatherings that break the 10-person limit. Given that infections do not by a long shot equal hospitalizations, civil libertarians are rightly sounding warning bells.
Ironically, the new measures could be in place in time for the 50th anniversary of the October Crisis, a painful chapter in Quebec history. Reacting to threats of domestic terrorism after the murders of a Quebec minister and a foreign diplomat, then-Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau sent troops into the streets of Montreal as if it were Northern Ireland. Memories of countless violations of fundamental rights against so many suspected of sympathising with the separatist terrorists, forcibly rounded up, beaten and abused, still haunt surviving Quebeckers.
Next door, Ontarians should worry about Doug Ford’s vaporous rhetoric. On September 14, Ford heightened the COVID-19 panic. Following 31,143 tests and 313 new cases (1 percent of those tested), Ford torqued fear invoking a second COVID-19 wave: “I believe it is coming as sure as I am standing here.” He also raised the threat of a new lockdown: “…every option is on the table. We will take up every step necessary, including further shutdowns.”
Ford now boasts that Ontario leads Canada, reaching 40,000 and aiming at 50,000 daily tests. The connection between “hammering the testing,” as Ford calls it, and the infection increases seems to be ignored. The more tests, the more infected cases.
Alarmist headlines emphasising case growth scare some but only harden existing sceptics and make new ones. 478 new cases were reported on September 22, but what really matters is that there were 82 COVID-19 patients in Ontario hospitals, and that there is a legitimate concern this number doubled since September 13 (24 of whom are in intensive care, with 11 of them on ventilators). Of the 478 new cases, however, 8 people are aged over 80, the most critically vulnerable, and 3 new COVID-19 deaths were reported in a population of nearly 15 million people. The overblown emphasis on infection cases informs little and drives fears that may backfire.
Ontarians should be equally concerned with the escalating language and condescending vitriol toward challengers, sceptics and rule-breakers. On September 21, responding to questions about “clamping down,” Ford implied that people who attended an event in Ancaster are brainless and vowed to track them down for “putting people’s lives in jeopardy.” There is no evidence that the alleged brainless have infected anyone, yet Ford’s comments pave the way for unleashing coercive machinery against those who may legitimately disagree with his inflated medical rhetoric, his punishing instincts, and the desire to paint himself as a saviour.
Unless there is a rational perspective about the rising number of infection cases and reasonable mitigating strategies to protect the vulnerable, the alarmist rhetoric risks panicking into another harmful lockdown while simultaneously increase scepticism, challenges and resistance.
Albertans need not directly worry about police round ups in Laurentian Canada, but these are dangerous precedents for the healthy number of Albertans challenging the continuation of some lockdown conditions, the threat of returning to another unsustainable lockdown, and the fear-laden language of public medical officials.
Marco Navarro-Génie is a columnist for the Western Standard, a Senior Fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy and the President of the Haultain Research Institute. He is co-author, with Barry Cooper, of the upcoming COVID-19: The Politics of a Pandemic Moral Panic.
GRAFTON: Wexit’s morph into the Maverick Party a big missed opportunity
“Westerners are looking for alternatives, and one can’t help thinking that Wexit has missed an opportunity to become a mainstream, credible party, with a real chance of sending members to Ottawa following the next election.”
On September 17th, Wexit Canada leader Jay Hill announced that they were jettisoning their catchy portmanteau, and had registered a new name with Elections Canada. Wexit Canada is now the Maverick Party.
The new name immediately became fodder for satirists, who drew comparison to the popular Tom Cruise character in the 1986 blockbuster action-drama “Top Gun”. Hill denied any intentional connection.
“Maverick” seems an odd name for a party, considering the definition of the word, “an independent individual who does not go along with a group or party” (Merriam Webster), and could be interpreted as conceptual confusion. Certainly, it does not convey any particular political orientation.
Hill’s own explanation, “There’s (sic) mavericks in the business world, in virtually every occupation you run across what is referred to as mavericks — people who chart an independent path,” seems to align with the dictionary definition of mavericks as individuals who can’t work together.
In his message to members, Hill explained that the name change was designed to give the party an individual identity, separate from other movements like Brexit. In a CBC interview he said that the Wexit brand had been tainted by previous connections, and confusion among similarly named political entities. “We polled via Facebook, our members and some of the general public that would be interested in whether we should change our name or not,” Hill said. “It came back that (a) two-thirds majority thought it would be wise to change the name.” No argument there.
But, what’s in a name? As Juliette famously lamented, “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
As it turns out, names can be important.
A 2017 CBS article entitled “What’s in a name? Plenty” quoted New York University Professor of Marketing Adam Alter; “You’d think it should just be a label, an idle label that doesn’t affect anything. But that’s not how the world works. It turns out it matters a huge amount.” Alter has a PhD in Psychology from Princeton University, and has analyzed and written about the impact of names. “There’s evidence that a good name is a simple name,” Alter said, “In law firms, people with simple names tend to make partner faster. In politics – with the notable exception of former President Barack Obama – fewer syllables generally mean more votes. People vote more for people with simpler names. We’ve got some results showing that.”
Dating back to confederation – excepting a blip in 1918 when the wartime Unionist Coalition under Sir Robert Borden formed a government, there has never been a governing party in Canada other than the Liberals or the Conservatives. The two brands offer serious credibility, and convey a clear and simple message of political orientation to voters. This became briefly muddled in 1920, following the demise of the Unionist Coalition, when the Conservative Party changed its’ name to the National Liberal and Conservative Party.
The closest that any other party has come was with the decimation of the Liberals in 2011, when the New Democratic Party (NDP) became the official opposition. Formed in 1961 as the love-child of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) and the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), and sometimes described as “Liberals in a hurry”, perhaps the brand may have resonated more with Canadians with a simpler name…the Democratic Party of Canada perhaps. “New” sounds…well, inexperienced. And nearly 60 years old, a bit inaccurate.
The point is, a niche party has never come close to forming a federal government in Canada. Niche parties are easily identifiable by their names. Elections Canada currently lists twenty registered federal parties, most of them niche parties – the Animal Protection Party of Canada, the (festive but now obsolete) Marijuana Party, the Green Party, and the Rhinoceros Party. These parties will never form a government. In the serious game of national politics, you need a serious name to play.
Bloc Quebecoise is a serious name, and it worked for them…thirty-two seats.
Should Wexit should have gone with something else? The Western Independence Party seems an obvious, credible-sounding alternative.
Westerners are looking for alternatives, and one can’t help thinking that Wexit has missed an opportunity to become a mainstream, credible party, with a real chance of sending members to Ottawa following the next election.
“Maverick” is also defined as “an unbranded range animal, especially a motherless calf.”
Ken Grafton is a freelance columnist
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