Unfortunately, Alberta’s wild budget ride is far from finished
Whether we are in the saddle or under the shell, $10.3 billion deficit is still there
After those green shoots, those promised bended curves, and those endless corners being dutifully turned, today’s cliche has us back in the economic saddle.
Well, if we’re indeed sitting in that unfamiliar position, then it must feel as it did to those young cowboys in the chutes astride Midnight, back at the 1924 Calgary Stampede.
Not one of those boyos managed eight seconds throughout the whole shebang — making that lovely black colt from Porcupine Hills a legend to this very day in bucking bronco folklore.
Still you’ve got to give provincial Treasurer Joe Ceci credit: this fellow could provide advice on remaining optimistic to Eric Idle before that crucifixion scene from Monty Python’s Life Of Brian. Yep, Our Joe looks on the brighter side of life so earnestly, it’s a wonder he doesn’t wear shades to his quarterly economic updates.
It was during the latest of these bizarre head-scratchers last week that Ceci announced, yes indeed, we’re back in the saddle here in Wild Rose Country.
And what was the cause of such hearty news, in a province in which red ink flows faster than spring runoff during an early June thunderstorm? Oh, we’re not going to borrow as much as announced back in March. Nope, instead, we’re only going into additional hock this financial year to the tune of $10.3 billion.
Now you can probably buy a fancy saddle for every Canadian alive and dead and still have enough left for national riding lessons when you’re putting that much money on a tab. Nevertheless, this latest calculation had our treasurer beaming.
Still, like those poor cowboys mounting Midnight back in 1924, the good times didn’t last long.
Next day, one of the largest bond-rating outfits, DBRS, again downgraded Alberta with this little zinger thrown in: “Alberta has yet to demonstrate any real willingness to address the weakest budget outlook among all provinces. All trends remain negative,” among them “large deficits and rapid debt accumulation.” Ouch, coming down to the hard earth hurts.
Never a person to be dismayed, our premier changed the metaphor, effortlessly leaving the equine variety behind to embrace one of turtles. (By next summer, we’ll likely see pandas getting mentioned, to be in vogue with their arrival at Calgary Zoo.)
“We could turtle. We can hide under our shell. We can poke out from under our shell six years from now and see where the chips have fallen. Or we can say we have all these incredible resources that are gathered here in Alberta, and, as a government, we can invest in them … to build the economy,” was what the Prairies answer to Dr. Dolittle came up with.
Other than disparaging the resilience of turtles — the bigger critters can live up to a century, which might be the time it takes to pay off Alberta’s debt if we start tomorrow — Notley appears to be living in some economic and financial wonderland.
Even acknowledging this horrendous amount of annual borrowing — that’s $10,300,000,000 in written-out numbers — we’re still playing blind man’s bluff with actual accounting.
The only reason we’re not officially borrowing even more than budgeted is because we’ve drawn down another $250 million in contingency funding. Meanwhile, we’re treated to a verbal monstrosity of Orwellian proportion with the introduction of the word reprofiling. This is used to mean delaying, pushing back, abandoning — which is what the NDP is doing with some budgeted capital plans. In short, we aren’t going to build all those promised schools this year. If we ever do, then the teachers can add reprofiling to the English syllabus.
Then there are these new jobs — Ceci reckons 70,000 since June of last year. But that’s odd: according to their own labour department numbers, there were 2,249,000 Albertans employed 17 months ago and 2,296,000 now. Even with my suspect math, that’s less than 50,000. Ah, but let’s not quibble, so what if we got it wrong by the equivalent population of Cochrane. Heck, these are only the people running Alberta.