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

Calgary Herald - - EDITORIAL - CHRIS NEL­SON Chris Nel­son is a Cal­gary writer.

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.

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