Thursday, June 07, 2007

Alberta Deja Vu

The tired old Tories in Alberta can only repeat one message and one message only since 1995 and that is restraint. Prepare to tighten your belts.

Having created the chimera of a mythical debt and deficit dragon that they so boldly slayed they now have nothing else to plan for. And so having failed to plan for the past decade they once again return to the tried and true.

I am having a Deja Vu flashback.

Alberta's education minister is warning the province's school boards not to expect large funding increases in the future.

Ron Liepert told a meeting of Alberta school board trustees in Edmonton Monday morning that the government needs to rein-in spending because Alberta's booming economic growth may start to slow down.

"I believe we have a potential revenue wall coming at us and it's not nearly as far out as some people think it is."

Alberta's Progressive Conservative government has decided to pump up the volume on this message, with Oberg appearing Tuesday on a radio talk show and Education Minister Ron Liepert telling a meeting of school board officials Monday that they should curb their funding expectations. Liepert says it's time for Albertans to face up to this reality as drilling is down 50 per cent from last year and corporate tax revenues are also expected to decline.

Calgary Mayor Dave Bronconnier keeps saying nasty things about the provincial government.

He's saying the Tories broke their word about stable funding for the future of this city which, in case nobody noticed, is the economic engine that makes the province run. Also, in case nobody noticed, it has started to come apart at the seams because of the boom that our provincial government, in its wisdom, apparently didn't see coming, and did not have a plan to deal with even after being roused from slumber.

Premier Ed, sounding somewhat steadier this day, responds to the cage-rattling of Ron Liepert, his tough-talking supremo of schools, who tells school boards Albertans shouldn't expect big dough from the province.

Ron warns the public coffers could lose a billion or more from the rising loonie. Oh my. A "potential revenue wall" is "coming at us." Ouch.

Big surpluses are done. Double ouch.

If the province doesn't hold tight to the purse strings we could one day end up in a deja vu disaster, like the early days of Ralph and his axe-swinging Ralpholution with all the cuts, to say nothing of all the nights of drinking to forget. Double vision ouch.

Seriously, Ron's Apocalypse Soon is hard to swallow.

A survey shows growing numbers of Calgarians already feel the quality of life is tanking and aren't hopeful of better things to come in the next five years.

The gong show of too many people and too little of everything is beyond rage. It is eroding psyches.

Despite this year's cash for construction from the province, including big bucks just to cover costs going through the roof because they are playing catchup at the height of the boom, there is still a huge backlog in building the province could have started on earlier by spending some windfall bucks of years past.

Alas, they didn't.

No, now is not the time to chatter about a scarcity of cash. People are not in the mood for a lecture on austerity, especially those of us who went through the '90s, paid the price, bought all the bull about sacrifice and are still waiting for the victory parade. Unfortunately, one reason you couldn't hold a parade is the streets are too clogged.

Of course, if the province wanted to give us a break and did think they'd run out of coin, Big Oil in the oilsands could pay more than a penny on the dollar in royalties.

Of course Ron could be just waving the red flag of lower expectations and budget doom and gloom to avoid paying the governments share of the Teachers Pension fund.

The task force will review options to address the teachers' portion of a pre-1992 unfunded pension liability. Since it started in the 1930s, the teachers' pension fund has been underfunded by both the government and the ATA. The liability currently totals $6.4 billion. Under a deal struck in 1992, the provincial government is responsible for two-thirds and teachers for the rest.

And while he cries the sky is falling the reality is; Centuries of oil left in Alberta

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