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Daydreaming in Technicolor: Alberta Party and Derek Fildebrandt present alternative budgets

Alberta Legislature in Technicolor (Photo: David J. Climenhaga)

Today is Budget Day in Alberta, which means yesterday was Alternative Budget Day.

Leastways, the Alberta Party and Independent "Liberty Conservative" MLA Derek Fildebrandt put out "alternative budgets" in advance of the reading of the real thing by NDP Finance Minister Joe Ceci on the floor of the Legislature this afternoon.

As for the Opposition United Conservative Party led by Jason Kenney, forget about it. They're saying nada. In their defence, sort of, this is vintage "low-bridging," a venerable political strategy used by opposition parties of all stripes that have a chance of forming government.

Why tip your hand to policies that are bound to be unpopular with significant sectors of the electorate when you have a chance to win anyway? From the UCP's perspective, therefore, saying too much just helps Premier Rachel Notley. They're prepared to take the heat for saying nothing because it's preferable to the risk of saying too much. If we let them get away with it, who's to say they're wrong?

But from the perspective of the third party in the Legislature, with three members in its caucus now and its leader outside the House, an Alberta Party alternative budget makes sense as a way to generate publicity suggesting they're a credible alternative to both the government and the opposition -- getting themselves on the radar at last.

From Fildebrandt's point of view, what's to lose? Floating plausibly deniable balloons about the worst ideas in the UCP's likely agenda is unlikely to get the Strathmore-Brooks MLA invited back to the bosom of the party, but you never know. Failing that, the ideas expressed therein might give him a leg up on his next career as a full-time media bloviator, think-tank "fellow" or whatever he has to do when he gets back to his native Ontario.

Now, I'm not going to lie to you, dear readers. I haven't crunched all the numbers in these documents, which are the political equivalent of a rather dull novel. Personally, notwithstanding Fildebrandt's recent political difficulties, I prefer any fiction I read to have gunfire in the first chapter, or at least swordplay. Call me Walter Mitty if you wish.

Fildebrandt's effort combines a little swordplay, I suppose you could say, but only if you count Ralph Klein-style budget slashing, privatization and general fiscal chaos of the sort that set Alberta so far back in the mid 1990s.

Fildebrandt's effort is interesting, though, in that he may be floating policy balloons for his former colleagues at the UCP.

Naturally, therefore, Fildebrandt proposes to kill the carbon tax. By also calling for five per cent across-the-board pay cuts for civil servants, three per cent budget cuts across the board for government departments, and replacement of public employees' pension plans with insecure defined contribution plans he is signalling what a UCP government led by Kenney would likely do.

Cagily, he proposed no pay cuts for "front-line" public employees like nurses, doctors, teachers and professors. As for front-line workers like social workers, safely inspectors and forest fire fighters, well, I guess they're out of luck.

He also throws in the complete elimination of the trade ministry and a few boutique tax breaks beloved by industry groups -- none of which is going to be done by anyone, but which might strengthen his post-political employment prospects in the rich pastures available for spavined neoliberal hacks.

The figures Fildebrandt provides do show that cutting civil service salaries would barely make a dent in provincial spending. There are things, of course, that could be meaningful, but don't expect to hear about them from a rural MLA, even one with little hope of re-election.

I trust Fildebrandt's numbers, by the way, because this exercise shows signs of having been helped by someone with a spreadsheet application and knowledge of the provincial budget -- perhaps one of the political academics at the U of C's "Calgary School" or even a borrowed member of the UCP staff.

Meanwhile, the Alberta Party's alternative budget didn't actually promise to grant three wishes to every Albertan, but by claiming the party could "restrain expenditure growth and examine our revenues to achieve balance, without devastating front-line services and despite current economic challenges," it comes close. Either that, or the reference to examining our revenues is a hint of a sales tax.

The big policy item for the Alberta Party seems to be "addressing health-care costs" by completely restoring the operational procedures observed by Alberta Health Services and the Health Ministry when Leader Stephen Mandel, for now unelected to the Legislature, was the unelected minister of health in the Jim Prentice Progressive Conservative Government.

You can read it for yourself, but using paramedics as paraphysicians, "ensuring" there are no duplications and redundancies at Alberta Health Services, "empowering" front-line health-care professionals to "advocate for innovative changes" (viz., privatization), "reforming" AHS culture to make it "more receptive to innovation in service delivery" (viz., more privatization), and selling off property for quick cash sure sounds like the kind of ideas proposed by the PCs under premiers Ed Stelmach, Alison Redford, Dave Hancock and Jim Prentice.

It doesn't say anywhere in there that in the unlikely event the party that aspires to be the new PCs becomes government Mandel would bring back former consultant and deputy health minister Janet Davidson and former AHS President Vickie Kaminski, but it sure sounds like he wishes he could.

Enough said. These are fantasy documents, not really very meaningful. Still, props to the Alberta Party for daring to put its ideas on the record. I'd say that about Fildebrandt too if he'd ever managed to put one out during the more than two years he was finance critic for the Wildrose Party and the UCP.

Today we'll see the government's budget.

After that, over at the UCP Caucus Room … Chirp-chirp! Chirp-chirp!

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca

Photo: David J. Climenhaga

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