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Is anyone seriously surprised Alberta's books might be in worse shape than we were told?

Joe Ceci

Can anyone honestly say they were surprised to hear yesterday from Premier Rachel Notley that the story told in Alberta's financial books may be turn out to be a bit scarier than the one former premier Jim Prentice and his Progressive Conservative government were telling us before the May 5 election?

I don't know about you, but my reaction was, "Oh, here we go again!"

It's almost a right of passage in Canada on those rare occasions when a conservative government of any of a number of right-wing stripes is toppled that it turns out what we've been advised about the state of the commonwealth's finances was mainly fiction, designed to make the outgoing government look more competent than reality.

After 44 years, it was probably inevitable that the state of Alberta's books would be somewhat direr than we'd been informed. The question, of course, is how much more dire?

"There's no question that as we get briefed we're starting to find the challenges are bigger than may have been featured in the Prentice campaign," said Notley yesterday in Calgary after Day 1 of her first cabinet meeting.

"Our plan is built off of their plan," she told reporters. "Now we're looking at the fact their plan was not as fulsome as Albertans may have expected." By "fulsome" -- technically, "complimentary," or "flattering" -- she presumably actually meant "completely honest."

Supporters of the former government -- if there are any left -- will try to spin the opposite story, that the Dippers are just trying to manage expectations down now that they've actually got to run the place. That was certainly the suggestion made by the Wildrose Party's finance critic, whose main credential for the job seems to be that he's a former agitator for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, which specializes in press releases and membership sales.

Well, dire though the books may or may not be, our New Democratic Government definitely has the tools it needs to deal with the situation.

Specifically, the Notley Government unquestionably won a mandate to start fixing the problems left by generations of PCs. Indeed, it's just achieved that rarest of accomplishments, won an election while calling for changes to taxes and royalties that may include increases here and there.

The Government's challenge now is not to tarry, but to get on with it. The sense they might just do that surely accounts for the mood of optimism bordering jubilation that could be felt in this province over the past few days.

Ceci made it clear yesterday that a return to a fairer, more progressive tax system remains on the government's agenda -- although you can count on it there will be a full-blown campaign by all the usual well-heeled special interest groups to bully the government into reneging on its promise.

Let's remember one thing as we prepare for what's bound to come next. We're certain to hear lots of whining about how business confidence is undermined by uncertainty, and therefore we must continue to do things exactly the way the Getty-Klein-Stelmach-Redford-Hancock-Prentice Tories did them.

Well, businesses may hate uncertainty, but there's no evidence their hatred guides their behaviour.

The "Zombie Confidence Fairy," as Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman famously described the notion is so oft repeated nowadays it's taken on the air of unassailable truth. We will hear it many times again in the next few days,

But as Krugman explains, "it's actually a highly dubious, mathematically implausible argument that receives no support at all from the data."

So don't panic! Steady as she goes. Let's actually fix this place.

He's baaaaaaack! Joe Anglin reemerges

Former Green Party leader and Wildrose MLA Joe Anglin reemerged yesterday with a letter to all of Alberta's editors designed to reestablish his credentials as Alberta's No. 1 political gadfly, as willing to shove a stick into the spokes of the NDP's bicycle as those of the former government or his former party.

Anglin, who was the MLA for Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre until he was skidded as the Wildrose nominee in a log-cabin coup that was apparently organized by his own constituency association's president, reminded Albertans it's now been 20 years since Ralph Klein's disastrous energy "deregulation" scheme was cooked up by the Tory brain trust.

"If there has been one constant in Alberta's experiment to deregulate electricity, it is that it hasn't worked very well," Anglin observed, recounting one estimate that the Klein scheme has cost Albertans as much as $32 billion.

"The NDP have a monumental task in front of them if they want to be successful at governing this province," he wrote. "Of all the priorities they need to confront… none will have more of an impact on the province's immediate economic well-being than addressing the massive electricity deregulation debacle. A stable reliable source of efficient low-cost electricity is paramount to both economic diversity and stability -- not to mention consumers would be pleased too."

For starters, Mr. Anglin suggests preventing the sale of all rural electric association utilities until the government has cobbled together a permanent solution to this aspect of Alberta's lingering Kleintastrophe.

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

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