By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – Wildrose MLA and Opposition Finance Critic Rob Anderson visited Morinville Wednesday night, his third public meeting in the constituency to discuss what his party refers to as a Financial Recovery Plan for Alberta. The 90-minute talk at the Morinville Rendez-Vous Centre drew mostly party supporters to hear the former PC MLA speak.
Anderson’s talk criticized the Redford government for what the Wildrose see as mismanagement of revenues, overspending on bureaucracy, and a string of broken campaign and budget promises, including the premier’s pre-election promise of not running a deficit.
No revenue problem
The MLA said the notion the province has a revenue problem is false because Alberta takes in approximately $10,000 per person in revenue, $4,000 of that in taxes alone. Anderson said Alberta’s lower rate of taxation creates a broader base of taxation, which leads to more revenue. “Even though we have a lower tax rate, we have more people that pay tax,” he said.
Anderson referred to the PCs notion of a bitumen bubble as the unicorn in Alberta politics, and said Alberta has always had a differential between what Alberta can sell their oil for and the price on the world market. For Anderson and his party, the real issue is with how the revenues are being managed.
“It does not matter how much oil and gas revenue we have. If we spend it like idiots, and we manage our budget like idiots, we’re going to look like idiots,” he said. “That’s what’s happening. We have resources that every other jurisdiction in the world – certainly in North America – would do anything for. And yet we still cannot balance our budget, and we still can’t provide frontline programs that are working for our seniors, the vulnerable, our sick, our kids. We have very average to below average, in some cases, social programs, even though we spend the most.”
Spending the real problem
The Wildrose see the spending of the PCs as the real issue. Anderson said continual and increasing deficits have lead to a situation where the province has gone from having no debt and $17 billion in a rainy day fund back in 2008 to an anticipated $17 billion in debt and no rainy day fund by the time of the 2016 provincial election.
“It is a travesty, and if we don’t get this thing turned around, we have a lot of explaining to do to generations coming after us when oil and gas revenues start petering out and all of a sudden we become the next have not province with people leaving,” Anderson said.
A better plan
Part of Anderson’s party’s plan would be the introduction of the Wildrose Balanced Budget and Savings Act, which would cap government spending to the rate of inflation and population growth. Additionally, the Act would put 50 per cent of all surpluses into the Heritage Fund and prevent the government from spending interest from that fund, something Anderson said has been going on since it was established in 1976.
The Wildrose would also put an end to what they see as corporate welfare. Anderson said the province has given $350,000 to Enbridge, $410,000 to Pepsi, and $745 million to Shell Canada for carbon capture and storage. “Pepsi. There’s a real struggling company. $410,000 to Pepsi,” Anderson quipped. “Last year corporate welfare cost Albertans $230 million. That’s a huge amount of money.”
In addition to cutting millions in grant money to corporations, the party would cut spending on government. Anderson was critical of government’s one-in-four ratio of managers to employees in the public sector, and said that ratio is roughly 15-to-one in the private sector. Thinning government managers down to private sector levels would save approximately $375 million per year, according to Anderson.
A better plan for municipalities
Anderson said the Wildrose would introduce a 10-10 plan as a better way to fund municipalities and give them more power to set their own spending priorities. Instead of continuing what they see as an archaic granting program for municipalities, including the Municipal Sustainability Fund, a Wildrose government would scrap the various grants and replace it with a municipal funding model that is generated from 10 per cent of all corporate and income taxes and 10 per cent of all surpluses.
“We’ll give that directly to the municipalities and that will equal a little bit more than the municipalities are getting now,” Anderson said, adding as population and tax revenues increase, so too will the funding. We’re going to empower the municipalities to take care of themselves.”
Message well received by attendees
Morinville resident and former Town Councillor Joe Gosselin said he was pleased with the Wildrose’s idea of a 10-10 plan. Gosselin said during and since his time on Council the concern of municipalities has been for a sustainable and known funding source. “All municipal governments want is to have a sustainable funding formula,” he said. “Whether that is two cents or $200,000 – as long as they know what’s coming in so they can plan long term and not have to wait until the week or the month of the budget to find out what handout we will be given. It’s critical.”
Though familiar with many of the topics Anderson presented, Gosselin said he was pleased to hear thme in greater detail. He believes the Wildrose will stand a better chance in the 2016 election. “I think there is a lot of buyer’s remorse out there,” Gosselin said of those who voted PC in the last election and have come to be disappointed. He added some friends felt the Wildrose needed to serve an apprenticeship before receiving their vote. “I think the next four years will be that apprenticeship,” he said. “I think they will wholeheartedly vote Wildrose the next opportunity that they get.”
Another resident who came out to the talk was Jim O’Brian. Though skeptical of what would happen should Anderson’s party come to power, he was impressed with what he heard.
“He’s preaching to the choir for the people who turned up this evening,” O’Brien said, adding he believed most in attendance were in agreement with Anderson’s views. “The thing is – for all of what they are claiming, who is to say that they are going to be all that different. They are going to make promises like all politicians promise.”
Though skeptical, O’Brien said Anderson’s presentation motivated him to take out a membership in the party. “I’m going to become a member of the party because I tried to be a member of the PC party and that didn’t seem to work, so I gave that up,” he said. “What really drove me to say I’m going to become a member now is if I want any input into the way they do business or the way they are thinking of doing business, I’ve got to be a member.”