Alberta panel recommends cuts to fix province’s spending problem
Janice Mackinnon’s Blue Ribbon panel has released its report on Alberta’s financial situation, showing the province suffers from a severe spending problem. The panel recommended that Alberta keep spending flat for the next four years.
The report recommended several budget-saving measures. This includes controls on public sector wages, greater ability for private clinics to share the load of public hospitals, cut the wages of medical doctors, and for post-secondary tuition to be increased.
In total there were 26 recommendations made, many trying to tackle the issue of inefficient spending. This includes such measures as a recommendation that seeks to reduce Alberta’s spending on education governance from 24.6% of the education
Several recommendations were made to address
Recommendation 16 puts the extent of the financial issues into perspective, as it advocates for the province to “create a definitive policy to clearly define surplus [land] assets and a process for disposal of surplus [land] assets,” which have long term value, yet in this case are deemed necessary to liquidate.
Other recommendations were also made regarding setting goals for reducing spending, as well as encouraging reviews of regulations to make Alberta more attractive for businesses.
If Alberta wishes to have a balanced budget by 2022-2023 then spending must be cut by “at least” $600 million per year. Capital spending will have to be curbed the most in that effort.
What came as a surprise was the unique extent of Alberta’s spending problems compared to other provinces. The report said, “The Panel found that Alberta’s spending per capita is the highest in Canada and has consistently been higher than the average of the 10 provinces over the last 25 years” showing that this has been a slow-growing crisis.
By the Fraser Institute’s own studies, Alberta comes 53rd among all 60 American states and Canadian provinces when comparing labour markets. Alberta already spends 18.5% more per capita than its neighbour B.C. and with little difference in
The panel made it clear that due to the slumping of the oil market, Alberta finds itself much more deeply entrenched in its financial issues than it did in the
Sarah Hoffman, the NDP’s deputy leader, accused Premier Kenney of breaking campaign promises of not making cuts to public healthcare.
“I think that they are trying to create whatever excuses they can for being able to come forward with deep cuts,” Hoffman said.
Finance minister Travis Toews reiterated the report’s statistics that showed how Alberta had been outpacing every other Canadian province on spending. Toews went on to state that Alberta must “think about transformational change in the way we deliver all programs and services but particularly health care…” indicating a frugal approach to fixing Alberta’s financial issues.
Based on MacKinnon’s statements, Albertans can be fairly certain a rise in taxes will not go along with the government’s changing financial program.
“Leaving taxes for another day is the right thing to do because this is a spending problem, not a problem you should solve by raising taxes… There is no evidence here to support the idea that Alberta is a province that should be raising taxes.” Mackinnon said.
Effects of the Blue Ribbon panels report will be seen shortly as the Alberta government’s budget will be tabled during the fall. There is no doubt some difficult decisions will have to be made.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is requesting nearly $1.7 billion dollars from Ottawa following the collapse in oil prices that has plagued the provincial economy for years.
Kenney’s request is a timely one, as Alberta continues to seek avenues to renegotiate Alberta’s relationship with Ottawa and Canada as a whole, looking to gain more autonomy from the federal government, according to the Globe and Mail.
The Kenney government is looking to receive $252-million from the Fiscal Stabilization Program, as aligned with Alberta’s 2019 budget. Though Ottawa has yet to greenlight the funding, Kenney has made it clear that he expects much more.
Alberta was the recipient of over $250 million from the Fiscal Stabilization Program in 2016 due to the province’s soaring unemployment rates, while provincial budgets also reached the red, ending in a deficit. The former Notley government filed a request in September of last year, asking Ottawa for a second payment under the same program.
Kenney is now asking that Prime Minister Trudeau quickly approve the request, which as already passed a year in waiting time. Kenney is also asking that Trudeau send the larger cheque he is seeking for his province. According to Alberta’s finance ministry, the province is ineligible for a third year of funding due to the economic bounceback after 2016.
Kenney told media on Saturday that the funds, when received, would go towards helping Alberta’s economic shortcomings, as the province is yet to fully come out of the 2016 recession. “It was designed to be an equalization rebate for the have-provinces when they have a sudden and unexpected decline in revenues.”
That equalization rebate is one that Kenney has recently gotten into verbal fisticuffs over with Bloc Quebecois leader Yves-Francois Blanchette.
Recently, Kenney responded to Blanchette’s comments that Quebec would not support Alberta’s venture into a separatist movement, one that he says his party had no interest in comparing to Quebec’s previous movements, and one he has little interest in aiding.
“If they were attempting to create a green state in western Canada, I might be tempted to help them,” he said. “If they are trying to create an oil state in western Canada, they cannot expect any help from us.”
Kenney responded by telling the Bloc leader to “pick a lane”
“If you are so opposed to the energy that we produce in Alberta, then why are you so keen on taking the money generated by the oilfield workers in this province and across Western Canada?” said Kenney, the keynote speaker, to the sold-out crowd at the Westin Calgary.
“Pick a lane. Either you can say as Quebec that you’re no longer going to take the energy and equalization resources that come from Western Canada’s oil and gas industry … or you can do what we do as Canadians, coming together to support each other, especially in times of adversity,” said Kenney.
His fiery speech, which was given at a luncheon for the Canadian Association of Oilwell Drilling Contractors, received a standing ovation.
While landlocked, Alberta could be seeing interest from as far as Spain.
According to a recent report by Bloomberg News, the Spanish oil company Repsol is considering purchasing as much as half-a-million barrels of heavy crude a month from the western province, and in turn, transporting it to Europe through rail and shipping through Montreal’s ports.
The company is currently considering multiple locations including New Jersey, as it struggles to make up the production lost in Venezuela and Mexico.
If a deal is made, it could be seen as a boon to the Kenney government in Alberta, as European deals involving Canadian oil are rare. For example, only 400,000 barrels of Alberta oil was sent in the last year to the U.K, one of Canada’s largest European trading partners.
The shipment could also revive moral in the overall industry which has recently seen former giants such as Encana move south, where the regulatory environment, as well as access to capital, is seen as more favourable.
The former Wild Rose leader, Brian Jean, has encouraged all Albertans to boycott Quebec beer in reaction to the province’s stance on Albertan oil. In particular, Jean asked Albertans to boycott Molson Canadian, the brewing goliath, which was originally from Montreal, Quebec.
Despite the Molson’s relationship with Quebec, their company has become a global organization over the last century. It is headquartered, in the United States and has an international distribution network. As such, it is difficult to ascertain just how successful Jean’s boycott would be.
This is the most recent escalation in a series of incidents that have arrived since Justin Trudeau’s election as Prime Minister. The Liberals were swept in western Canada, without winning a single seat in Saskatchewan or Alberta.
This voting was indicative of the extent to which western Canada was frustrated with Ottawa. This was made clear when the premiers Scott Moe and Jason Kenney, threatened a referendum on the controversial equalization payments, as well as their opposition to the carbon tax.
Disaffected Canadian regions have often used protectionist trade sanctions to state their disapproval or influence other regions. Last year, Jean again called on Albertans to boycott products from Quebec. As well as this, the Albertan government has previously sanctioned all wine produced in British Columbia after they delayed an oil pipeline.
During the third reading of Bill 17 Disclosure to Protect Against Domestic Violence (Claire’s Law) Act, the honourable Rajan Sawhney, Minister of Community and Social Services, shared a personal story of a friend who experienced domestic violence.
Sawhney stated that domestic violence is not usually reported to the police and that “the prevalence of this issue is way more common than we think it is.”
She said that this law is relevant because “when you have this information, people can make informed decisions about their relationships as to whether they could be harmful to them.”
Premier Jason Kenney also spoke of a recent example in Alberta where Claire’s Law may have been effective in preventing domestic abuse. In this example, the woman was brutally beaten by a boyfriend who had a history of violence.
However, it’s far from enough. Jonathan Denis, Alberta’s former Attorney General, said there is “no one solution”. Instead, this is “a step forward”.
Minister Sawhney and Premier Kenney both believe that this new law can both save lives and prevent further domestic violence.
The provincial government of Newfoundland and Labrador has made similar efforts to develop a procedure curbing domestic violence. It recently passed its second reading.
Alberta, like it’s Prairie counterparts, suffer from high rates of domestic violence
According to a Stats Canada report report, 75,399 of 166,928 (45 percent) female victims nationwide were victims of intimate partner violence. On page 26 of the same report, women aged 25 to 34 years and 35 to 44 years were predominantly impacted, accounting for 56 and 52 percent of violence towards those respective age groups.
3,642 of said 75,399 women experienced sexual assault, accounting for 4.83 percent of all intimate partner violence towards that particular gender, the Stats Canada report states.
Alberta, like it’s prairie counterparts in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, is subject to some of the highest rates nationwide according to the report. The third-highest rate, which is exacerbated in rural areas because of “justice by geography.”
Throughout 2018, about a quarter of homicides committed in Alberta were documented cases of domestic violence.
Claire’s Law is “a step forward”, but more can be done to curb domestic violence
Despite the continued shortage of Crown prosecutors, which the UCP has committed $10 million to alleviate for rural concerns, gaps in policy still remain.
Notably, budget cuts to the specialized electronic monitoring of domestic violence perpetrators serving their sentence in the community were taken off the table.
However, individuals can find out if their partner has a history of violence by requesting records from the police, but that’s only if their history violence has been reported. The police are then able to inform that individual of their partner’s criminal history if they determine that it is necessary to ensure an individual’s safety.
Bill 17 was passed into law on Nov. 1 with unanimous support from both the NDP and the UCP. It is not with any coincidence that this law passed on the first day of November as this month is Family Violence Prevention Month.
Saskatchewan was the first province to adopt Claire’s Law. Claire’s Law is named after Claire Wood, who was murdered by her ex-boyfriend George Appleton in Manchester, England. After Claire’s murder, her family found out that Appleton had spent six years in prison for a previous domestic violence assault.
Had this law existed before Wood’s murder, the police could have notified Wood on her boyfriend’s violent history.
Hopefully, this law will entice further dialogue and encourage the reduction of domestic abuse in Alberta.
If you or someone you know are experiencing family or spousal violence in Alberta (and it is not urgent), please call the Family Violence Info Line at 310-1818. For more information, click on the following link: https://www.alberta.ca/family-violence-prevention-month.aspx