When I moved to Alberta, I thought that I would encounter a few “Cowboy Conservatives”. You know the type: white pick-up trucks, acreages, kind-hearted neighborliness, and an arms-length relationship with local aboriginal populations. They may be tied to oil-money. They may even feel a bit uneasy with vegetables and say an occasionally cruel comment about women … and homosexuals … and newcomers to Canada. Yep. I have met them.
What I didn’t anticipate was an incredulous economic attitude devoid of the idea of investment, nor an attitude which guts the needs of its traditional constituency including seniors, students, and people who care about public land, nor the forcing of homeless people out of affordable housing and increasing both the long-term economic costs to Albertans and the complete lack of care for people in their own communities. I certainly didn’t expect the massive cuts to public institutions which not only maintain the health and education of the members of society, but act to promote them both.
Here are a list of CUTS the current UCP budget and economic philosophy has instituted: $53 million from affordable housing over the next three years; $5 million from provincial parks and public lands; seniors drug benefits: $72 million; post-secondary education: $410 million; health care: 5900 jobs; $610 million from the public sector! Here is the key fact underlying this: the UCP is cutting revenue. They will not impose a sales tax like in other provinces, and biggest of all, the corporate tax rate will be reduced from 12% to 8%.Stepping beyond the utter disbelief, my question is: why did the province gut the long-term stability of the province to balance short-term budgets? In other words, why did the UCP quit its job and decide to pay for everything on credit card?
This is not economic thinking, not even by the rules of cowboy conservatism. It is, in fact, a power play, and a transferring of the wealth and prosperity of Albertans away from their pockets into the hands of the wealthy few. If it continues, this prosperity Albertans have enjoyed will no longer be accessible.Albertans may find themselves asking Quebec, or Manitoba, or Nova Scotia, or Ottawa for transfer payments soon. What’s worse, Albertans will find themselves creating governmental-sized problems that a fragmented and dispossessed population will have no mental, emotional, spiritual, nor communal resources to work with. And that is not merely an economic or environmental problem of the first order, it is also a spiritual problem that runs through the heart of decision-making. It is no mere metaphor that an ethnic Mennonite, Finance Minister Teows, has strayed from his community-oriented, conservative economic roots. It is a direct attack on the living reality of what it means to be a human being.