Now there are four right-wing parties in the Legislature!

Checked by Finance Minister Ted Morton, left (flanked by Treasury Board President Lloyd Snelgrove, Premier Ed Stelmach and Chief of Staff Ron Glen), Wildrose Alliance leader Danielle Smith, right, contemplates her next move, assisted by a Fraser Institute representative. Yeah, that’s it! Think up a snappy slogan! Alberta politicians may not be exactly as illustrated. Below: Oliver Wendell Holmes.

Danielle Smith, leader of the Wildrose Alliance Party, was holding court with a bunch of reporters in the Rotunda of the Legislature on Tuesday, trying to let the air out of Finance Minister Ted Morton’s budget tires.

She was getting a laugh out of the gathered media stenographers with a good line: Now there are three left-wing parties in the Legislature!

Now, Ms. Smith was trained by the Fraser Institute – a so-called “right wing think tank.” No one will dispute the right wing part of that concept, though some of us may feel it’s a different kind of tank entirely. Regardless of that view, however, the Fraser Institute deserves credit for its genius for reducing complicated arguments to one-liners that get a knowing chuckle and appear to sum up the truth.

Like a lot of slogans, sometimes they sum up just enough truth to be dangerous, and therein lies their genius.

Take “Tax Freedom Day,” a concept much loved by the Fraserites, if not actually invented by them. It’s been well marketed, so by now everyone understands the concept without a journalistic backstory. It’s clever, and cleverly misleading. And notwithstanding the truth of the alternate proposition, Civilization’s Just Been Paid For For Another Year Day just doesn’t have the necessary snappy ring to it.

So, says Ms. Smith, there are three left-wing parties in the Legislature… Good one! Vintage Fraser Institute!

The only trouble is that her one-liner has pretty much got the true situation in the Alberta Legislature bass-ackwards.

Today, arguably, there are four right-wing parties in the Legislature.

Here’s Mr. Morton’s summation of his budget strategy: “Budget 2010 strikes the right balance between fiscal discipline and protecting core programs. It enhances our competitiveness by keeping taxes low and investing in infrastructure for the future, and positions us to be back in the black within three years.” (Emphasis added.)

Here’s Ms. Smith’s official line: “…A Wildrose Government would legislatively cap spending to the rate of inflation plus population growth, which this PC government has repeatedly failed to do.” (Ditto.) She also said: “The Wildrose Caucus is offering solutions that would help eliminate the PC deficit in two years.”

OK, so that’s what the right-wing right-wing parties say.

Here’s what Liberal Leader David Swann’s news release on the budget had to say: “…These spending increases are unsustainable.” The release didn’t make this promise, but who would bet Dr. Swann wouldn’t promise to eliminate the deficit in one year, given half a chance?

And here’s New Democratic Party Leader Brian Mason’s two bits’ worth, according to a pull quote, not available on-line, on Page A4 of Wednesday’s Edmonton Journal: “They’re spending the sustainability fund like drunken sailors and that is going to be almost gone in the next two or three years. …”

Do you see a common theme here? Granted, Mr. Mason’s comments taken in context are more nuanced. For that matter, so are Mr. Morton’s. But everyone, even Mr. Mason, seems to have drunk the spending-is-a-problem Kool-Aid.

Is it really? Look, you can always find an example of a tax dollar foolishly spent. The same would go for corporate dollars if you were ever allowed to look. And, yes, it is possible to spend beyond your means. But while this may not boil down to a quotable little Fraser Institute sound bite, the fact is that Alberta has a revenue problem, not a spending problem.

As Oliver Wendell Holmes quite rightly pointed out, it takes a certain amount of money to run a decent civilization. That’s what taxes are for, no matter how much the hyper-rich and the market fundamentalists may hate the idea. And in Alberta, we don’t tax some people nearly enough, and we don’t manage our taxes in a way that makes sense.

Our spending on most public services is low compared to other provinces. We could raise our taxes by more than $10-billion a year and still be the lowest-taxed jurisdiction in Canada. We could raise them by $14 billion and just meet the Canadian average!

If we brought back a fair taxation policy, instead of a flat tax that favoured the wealthy at the expense of everyone else, we’d have about $5.5 billion more in revenue. (Where are the huge benefits this Klein-era flat-tax scam was supposed to bring us? Where are our trickle-down riches?)

Moreover, we charge too little in royalties for the non-renewable resources that belong to all Albertans. If we’d had the same royalty structure as Norway, we would have brought in an additional $5.7 billion a decade ago, and presumably more in each year since.

Instead, we charge too little, then ride the oil and gas price roller coaster. We act as if the funding issues our government faces are the result of too much spending on public services, not the shortfall in revenues collected by the government. And everyone in the Legislature seems to agree. Everyone.

According to Ted Morton, quoted yesterday in the Edmonton Journal, “the last thing Alberta needs is two conservative parties.”

No, two conservative parties is just fine. The problem is, we have four.

7 Comments on "Now there are four right-wing parties in the Legislature!"

  1. Anonymous says:

    David – You are so correct about all the political parties in Alberta exhibiting right wing tendencies, particularly in regards to budgets. This is probably one of the reasons that the Liberals and ND’s never have done well in elections. They don’t present a consistent message about where they stand on issues so the voters never get a chance to see any real alternatives. How is a voter supposed to chose when at the heart of all parties is this right wing ideology that espouses that deficits are bad and that we have to maintain low flat rate taxes. Perhaps it is because the politicians and potential politicians are buying in to this due to the salaries and the lure of potential salaries earned by politicians who would be taxed at a higher rate if Alberta had a more realistic taxation structure?

    We need a political party in Alberta which will wean us off the oil and gas rollercoaster. We need a tax regime that pays for what we spend and a royalty system that charges realistic royalties that are used to either create a fund where the income is used to reduce taxes or where the funds are rebated to tax payers. If we had a political party with the courage to stand behind a system such as this then we would have something different to vote for.

  2. Brian Mason says:

    David, you are not up to your usual journalistic standard here. What I have said is that we are spending much more than we are bringing in. Which is true. And that the sustainablity fund is being drained at a rapid rate. Which is also true.

    What I also said, in almost the same breath, is that successive PC governments have created a serious, ongoing revenue problem by cutting taxes for corporations and the wealthiest Albertans, and by imposing some of the lowest oil royalties in the world.

    The Journal didn't report that part of my comments, which is not a unique circumstance. However, for a journalist such as yourself, it is not an excuse to misrepresent the Alberta NDP as following the same direction as the three right wing parties in Alberta politics.

  3. Anonymous says:

    David – Tell me it ain’t so! Is Brian right when he claims that you did not check your sources? Cause if he is, then I made a mistake in believing in your reporting (well, actually blogging which I am quickly learning is not the same thing. But then again reporting isn’t what it used to be either). My previous remarks may have not been so condemning of the ND caucus for being blinded by their own incomes as MLA’s. I may just have to tape together that party card, so I can join Brian and Rachel in their telephone booth. Mind you Superman is also finding it hard to find an actual telephone booth these days – damn cell phones!
    I am pleased to see that at least one political party gets it. We need to rely more on taxes from individuals and corporations to pay for our day to day needs and not rely on a rollercoaster ride of revenue from resource industry. We also need a sustainability fund where we can use the funds income to take us through these valleys in our oil slicked ride. If Norway can do it why can’t we? Our oil and gas is lots easier to get at (no pesky floating platforms being tossed around by North Sea storms!), so why do we collect less in royalties than they do? Perhaps because their Governments believe they are elected by the people for the people instead of the Tory adage of elected by the people to represent the interests of big business to be able to rape and remove all the resources as quickly as possible so that a few foreigners can get really rich really quick.
    More importantly we need journalists and bloggers to provide us with accurate information so we make accurate judgments about who should represent us. Many thanks to Mr Mason for providing a correction, and David I hope that your next blog notes this correction so I can resume believing in your journalistic integrity.

  4. Berry Farmer says:

    Fair royalties + return to health care payments + Progressive tax = surplus.

    Cool!

  5. Anonymous says:

    AND we don't pay a sales tax, like everyone else in Canada does. How can we expect services that compare to the national average if we pay only part of the bill?

  6. Anonymous says:

    By the way, the second Anonymous and the first one are two different guys!

  7. Fan O'Bach says:

    The problem with gas royalties is not that we charge too litte, but might not be getting what we are owed in the first place with our current royalty regime.

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