OPINION: Changes needed to continue Alberta’s legacy

Bashaw’s MLA Wes Taylor and other MLAs discuss Alberta’s financial legacy

A legacy is something we leave after we’re gone. Some families leave financial legacies. For others, a legacy can be good character passed from grandparents to children to grandchildren.

Farm and ranch families leave legacies that involve turning over the work of earlier generations to a new one, positioning them to begin their journey from a more advantageous starting point. They recognize that younger family members are able to build upon the labour and efforts of those who’ve gone before.

Governments also leave a legacy — a set of lasting circumstances that will influence people’s lives. One of Canada’s more unfortunate political legacies can be seen today in Ontario. The province has shed more than 300,000 manufacturing jobs due to a number of factors, including unrestrained government spending and runaway electrical rates (among the highest in North America).

Ontario is now the world’s largest sub-sovereign (non-national government) borrower. According to Ontario’s Consolidated Debt Portfolio, its outstanding debt is $332 billion. In the past, the province has paid as much as 15.5 per cent of its revenues on interest. Any rise in interest could easily create serious problems for legislators and taxpayers, because every dollar spent on interest is a dollar that can’t be used for education, health, or seniors.

For many years, Alberta’s political legacy was the envy of the nation. It is said that Premier Ernest Manning’s home number was in the public phone book. Anybody could call him. Premier Peter Lougheed left Albertans with the Heritage Trust Fund and a legacy of economic development.

Ralph Klein’s legacy was fiscal restraint and his genuine love for Alberta. Klein became premier at a time when the province was wallowing in red ink. Back then, interest on debt consumed nearly 10 per cent of provincial revenue—equal to 32 per cent of health spending, 36 per cent of education spending, and 75 per cent of social services spending.

As premier, Klein knew that if Alberta didn’t get a handle on its debt, the province’s legacy would be one of financial bondage instead of financial freedom. He stopped the drain. Though some people later vilified him, the truth is that by eliminating the debt, Klein saved health and education. As premier, he even protected these two portfolios from the deep spending cuts applied elsewhere.

Alberta’s present political legacy is now being carved out by the New Democratic government. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look good. Rather than maintaining a legacy of fiscal freedom and responsibility, our current government is creating a long-term financial dilemma—a mountain of debt that will hang like an albatross around the necks of Albertans for decades to come—sharply influencing the way citizens and future governments will be forced to budget and spend.

Our premier says that Alberta taxpayers will owe $70 to $80 billion by 2019-20. Her fiscal planning thus far has resulted in multiple credit downgrades, which in the end, drive up interest costs paid by taxpayers.

In the past, Albertans have always risen to the need of the hour, making the decisions necessary to ensure a legacy of financial freedom and opportunity. Now, to maintain and renew this proud legacy will require growing numbers of men and women, elected and otherwise, who will insist upon fiscal responsibility from the capitol.

Only by protecting our financial legacy can we protect our future, and the important role that our province plays in Canada.

Kitchen Table Talk is a forum consisting of a small group of Official Opposition MLAs who each week, get together to talk through a legislative policy issue. As part of the process, a short commentary is compiled and edited. Editorial committee members include MLAs Grant Hunter, Cardston-Taber-Warner; Rick Strankman, Drumheller-Stettler; Don MacIntyre, Innisfail-Sylvan Lake and Wes Taylor, Battle River-Wainwright.