OPINION: Province heading for a world of financial hurt in 2019

With Alberta’s provincial elections set for 2019, the new ruling party will have tough decisions

If there’s one surety in Alberta’s near future it’s that the province will be in a world of hurt when the new government is elected.

Fiscal conservatives, balking at the spending the NDP Party has been doing, will want to set things right and they appear poised to take the reigns from the ruling NDP.

With plans underway to unite the right and bring the two major conservative parties into the United Conservative Party (UCP), the chances of a conservative government appear probable.

The strategy to unite the right, if successful, is political genius. Unite, combine the votes and bring the party in power to heel.

Making cuts will be one of the first things the new ruling party will do if elected. If the UCP is successful, it is going to become one of the most unpopular parties for the short term.

Governments change parties and hands all the time, but let’s not kid ourselves here, Albertans are going to feel the pinch in more ways than one. What’s interesting is the NDP’s budgeting is no different than the PC Party’s in that they plan or gamble on Alberta’s oil and gas industry bouncing back.

Where the NDP appears to be working on spending money is in the unions. But look closer and you’ll also find certain supports receiving boosts.

Child services is one. Social supports for mental health and conversations around mental health is another. First Nations care, education and cultural exchange is another.

This newly elected government in 2019 will have to make some hard decisions with regard to priorities. It’s not a position I envy. For the fiscally conservative, it’s easy to mark something as unnecessary, and pull the plug on funding.

Arts, culture, education, these may be the first to go. These are easy pickings when it comes to governments cutting budgets. They’re tough to value, somewhat intangible and appear to have no short term benefits for residents.

The agreement in principle laying out the UCP’s founding principles are, in general, solid foundations — something the Wildrose Party has shown great strength in — fiscal responsibility, balanced budgets, economic opportunity, grassroots democracy.

But the agreement in principle also points out a need for compassion for the less fortunate with solid policies that help people become self-reliant (what if they can’t?), environmental responsibility and a move to bring limited government and taxation.

The latter means cuts. Big ones. Alberta’s credit rating has been downgraded because of ballooning debt and this new government will be swiping budgets left, right and centre. It’s interesting to note that everyone seems to be skirting around the issue of budget cuts.

Campaigning on cutting budgets isn’t a very exciting prospect and less exciting for voters who know they are likely to lose their jobs if they elect that individual/party.

Where the whole thing may come crashing down is in the province’s administration side of things.

Fifty bucks says the new government, regardless of which party, will bet on Alberta’s energy sector making a rebound in 2019.

Just like the Town of Bashaw has to walk this balancing act of administration/operations and council/governance, so too will the province’s party in power.

We’ve seen how slow it takes to see fundamental change in small communities; imagine how slow that change will be with the province, population four million and growing.

A fundamental shift will need to occur on the administrative side with the new regime driving that change. It’s going to be even tougher with unions, advocacy groups and residents fighting tooth and nail every, single, bitter step of the way.

Cuts are coming. The hope is the new government will have the foresight to start planning now what that budget will look like. If not, buckle up and prepare yourself for a ride that will see cuts in every provincial department with little in the way of planning and mitigation.