On Nov 21, 2012* the Redford government took Albertans to the threshold that divides the world of reason and accountability from Orwell’s 1984. We’re teetering on the brink, trying to hack our way through the double-think, newspeak and historic revisionism that is the foundation of Finance Minister Horner’s 2013-14 budget. Next spring it will all be over and most of us didn’t even see it coming.
Redford’s government has been wrestling with the fact that Ms Redford’s election promise of a balanced budget (with a $500 million surplus) vaporized and will be replaced by a deficit that could balloon to $3 billion. By anybody’s reckoning a $3 billion deficit is NOT a balanced budget.
But Redford’s government is not “anybody”. Redford’s government is immune from the rules of logic. Turn to Hansard, Nov 21, 2012 when the Opposition leader, Ms Smith, pressed Finance Minister Horner to admit that the 2013-14 budget would not be a balanced budget.
Now pay close attention to Mr Horner’s response. It’s a fine example of the Orwellian use of language and logic.
He started with a statement of the obvious—Albertans elected the Tories to exercise sound financial management. Sound financial management requires the government to use “all of the tools” that are available in the financial “tool box”. Debt, like P3s and deferring payment to a future date “when it will cost more” (due to accrued interest) is no different than cash. Debt is simply a tool in the tool box and one that the Redford government intends to use.
Mr Horner closed with a self-congratulatory flourish. The financial management act (whatever that is) precludes the Minister of Finance from borrowing to cover an operating deficit and he intends “to adhere to that piece of the act” (oh good, he’s not going to break the law). We will balance our budget. We will have a savings plan, and we will have a capital plan.”
Mr Horner repeated his promise using even more Orwellian double-speak on Nov 28.** I’ve applied an Orwellian decoder to help you understand what he really said:
“The simple truth of the matter (Orwellian heads up: you know you’re in big trouble when someone starts a sentence with “the simple truth of the matter”) is that when we bring forward the budget next year, it will have an operating plan, it will have a savings plan, it will have a capital plan (Orwellian heads up: a “plan” sounds important but it’s nothing more than a forecast, every budget has to have one) because Albertans have told us that they want to have a home in the health care system, they want to have their kids have access to postsecondary education for their future, they want to be able to get to work on time, not congested, and they want to get products to market (Orwellian bafflegab: providing hospitals, schools, roads, and transportation channels is the government’s job).
“All of that will be in a balanced budget presentation for the ’13-‘14 year (Orwellian heads up: “balanced” doesn’t tell you where the money is coming from—existing revenue or debt—all we know is that it’s coming from somewhere). We have made that commitment. (Orwellian rah rah). The premier has told me that it will be done because it meets the vision that she has for this province when we have 5 million people in the province. That’s what this government will do.” (Orwellian question: did our population really jump from 3.5 million to 5 million overnight? Why didn’t Mr Horner acknowledge that oil and gas royalty revenues were less than expected and 30% of the budget is dependent on this highly volatile revenue source? Oh wait, this was an election year budget…never mind).
Mr Horner’s budget speech leads to the inescapable conclusion that the Redford government is going into debt to fund capital spending.
All of this becomes even more poignant when you recall that in Oct 2011 Ms Redford called an emergency debate about Alberta’s place in the global economy and told the House that “Debt is the trap that has caught so many struggling governments. Debt has proven the death of countless dreams.”***
A year later her finance minister told the House: Debt is no different than cash. A $3 billion deficit budget is a balanced budget.
Welcome to 1984…a world ruled by doublethink – to know and not to know. To be conscious of complete truthfulness, while telling carefully construed lies…to use logic against logic: to repudiate morality while laying claim to it.”****
*Hansard, Nov 21, 2012 p 909
** Hansard, Nov 28, 2012, p 1110
***Hansard,Oct 24, 2011, p 1154.
****Allan Gregg Another View Sept 5, 2012