The Redford Government’s Descent into 1984

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.

No, I’m not totally unhinged…here’s what’s set me off.    

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


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17 Responses to The Redford Government’s Descent into 1984

  1. Will Munsey says:

    What a great read, being a long-ago fan of Orwell. The funny thing is that I don’t disagree that funding capital expenses by borrowing is wrong. The truth would have sold the same story much better to many of us.

    • I agree with you Will. But that would have put the Tories in a quandary: (1) Redford made a huge deal about avoiding debt in her Oct 2011 speech and hates to admit she hasn’t delivered on a promise and (2) the PCs would have to explain why they can’t fund basic services like roads, schools and hospitals. A true Orwellian would have figured out how to say “no infra structure sets you free” with a straight face!

  2. I dont think the folks in Alberta care, Susan. I have a very bad feeling that what is going to happen is that Alison will desert the ship when things get rough. She thinks the people trust her because Mr. Lougheed put in some good words for her. For Danielle to form a gov’t she is going to have to have a lot of the pc retreads which may put us back to the same catch 22 we are in now.

    • Tom, I’m beginning to wonder whether Alison will be forced off the ship at the next PC leadership convention. I know many people think she’s wonderful but her party must be getting tired of the backsplash from Katz, the Tobacco Litigation, and those horrible pieces of legislation that keep pouring out of her office. Interesting point about the WR being made up of former PCers. Quite a few of them joined the WR because they were disgusted with the PCs. My concern is more that they’ll privatize public services and I think the goals of public service and private enterprise are fundamentally incompatible.

      • Susan, I dont think they will privatize public services as Albertans are private enterprizers from the word go, but if the power companys keep trying to pull there little schemes and the rates keep escalating the people may panic and who knows what will happen. Deregulation just wasnt meant to work here because there are only 4 companys whereas in Texas there are 36 companys (lots of competition) which makes it viable. Another ploy the pc’s use when they start throwing money around is ” oh you are just like the old social credit of years ago”, I mean really what a senseless statement. I worked with the tele co. and privatising was the best thing that ever happened as it was completely out of control just like the present gov’t is.

  3. Carlos Beca says:

    I for one care and all I want to say this week is that the man is not just a Borg – he is an idiot Borg.
    Unfortunately Tom is right that not enough of us care enough, otherwise Alison Redford would have been out the door already.

    Tom is also right that a Danielle’s government will be more of the same with not just retreads but some retards like the ones we heard from during the election. These extreme rigth bags fit like a glove in the American Tea Party or in the company of celebs like Ann Coultier, Beck and others of the same team like ultra intelligent Donald Trump.:) 🙂

  4. Carlos, I chuckled at your comment about the “idiot Borg”…that about sums it up. I was ready to throttle Mr Horner after reading his snide (non)responses to the opposition. The interesting thing about this last legislative session is that the PCs have been so anti-democratic that they’ve made the WR look downright liberal. And notwithstanding my caution about the WR they’ve done a good job of keeping the pressure on the PCs when the scandals bubbled to the surface and when they jammed through their ill-conceived bills. Time will tell how all this will end, but I’m hopeful that caring people (like us) will ensure that we won’t end up like the Outer Party or worse, the Proles in Orwell’s 1984.

  5. berryfarmer says:

    A little birdie tells me Ms. Allison has alienated PCs on both sides of her. The “righter-wingers” who are talking with the WRP, and the more moderate… who unfortunately don’t (yet) see anywhere else to go. Opportunity knocks.

    • I think most political people are afraid of the relentless attacks that the pc party is able to carry out against there character, reputation, etc. Take the case of Lyle Oberg who suggested it was maybe time for Ralph to retire and immediately the mla’s who being a bunch of wimps went on the attack and finished off Lyle. I think that the right hand man to Redford is a specialist at that.

      • Carlos Beca says:

        Tom I agree with you and I doubt Alison Redford is going to survive much longer. In my opinion, it is no loss at all, except that what comes next could be even worse with the voting system we have.
        As far as privatizations, I am no as enthusiastic as you are about it. They have their place but it should not be just because of ideology. There are many instances when private interests should not used and if they are, they should be strongly regulated. I believe I do not have to give any examples, they are obvious. When to use private enterprises should be a decision of a non-borg government and not just of some invisible hand that neo-conservatives so proudly talk about. I keep wondering if they mean the invisible hand that seems to so freely subsidize trips abroad and no-end expense accounts. It is about time that the government treasury stops being a government PRIVATE bank account.

      • berryfarmer says:

        I kind of don’t agree with you Carlos, in that what comes next might be worse. I look at the relationship between Albertans and the PCs as a kind of abusive relationship. Albertans take the abuse because they don’t see a way out. At this stage, I think just changing governments to show them the world will not end and that even the abuser can be ditched will free a lot of people to begin voting the way they really want to. What comes next might be something some of us don’t really want as our first choice, but this is a democracy and just getting out of a bad relationship will show us the power we have… and can use… whoever is next.

  6. Interesting comments by all. Here’s my two cents worth: I’m glad to hear that a “little birdie” confirms that Ms Redford’s star no longer shines quite so brightly. I also agree that if we need to take a hard right turn in order to rid ourselves of the PCs so be it. We can always toss them out in 4 years if we don’t like them. So here’s an interesting dilemma–the worst thing that can happen to the WR right now is for the PCs to replace Ms Redford with someone more “conservative” but likable. Albertans are so gullible that it will take another election for them to realize they’ve been duped. So maybe we need to suffer through another year or two with Ms Redford in order to give the WR or another party time to get grounded.

    On the topic of privatization, I share Carlos’ view with respect to services like healthcare, elder care, education, fire, police and EMS (there are probably more). When these services shift to the private sector, the goal is to provide these services efficiently, however “efficiency” quickly results in service reductions which ultimately put the public at risk. Having said that Tom has a point with respect to the privatization of utilities. Once again it’s imperative that there is sufficient regulatory oversight to ensure that the public isn’t at the mercy of a monopoly. The PCs have so undermined the ability of regulators to act independently that they can’t regulate in the public interest. Yet another reason to jettison the PCs.

  7. carlosbeca says:

    Berry I could not agree with you more. I simple meant that with the system we have (past the post) we could see a Danielle Smith government and I have to confess that I sincerely do not believe that would be better for Albertans in general. I am sorry if you are a Wildrose person but that is my opinion.

  8. Julie Ali says:

    i don’t think that going to the far right with the Wildrosies is going to help matters in Alberta.
    We have two Tory parties that are fronts for the oil industry in my opinion and poor governance doesn’t matter to these folks because they will get jobs in the oil industry once their jobs playing fools in government are over. Their main job seems to be to ensure that oil royalties stay low and that the oil industry profits stay high. Citizens are only significant to vote them in.

    I would not count Ms.Redford out. I think she is looking at Harperville right now and she will want to stay the course in Redfordville until Harper is out of Ottawa which hopefully, he will be by the next election because the rest of Canada thankfully isn’t as stupid as most of us in Alberta.

    Ms. Redford doesn’t really care about what her performance is in Alberta because once she is in Ottawa there will be all the glossing over of this bit of history and we will have another Orwellian saga built for us as it was built for Harper who is seriously the most incompetent economist to land in government. But again, Mr. Harper works for big oil and so does he care if he messes with citizens? He is merely setting up Canada for corporate rule.

    It is sad that such a decent bunch of folks in Alberta and Canada think they cannot get out of the vise of corrupt politicians. We do live in a democracy you know and if we simply used our brains, and then acted by not voting for oil industry front men and women, we might actually live accurate lives instead of bystanders to these political accidents. Just look at the corruption in Quebec right now and I figure we have the same mess in Alberta (but without any sort of clean up in progress).

    In any case the future with the electorate getting woken up and deciding to go far right just means the sort of government we now have with the Republicans in Ottawa–more bad news and money down the drain for citizens. In my opinion, the worst accident would be to have Danielle Wildrosie who doesn’t (like Harper) believe in climate change get into the driver’s seat of the great oil tanker of Alberta. In comparison, Ms. Redford might look good. And certainly, in Alberta we are inured to this sort of baloney by our politicians (miming shock and dismay over the oil prices and the need for us to get creative in dealing with the lack of money to pay for services). It all becomes background noise.

  9. Carlos Beca says:

    Julie I could not agree more. There is one problem and the reason why the previous article by Susan was about the Borg. The majority of the people in Alberta and in Canada are now part of the Borg and they cannot think outside the neo-conservative brain created in the last 30 years. It is only now that I am seeing some cracks in the network. By the time people realize the real mess we are in, it will take another generation to clean it up.

    Like you, I thought Borg princess Alison Redford had her eyes in Ottawa, but I have changed my mind since she was elected. She is just not smart enough to get there.

    This recession we are getting in now is great news for the Conservatives, despite the crocodile tears we see on the news everyday. They gave corporations a tax cut right after they got elected and now they have a reason for another one. Times are tough and so they need another tax cut to make it. Then the deficit increases and of course it is again the spending and there come more cuts to social programs and everything public except, of course, purchases that make them shine in International gatherings like war planes. And so the wheel goes until nothing is left and corporate power cannot be challenged. The neo-conservative paradise will have be reached.

  10. Julie and Carlos: great discussion. Looks like all three of us thought that Ms Redford had her eye on the PM’s job, but like Carlos I don’t think she’s got the political savvy to carry it off. The Harperites won’t let her in the tent (they lean to the WR) and her track record in Alberta has been lackluster. Ironically the only thing she’s really accomplished is institutionalizing greater transparency. Unfortunately, while the machinery for transparency has been put in place the political will to hold transgressors accountable is lacking (the egregious overspending for the Olympics is a classic example).

    The bigger worry is how to get Albertans and Canadians to care enough about the erosion of our democratic processes under Conservative rule to vote for change. I agree with Julie that going hard right is not the answer. I don’t know why the progressive centrists (or whatever you want to call the non-NDP) can’t find some dynamic candidates who will pull the public along with their vision. We all seem to want the same things—decent healthcare, education, environmental protection and the democratic processes required to ensure that the public interest is protected. I do have to give credit to the WR who worked effectively with the Liberals and the NDP in bringing the abuse of the public interest in the interests of industry to light. Unfortunately the majority PC government just bulldozed them out of the way.

    Carlos you mentioned “cracks in the network”. I too have seen a rise in citizens’ groups here in Calgary. Groups like Broken City, Politics and Pints (Kent Hehr’s group), and 1CalgaryCentre are all working to bring the progressive centre together. Now if we could just find a half decent politician to lead the way…!!!

  11. Carlos Beca says:

    Susan talk about political savvy. After an ‘ad nauseum’ repetition that the govenment is concerned with healthcare and the elderly, they secretelly cut 25% of the home care budget to save 1.5 million a year. Wow is this bad decision making or what? She could have cut the half a million just by not having gone to the Olimpics. Home Care is way cheaper than the hospital, is what elderly people prefer to keep them in their homes and it is not where any smart politician cuts to save money or get the respect from the citizens. Alison Redford has been the greatest surprise in mediocre politics I have ever seen. I ventured to say that it is actually unintelligent politics and total lack of understanding of democratic values and respect for the citizens of Alberta. Where has she been in the last few years?

    We had a good smart politician that could have done quite a bit for this province but unfortunately it did not work. There are great differences between rural and urban and between Edmonton and Calgary and it is very difficult to make it through the mine field. Kevin Taft would certainly have done a much better job that what we have right now with his eyes closed.

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