The Interview We Wish We Had With Premier Prentice on Budget 2015

“I believe we show who we are, and how much we care, by what we do.”—Stephen Harper, Canada’s prime minister

In his March 24 “State of the Province Address” Mr Prentice urged Albertans to receive his new budget in a spirit of openness. He said if we all act responsibly we can dig the government out of the $7 billion financial hole it created for itself.

Budget 2015 is Fiscal Fairyland. So its promoter, Mr Prentice, should have no problem giving Ms Soapbox an imaginary interview to discuss its imaginary benefits.

Mr Premier you say the current fiscal structure is unsustainable and that thoughtful, measured, fair and balanced leadership is required to dig Albertans out of this mess.

Take me through the “thoughtful and measured” part.

“Thoughtful and measured” refers to the teeny tiny changes I made to the fiscal structure.

I told Albertans the sky was falling and that I would table a “once in a generation” budget so shocking that Albertans would demand I call an early election to get the mandate to proceed…then I changed my mind.

Mr Prentice Explains “miniscule”

Instead of going hog wild I created a second flat tax. Anyone making less than $100,000 will continue to pay the same old 10% flat tax. Anyone making more than $100,000 will pay a 11.5% flat tax in 2019.

That’s a “thoughtful and measured” (and miniscule) increase 1.5%.

Oh, and I layered in 59 mini-taxes. I prefer to call them “fees” and “levies.”

The 11.5% tax rate is significantly lower than our neighbours. In BC personal taxes top out at 16.8%. In Saskatchewan it’s 15%.    

Exactly! The 1.5% bump pushes our top tax rate up to a pitiful 11.5% but the Wildrosers will go wild! Chortle.

What about the “fair and balanced” part? Why didn’t you raise the 10% corporate flat tax by a “miniscule” 1%? That would generate $500 million in revenue.    

Sigh. How many times do I have to say this? Raising corporate taxes is a job killer. Besides I promised Corporate Alberta that I’d do everything I could to protect their profits which, as you know, drive bonuses and protect stock option value. (You’ll notice I didn’t touch royalties either).

You could raise corporate taxes by 1% and still be lower than the rest of Canada. It’s not like Corporate Alberta is going to throw the oilsands in the back of a truck and hit the road.     

*Grits his teeth* Raising corporate taxes is a J.O.B. K.I.L.L.E.R.

Is the corollary also true? Not raising corporate taxes will save jobs?

Heck no. I can’t tell corporations not to fire people. But let me be clear, corporations are resilient. They will weather this downturn. We will return to a healthy economy in 2018-19 because…well, because I say so…

Right. Moving on. You said despite what amounts to a $1 billion cut in the health budget and the $90 million cut in classroom support there will be no impact on front line workers in healthcare and education.

You also said 80,000 people will move to Alberta this year. And an additional 12,000 kids will go to school. But you’re not hiring a single new teacher and Alberta Health Services is under a hiring freeze.

Health Minister & Education Minister: No cuts to front line!

Yes, well the front lines are well positioned to find ways of ensuring Albertans receive superior value for their tax dollars, through eliminating waste and enhancing efficiency, by changing how we buy drugs and eliminating overcharges on cell phones, and streamlining bureaucracy and improving the quality and responsiveness of services by putting seniors into restorative care beds after surgery.*

Uh huh. Let’s talk about streamlining bureaucracy. Half our tax dollars go to 200 agencies, boards and tribunals that multiply like rabbits and provide a cosy resting place for PC insiders. For example, Travel Alberta costs Albertans $50 million. It’s got 50 managers who supervise 100 employees. Sounds a tad top-heavy, don’t you think?  

Mr Prentice Brandishing the Budget

I reject the implication they’re run by PC insiders. I’ve passed laws to ensure transparency. I’ve set up a sunshine list for jobs with salaries over $100,000. I’ve capped severance at 6 months’ salary.

Really? How did that work with the Gaming and Liquor Commission? Last year it paid $370,000 in severance (3 times base salary) to dump its VP strategy, transformation and ethics and $567,000 severance to get rid of the VP lottery and gaming services. That money would have filled the hole in the Auditor General’s budget and the Child Advocate’s budget with $150,000 left over. Care to comment?

No.    

Notwithstanding the cuts to public services you’re spending an additional $54 million on MLAs’ budgets, yes?

Yes. We need more help with communications and policy strategies.   

No kidding! (Ooops, sorry).

Let’s talk about debt. Your budget will put us $31 billion in debt by 2018. You say you’ll adopt “innovative and alternative approaches” to fund public services. Would that be public-private partnerships (P3s)?

Yes.

Like the private seniors care facilities that made a 27% profit last year?

*The premier fidgets in his chair*

One last question Mr Premier. Danielle Smith lost the Tory nomination in Highwood notwithstanding your personal endorsement and the support of four of your cabinet ministers. Any comment?  

Who cares. She served her purpose and now she’s gone.

Any else you’d like to add?

As Stephen Harper once said: “I believe we show who we are, and how much we care, by what we do.”

This budget shows Albertans who I am and how much I care.

It does indeed Mr Premier, it does indeed.

*Putting things Right, Strategic Plan to Secure Alberta’s Future p13

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33 Responses to The Interview We Wish We Had With Premier Prentice on Budget 2015

  1. Ted Woynillowicz says:

    Prentice weaves and bobs in his corrupting of language and side stepping attempts to make it something that it is not. It summons the quote of Gustave Flaubert who worte that “….. language is a crack’d kettle on which we beat out tunes for bears to dance to, while all the while we long to move the stars to pity”.

    • Ted, a moving quote and very appropriate to our situation with Prentice. When this budget first came out I had a devil of a time trying to figure out if it was a timid budget or a brazen one. I’ve decided it was brazen. Prentice has made it crystal clear that there’s a club. Corporate Alberta is in the club. We’re not. Funny how some people can’t see that.

  2. Jim Lees says:

    Did you go for an imaginary drink after the interview?

    Your next one of these should be with Dub-yah Bush…..you could ask him about those WMDs…. That would be a riveting interview 😊

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    • Jim, the only imaginary drink that would work for me after an interview with Prentice is the Vesper–it’s the original James Bond martini. I had one in London and was almost out cold before I finished it. 🙂
      Now about that interview with Dub-yah. In addition to asking him about those WMDs I’d ask him about his conversations with God. Apparently God spoke directly to him many times encouraging him to go to war. Shudder

  3. David says:

    Brilliant & satiric-much needed! Thx D

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    • David, I’m sure there are days when it takes all your willpower not to leap across the aisle in the Leg and pummel someone. The QP exchange that finished me was the one around the Kananaskis Golf course. Albertans own a golf course, it’s operated by Kal-Alta who are PC insiders, the operating agreement puts Albertans on the hook for anything that goes wrong including flood losses. When pressed about this in Question Period Prentice’s response was he’s going to hire an independent expert to review the 1999 and 2013 contracts to see if public interest was protected (he conveniently ignored the Nov 2014 RFP issued under his watch for $14 million in repairs) and develop an alternate private business model that doesn’t require public ownership.

      I have three concerns: (1) if after 44 years of government the PCs can’t tell if one of their contracts “protects the public interest” it’s time they got out of office, (2) the golf course is on public land, is the government going to sell public land to a private company (hello sweetheart!) and (3) what will it cost the taxpayers to break the contract with the operator, the PC insiders.

      This deal screams out for review by the Auditor General–oh wait, Prentice unilaterally cut his budget, never mind.

  4. anonymous says:

    A post about an imaginary interview deserves an imaginary comment. Yes, I mean no. No, I mean yes. Brilliant as usual. Thanks.

  5. Mary Lynn Henderson says:

    Oh it’s brazen. This is just the beginning of a ten year plan. Finance Minister Campbell told the Calgary Northwest town hall meeting that the budget would really be a bit boring as there is a ten year plan. When I said my piece about the front line teachers and nurses and mentioned we were expecting a 5% roll back, he looked straight back at me and said they have never discussed that. That puzzled me until I read the government is ultimately looking at a 10% roll back in public sector salaries.
    Great piece Susan!

    • Mary Lynn I re-read Mr Campbell’s Budget speech to the House. He says the Education budget will increase by $145 million to “accommodate teaching salaries” and as a result “funding in other areas of education will see reductions”. Throughout the speech he talks about the front line having to “absorb” and “accommodate” the lack of funding. There are two messages here; the first is that the last collective agreement was too rich and now you teachers will suffer (so there!), the second is there’s no relief in sight for the foreseeable future so you better learn to like being a sponge and start “absorbing” and “accommodating” everything the government is going to throw at you because there’s no relief in sight.

      Interestingly, Mr Campbell said absolutely nothing about the impact short changing the system will have on the kids. This is a vindictive government.

  6. lindamcfarlane says:

    Maybe soon Prentice will be a Premier in his imagination only …but only if the progressive parties figure out how to work together.

    • Linda, I’m convinced that we’ll see more progressive and Wildrose MLAs in the Legislature after the next election. This so-called budget is strike three. Strike one was Bill 10 (GSA), strike two was bringing the WR opposition into the fold (the PCs and the WR are still mad about that) and strike three is this vision/strategy/budget that ticked off everybody. It was too conservative for the progressives and too progressive for the conservatives. God knows who’s giving him strategic advice but let’s hope they keep on doing it!.

  7. Kendra Albrecht says:

    Hey jim it is time to pull the big dog’s away from the bowel and let the little dog’s have a taste!!!

    • Kendra, that’s the perfect analogy, only in this case we’d better be armed with a big stick because the big dog is a mean old cur who doesn’t take kindly to anyone coming within 50 feet of his food dish! Hey, we’re up to it, right?

  8. Jane Walker says:

    Great piece, Ms. Soapbox! We are circling the drain not only in Alberta but also in Canada as the Cons take us down a merciless route that ignores the best interests of the very people whom they have been elected to both serve and protect. Where oh where is the moral compass?

  9. ABCanuck says:

    Harper’s moral compass is stuck so far up his ass, judging by his constantly pinched facial expression, that only a colonoscopy has any hope of finding it, never mind determining if it still works.

    I would have thought the fear that propelled him into the closet on parliament hill might have also propelled Harper’s moral compass from its hiding place but Bill C-51 shows it is still way up there where no one can find it, let alone read it.

    • Jane and ABCanuck: I certainly agree with your comments about Harper’s moral compass. Guess who helped him misplace it? I’m reading Paul Wells’ book The Longer I’m Prime Minister. It turns out that Harper was NOT entirely comfortable with the decision to prorogue Parliament back in 2008 when the Libs and the NDs were prepared to form a coalition government with the Bloc’s support. Prentice was the chair of the powerful Operations committee and deputy PM in all but name. He told Harper to ask the GG to suspend the legislative session because it was good for the country and would give everyone a chance to cool down (p 195). Harper was leaning toward letting Dion and Layton take a shot at it, screw up, and then sweep back into power with a massive majority. Prentice and his little band of MPs finally prevailed and Harper prorogued for the first time.
      It’s hard to figure out which one is the mentor and which is the acolyte, but we can agree on this, neither has a readily accessible moral compass.

  10. Jackie B says:

    I shared this interview on another page I belong to (Get the Progressive Conservatives Out of Office), There were 6 shares from mine. The people who shared it shared it as well and it is getting very well distributed. This hits close to home with a lot of voters. He seems to have the same answers for all whether it makes sense or not. When it was pointed out, that what he is promoting is not how he does it, he sat there and fidgeted, or no commented. The (less jobs) excuse is a total copout as thousands of jobs have been lost, phased out, downsized , or whatever the reason and the corporate tax was never increased. Then you hear of companies being allowed to bring in more TFW’s when there are willing and able Albertans needing it. I hope after this illegal spring election the PC MLA’s that wanted to make a difference, realize that they never could and revolt or walk and take their seat with them.

    • Jackie, thanks for passing this post along to others. The more people who understand just how odious this budget is the better. I think you’re on to something with your comment that after the next election PC MLAs may have a change of heart about their new leader and what life looks like under his “new management”. This budget troubles even hard core PC supporters. We were talking to one today who said she refuses to go out door knocking with her PC candidate until she gets answers to a number of questions including why the health care premium is going into general revenue and not health care. She’s been asking these questions since Prentice dropped this budget. So far no one’s gotten back to her, likely because they have no idea what to say. Cue Jim’s big Spin Machine…

  11. Jonathan says:

    If Soapbox News Services would be so kind as to allow a follow-up question from the Gallery?

    “Mr. Premier, the rationale for proposed cuts towards public services and post-secondary education, to name but two examples, is that government spending on both is currently above the national average; therefore, closer alignment with national levels will represent prudent management on the part of your government. Do you feel there is any discrepancy between this resort to national averages in these instances, while refusing to consider changes to corporate taxes and royalty rates that are well below national averages? By your own logic, shouldn’t these be adjusted to conform more closely to national averages as well?”

    “Oh, yes…right…J.O.B. K.I.L.L.E.R. Then, by way of further follow-up, are you willing to promise that, in areas directed by your budgetary priorities to conform with national averages, that no J.O.B.S. in those particular sectors will be K.I.L.L.E.D. by your government’s actions?”

    “Hello? I seem to have had the power cut to my microphone…” Rats – no answer. Ah well, my thanks to Ms. Soapbox for the opportunity to at least ask. Wonderful interview!

    • Jonathan, excellent questions from the Gallery. What a shame that your microphone was mysteriously K.I.L.L.E.D. I would have loved to hear the Premier’s cherry picking answer, which, as you point out, is exactly how he presents the “evidence” to support his position. Feel free to join the scrum anytime you’d like 🙂

  12. GoinFawr says:

    Cute Susan; always love the hypothetical interview. It’s like a headline that ends in a question mark. Reminds me of an old cartoon from the 80’s called Bloom County, specifically:
    http://www.thecomicstrips.com/store/add.php?iid=80362
    Always good for a laugh. A bit tricksy, really, but hey, you’re just asking questions!

    One thing for realz in this budget I am trying to find out more about: these new ‘fees’ to be introduced, do they include a non-refundable surcharge to be paid if you decide to fight something like a speeding ticket, effectively finding you guilty and fining you before the courts have even heard your case? I saw a trial (ba dum cha!) balloon floating this legal recourse eviscerator awhile back, is Prentice seeing it through?

    i mean currently quasi-criminal charges such as traffic tickets are genuine deterrents to impoverished scofflaws, while being nothing more than chump change driving taxes on the wealthy…if such fines were to become proportionate to income, here is another place revenue could be justly increased while actually making Alberta roads safer for everyone; supposedly the very ‘spirit’ of such laws. Isn’t it telling how (yet another) something so inimical to gov’t budgetary deficits, and fair across the board, isn’t even considered?

    • GoinFawr, interesting question. Jonathan Denis’ attempt at “traffic court reform” was pitched as a “citizen friendly” way to “resolve” traffic tickets. The proposal also “resolved” our civil liberties by encouraging people to plead guilty even if they were innocent in order to avoid a heavier fine if they were eventually found to have broken a traffic law. The criminal law bar in Calgary and Edmonton sent scathing letters to the Premier and Denis objecting to the proposal. I thought it died, but who knows it may be lurking under the surface like the shark in Jaws, just waiting to be unleashed as another unfair PC revenue generator. I wouldn’t put it past them!

  13. DHT says:

    I wanted to wait for the budget to come out, and the authors of said plan to defend it before taking to tapping out another reply, the first since I last vented in agreement with the ‘Truthiness’ post from August of last year. My how things haven’t changed since then, even though everyone wants to point out how the chess pieces have been completely scrambled up in the last 7 months. Once again, Susan does a brilliant job of dissecting the weak (those with a less complimentary bias might describe it as non existent) logic cobbled together by the folks at Navigator. As Mary Lynn pointed out in her comment above, the audacity of thinking that another 10 years of corruption is the fate that awaits, is quite stupendous.
    Of course, if you act like you can high-jack democracy because that is what you’ve pulled off in the past 10 years, then I guess “10 MORE YEARS!!” Seems like the perfect rallying cry in the “Us vs. Them” battle the PCAA would like the voters to engage in, after calling an illegal election. That way, a lack of organized opposition makes the heist easier ( don’t get me started about why some riding candidates get appointed and others must be “vetted” by their ridings). My deepest hope is that a hypothetical interview around how any representation other than that imposed by the PCAA (from WRA to NDP and everyone in between not sporting the status quo colours) could be pulled off. As odd as that sounds, it is a lack of some common sense of purpose (get rid of the corruption) that seems to be keeping those opposed to the PC’s from consequencing the corruption. We must filter the poison from the well…NOT…who can we get to drink the Kool-aid. Some might claim that Laurie Blakeman is “confusing” in her goal to unite people. I happen to think she realizes that the PCAA has been doing this forming constituencies thing for more than 40 years and that it is finally time to adopt a non-divided approach to saving our province. Maybe a real interview with her is in order (and I don’t vote Liberal, but this lady has my respect).

    • DHT good question, why don’t the other parties rally around ridding us of the corrupt PC party? They seem to be focused on “trust” as in: “you can’t trust the PCs to deliver on their promises”. Well, the PCs have been breaking promises for decades and relying on the excuse that the economy tanked and it’s not their fault. But a focus on corruption is different. Corruption is fraudulent and/or illegal behavior. It can’t be excused by a bad economy and it’s a lightning rod for action. Just look at the retribution brought down on Redford for using tax dollars to pay for her $45,000 trip to South Africa or the posh Sky Palace. Surely there are other examples of the PCs misusing public funds. The government’s sweetheart deal with the private company operating the Kananaskis Golf Course would be a good place to start. Or what about the private company that raked in a 27% return on the seniors facility? Instead of talking about a lack of trust, let’s focus on a breach of trust.

  14. Carlos Beca says:

    This is a typical spin budget. They got together with their spin doctors and I am sure the very first thing they were told was – Do not use the word tax. So that is what they did. They raised 59 USER FEES. Then they were told to do the robot thing – Say with me ‘No new taxes’. Well they raised the flat tax but that is because for years everyone knew that this is such an unfair tax that it could be touched and people would salivate to the fact that the rich are going to pay the astronomical 1.5% more than we do. 🙂
    Then the spin doctors told them – raise the money spent on Health Care, education and do not touch the elderly and you will have the heart of the PEOPLE. That is what they did. Taking in consideration the Alison cuts, we are still below where we were before.
    The final strategy was of course bang in the care for the people, care for the elderly, care for education and do it ad nauseum and VOILA – you are in again and extend the reign to 48 years.
    Believe it or not I think it will work. It has worked for 40 years and there is no reason not to this time. WR is on the mend but that is just more of the same. NDP is doing well but without proportional representation they will be way below their voting percentage. The same applies to the greens and the liberals which I am not sure where they are. David Swann seems to be carrying the party all on his shoulders along with Laurie Blakeman.
    Interesting times. I think Jim Prentice underestimated the WR resilience and I think that with Danielle Smith finally in the purgatory, where she deserves to be, things are going to get tough again. I do not care for the WR at all, but in the First Past The Post system, these parties make my day. I hope they split the vote so bad that Jim will lose his fake smile for a long time.

    • Carlos, you nailed it. The message seems to be yes we’re making cuts but we’re still protecting the vulnerable, which in PC Land seems to mean some old people, AISH and PDD. School children, university students, aboriginal students, cancer patients and anyone requiring acute care will just have to step to the back of the line. What’s really galling is the flurry of press releases touting how this budget is delivering on Prentice’s promises. I just got one today with the headline “School Construction Promise Fulfilled”. It talks about the fact that the budget includes capital dollars for 100 school projects to be opened by 2016. Everyone knows that you can ear mark dollars for schools on a piece of paper, it’s quite another thing to turn sod, finish construction and then staff them with real live teachers, classroom aides and support staff. But there’s no money in the budget for the people so forgive me if I take Prentice’s promise of buildings with a large grain of salt.

      • Carlos Beca says:

        With a very large grain of salt indeed. This is the new style of Canadian politics. Jim Prentice good his lessons from the master himself and he thinks we are stupid.
        The newspapers are as bad as their owners and we know very well who they are.
        Fortunately I get my hopes and energy up by listening to people that make a difference and that I truly respect and make me proud of being Canadian. I invite you all to watch this speech from a man that does not need introduction.

        http://www.confederationcentre.com/en/symons-lecture-read-more.php?symons_lecture=14

      • Wow, Carlos, that was a first class knock your socks off speech by Stephen Lewis. Thank you for sharing it with us. There were so many great lines including “[the Red Tories] were positively luminous compared to the prepaleolithic Neanderthals who followed them”.

        Here’s an observation both Harper and Prentice should bear in mind, (but won’t): “the behavior of the Leader of the Government, the tone that is set, the messages that go out, mean everything. And if the Government Leader is contemptuous of parliament and the parliamentary processes, then the discourse grinds down into ad hominem abuse. It’s such a sad loss. The spirit of debate becomes coarse, surly, inflammatory. It also has the corollary of degrading political life, of bolstering the cynicism about politics that crushes the enthusiasm of young voters.

        Here’s a link to the text of the speech for those who want it: http://www.theguardian.pe.ca/media/flying/1168/file/2014-11-21%20Symons%20Lecture.pdf

      • Carlos Beca says:

        Talking about press releases and right wing control of the media. In the Edmonton Sun this morning Lorne Gunther calls Daniele Smith ‘ a principled …’ person.
        I am starting to truly understand what Harper means by conservative values. It is scary to think where we are heading. It is looking more and more like the US. They must be the only politicians on this planet that admire the American Republicans or the Democrats for that matter.

      • I’m with you on this Carlos. I don’t understand this burst of sympathy for Danielle Smith. She made the decision to cross the floor and take as many WR MLAs with her as she possibly could. This was a betrayal of her position as Leader of the Official Opposition and as Leader of the Wildrose Party. Her decision ended her political career. The mistake that both Smith and Prentice made was they thought the Wildrose MLAs and the Wildrose party were one and the same. When Prentice scooped up 11 WR MLAs (one of whom was the Leader of the Official Opposition) he thought he’d wiped out the Wildrose party. Nothing could be farther from the truth. And now both Smith and Prentice will pay the price for their arrogance. There is such a thing as ultimate justice. Thank God!

  15. Judy J. Johnson says:

    Love your posts Susan! This one is an outstanding primer in math, economics, and moral philosophy. This morning is April Fools’ Day and it occurs to me that in Jim Prentice’s mind, every day is April 1st and Albertans remain the biggest fools at last…who last, and last, and last. Pity that so many continue to vote for this government. Keep writing and we’ll do all we can to help your posts go viral. Maybe we can move a significant number of Albertans to April 2nd!

    • Judy, what a great way to put it. Moving forward, even just by one day, will get us past April Fool’s Day and the futility of hearing the same meaningless promises we’ve heard for decades.

      My inbox is flooded with breathless announcements from the government. They all start with this headline: Budget 2015 increases supports for ….[fill in the blank]. At first blush the [blank[ sounds impressive, for example increased supports for school based mental health programming. But if you read the announcement carefully you learn that the “increased supports” is simply an expansion of a pilot program that’s been around for a decade and the $48 million investment is going to be spread across all addition and mental health programs in the province, of which the school based programs are but a tiny part. So the real question is how much of this “investment” is actually going toward expanding the pilot program and how this “expansion” is going to happen given the cuts to classroom support staff, the refusal to hire more teachers and the influx of an additional 12,000 students into the school system. Bottom line: why is this government turning its back on vulnerable youth suffering from addition and mental health problems.

      The Tory spin machine has to run out of steam sometime, hopefully that time is now.

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