Extremist: /ɛkˈstriːmɪst/ noun, chiefly derogatory: A person who holds extreme political or religious views, especially one who advocates illegal, violent or other extreme action—Oxford dictionary
Of all the bonehead things Premier Prentice could have said in his campaign kick-off speech, warning Albertans to beware of “extreme ideas or ideologies” takes the cake.
Prime Minister Harper labeled ISIL “extremists” and “terrorists”. He girded his loins and sent in the troops.
Premier Prentice labelled the Wildrose and the NDP “the extreme right and the extreme left”. He girded his campaign team and sent in the spin doctors.
And that’s on Day 1 of the campaign trail. God only knows what weird and wonderful things he’ll come up with by Day 28.
But hey, it’s politics, we should expect some mudslinging, right?
It’s one thing to sling mud at your political opponents. They’re used to it. Abe Lincoln’s detractors called him everything from a “rail-splitter” to a “third-rate backwoods lawyer” (I’m not sure which word was the insult, “backwoods” or “lawyer”).
It’s quite another thing to sling mud at citizens who support a political party other than your own. That’s not mudslinging. That’s an utter lack of respect for the democratic process that permits more than one political party to exist at one time.
The hard truth
In addition to calling Albertans names, Mr Prentice says the Tories are the only party prepared to tell Albertans the “hard truth”. It’s easy, he says, for the Wildrose or the NDP to criticize his budget, but it’s “incumbent” upon them to put forward their own realistic plans so that Albertans can judge their solutions against the Tory solution.
Mr Prentice is half-right.
It is indeed easy to criticize Mr Prentice’s Budget 2015. It promises to take Alberta off the resource revenue roller coaster but fails to do so.
Mr Prentice promises to balance the budget in three years and start depositing half of Alberta’s royalty revenue into the Heritage Savings Trust Fund by 2020. Most importantly, Mr Prentice promises to wean the government of its addiction to energy royalties and stop using volatile resource revenues to plug holes in its operating and capital budgets.
Budget 2015 starts on the right foot. In 2015-16 resource revenues make up just 6.7% of all revenues the government requires to provide public services. But by 2019-20 resource revenues balloon to 16% of all revenues, making the government even more dependent on booming oil prices.
To further increase the frisson of uncertainty, Budget 2015 is based on WTI oil prices of $54.84 in 2015-16 and $62.80 in 2016-17 (rising ultimately to $83.83 in 2019-20 when the first transfers to the Heritage Trust Fund are expected to take place).
Just one small snag. The US Dept of Energy expects WTI oil prices to come in $2 to $5 lower for the same period. And to make matters worse, the successful conclusion of the Iran nuclear deal will likely reduce oil prices an additional $5 to $15 by 2016.
Mr Prentice’s Budget 2015 isn’t taking Alberta off the resource revenue roller coaster, it’s strapping Albertans firmly into the Mad Mouse carnival ride at the OPEC amusement park.
Lougheed, Klein and, um, who?
Mr Prentice characterizes Budget 2015 as a budget worthy of Alberta’s legendary premiers, Peter Lougheed and Ralph Klein. He challenges the Wildrose and the NDP to show Albertans how they would plug the $5 billion deficit resulting from his own government’s failure to manage Alberta’s economy through the good times.
And here’s where it gets interesting.
The Wildrose promise to reverse Prentice’s tax hikes and cut $2.2 billion by reducing waste and eliminating 3200 civil service management jobs. The mantle of Ralph Klein, the king of the austerity budget, rests comfortably on the shoulders of Wildrose leader Brian Jean.
The NDP promise a true progressive personal tax, fair corporate taxes, tax credits to support a job creation plan and Bill 209, a bill to ensure that Albertans receive full value for their natural resources in accordance with the principles set out by Peter Lougheed. NDP leader Rachel Notley rightly deserves the mantle of Peter Lougheed, who she wryly points out wins the “Extremist of the Day” award for proposing a corporate tax hike in 2011.
What about Mr Prentice? Sadly he doesn’t deserve carry the mantle of premiers Lougheed or Klein, let alone wear it.
Mr Prentice’s budget is fiscally irresponsible. It binds the government’s ability to deliver (and staff) schools and hospitals to an increasingly volatile global oil market… and plunges the province into $30 billion of debt in the process.
Mr Prentice’s government is socially conservative. It took a national outcry to prevent the Tories from passing legislation that blatantly discriminated against gay school children.
Mr Prentice’s government is undemocratic. The premier gleefully gutted the Official Opposition when his own government held an overwhelming majority of seats. Heaven forbid that someone from across the aisle might try to hold his government to account.
There is indeed an extremist party in Alberta. It’s decked out in Tory blue.