In the simplest terms, provincial finance ministers grappling with a mandate for sweeping change can focus their efforts on three areas: raising revenue, cutting spending or a combination of both.
But finance ministers elected on a mandate that eschews any one of those options can usually find validation by hiring a like-minded outside adviser with a carefully confined mandate to investigate and make recommendations.
So it was when Ontario Premier Doug Ford hired former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell and appointed Ernst & Young to do an audit of Ontario’s finances during 15 years of Liberal governments, with a focus on spending practices. (The Ernst & Young audit found Ontario should provide fewer services and charge more for them.)
And so it was in May when former Saskatchewan finance minister Janice MacKinnon was hired by Alberta Premier Jason Kenney to make recommendations on how to balance Alberta’s budget.
An examination of raising taxes was not part of her mandate.
On Tuesday, Ms. MacKinnon reported back, concluding Alberta needs to consider drastic spending cuts – including lower wages for public servants, fewer doctors and the closing of hospitals and universities – if it wants to reach balance.
As Justin Giovannetti writes, the roadmap provided by Ms. MacKinnon suggests “bold change” that would prompt Alberta’s expenditures to drop by $10.4-billion annually if the province spent the same amount of money on each of its citizens as the governments of Ontario, British Columbia or Quebec.
But getting there would mean limiting doctors’ fees and imposing the limit with legislation if new fees aren’t negotiated. It would mean an end to tuition freezes for postsecondary students and salary caps for public sector workers, among other things.
Some of the recommendations are at odds with promises made by Mr. Kenney to maintain spending on health and education at current levels. Finance Minister Travis Toews said the report is guiding his thinking for his first budget, expected in late October, but he did not commit to implementing all the recommendations.
Ms. MacKinnon flatly rejected the possibility that raising revenue would help with Alberta’s problem.
“Raising taxes is not the answer,” she said.
But University of Calgary economist Trevor Tombe suggested that’s a political answer, not an economics one.
“As much as we like to say Alberta has a spending problem or a revenue problem, we have both problems,” he told The Globe and Mail.
While cutting spending to the same level as other provinces would turn Alberta’s deficit into a surplus, so would adopting other provincial tax levels, he said.
If Alberta were to levy the same level of taxes as B.C., a provincial economy that has consistently outperformed Alberta in recent years, the prairie province’s treasury would collect an additional $11.2-billion annually, according to Dr. Tombe.
This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief James Keller. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here. This is a new project and we’ll be experimenting as we go, so let us know what you think.
Around the West:
Endangered caribou: Months after the federal government threatened to take the most drastic action and issue an emergency protection order for the southern mountain caribou, no action has been taken as an election looms. Federal Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson held a news conference Tuesday to discuss funding for Species At Risk through the government’s Nature Fund. But when asked about action on the caribou, he said he hoped for a plan either before the election or shortly afterwards.
Environment Minister Catherine McKenna issued a warning that the species was in “imminent threat” as far back as May, 2018, but recovery plans have been mired in efforts by the provincial government to balance protection of the species with impacting the economic and recreational activity of those in the province’s Interior.
Fire trauma: The raging wildfire that led to the evacuation of Fort McMurray, Alta., where thousands drove through curtains of flames to escape, has left lasting emotional scars on the city’s high-school population, according to a new study. Schools in the northern Alberta city have changed significantly since the 2016 wildfire, with mental health resiliency training and breathing exercises now a fixture in many classrooms and yoga working its way into physical education as a means of calming anxious students.
However, administrators say the current exercises might not be enough after a University of Alberta study found that 37 per cent of high-school students showed signs of post-traumatic stress disorder when surveyed 18 months after one of the largest evacuations in Canadian history.
Energy asset sale: Crescent Point Energy Corp. is selling $912-million in assets, a major step toward cutting its debt as it shifts its focus to core oil properties in Saskatchewan. The Calgary-based company said on Tuesday that it reached private deals to sell all of its Uinta Basin oil assets in Utah for $700-million and some conventional oil properties in Saskatchewan for $212-million.
After shedding these non-core properties, the producer is banking on the productivity of its core assets, notably unconventional oil plays in Saskatchewan at Flat Lake, Viewfield and Shaunavon. Those assets require technical expertise in specialized drilling and secondary recovery methods to coax light oil out of the ground.
Dog waste: Cities in the Lower Mainland are hunting for a better way to handle the thousands of tonnes of dog waste that are deposited throughout the region every year: on the ground, in regular garbage bins and all kinds of other places that are problematic. The City of Vancouver issued a call recently (deadline, mid-September) for anyone with suggestions for better methods, from worm composting to regular composting to a new program to persuade dog owners to take their bags home, cut them open themselves and dump the contents into their own toilets.
Missing reservist: Manitoba Mounties say they have located a vehicle belonging to an army reservist relieved of his duties over allegations that he belongs to a neo-Nazi group. The RCMP have said Patrik Mathews was last seen by family members in Beausejour, northeast of Winnipeg, on Aug. 24.
His vehicle was found abandoned Monday on a rural property near Piney, in southern Manitoba near the United States border. Officers say they believe his vehicle had been there for about a week and that he was not found during a search of the area.
Mr. Mathews, a combat engineer with 38 Canadian Brigade Group in Winnipeg, was featured in a Winnipeg Free Press story two weeks ago linking him to a neo-Nazi group.
Meng break-in mystery: Vancouver police allege a trio of local burglars were likely responsible for an aborted break-in at one of Meng Wanzhou’s multimillion-dollar homes that occurred two days before she was released on bail last December. Constable Steve Addison said his department reviewed footage uploaded from the security cameras of neighbours and identified two women and a man breaking in to the Dunbar neighbourhood home early in the morning on Dec. 9 – two days before the Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. chief financial officer moved there after a stint in a local jail while awaiting bail in her extradition case.
No criminal charges were laid and the case was closed this spring, he added.
Child abuse convictions: Two mothers facing charges that included attempted murder in an Edmonton child abuse case have pleaded guilty to some of the allegations. Five children were seized on Dec. 16, 2017, after police received a tip from a babysitter about conditions at a home on the city’s north side. The women, who were 23 and 24 at the time, were charged with attempted murder, aggravated assault, child abandonment, unlawful confinement and criminal negligence.
They have pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and unlawful confinement in relation to two sisters, who officers found confined to the basement.
Gary Mason on Greta Thunberg: “Mr. Bernier clearly believes that portraying Ms. Thunberg as a mentally unwell climate fanatic will speak to a certain mindset in this country. … What worries me more generally is that we will come to accept the type of behaviour Mr. Bernier exhibited toward Ms. Thunberg as legitimate, as fair game, as nothing more than what you see the President of the United States engaging in almost daily. Demean, devalue, shame, ridicule, taunt – anything goes, no matter how old your target is. We must never accept this as normal – ever.”
Darrell Fox on his brother’s Marathon of Hope: “The Marathon of Hope is ready for its next phase. That next phase is the introduction of a model for cancer research and treatment, a new national network bringing together cancer researchers and clinicians using precision medicine – such as genomics, advanced imaging, big data and artificial intelligence – at leading research centres, hospitals and universities across Canada. We believe this Marathon of Hope Cancer Centres network will be every bit as transformative as Terry’s 1980 run.”