Good thing it’s Halloween.
The Alberta government’s clock just struck midnight and Premier Rachel Notley has gone from Cinderella to her evil step mother, and Finance Minister Joe Ceci’s shiny chariot has morphed into a pumpkin. On fire.
And there’s no word from the Fairy Godmother if she can fix this with a wave of her magic wand. It’s running low on fairy dust.
So we’ll have to enjoy the candy from our tricks and treats until we can face up to reality. The candy being the low-interest borrowing needed to deliver core public services detailed in the Oct. 27 provincial NDP government’s first budget since being elected in May. And the reality being a correction in the price of oil north of $60 per barrel – minimum – to pay for the candy.
But the price of oil is speculative and, as Jim Prentice’s out-going Alberta Conservatives discovered last May, you don’t want to manage the public trust purely on speculation. It won’t fly at the ballot box and it currently will not support the public services and infrastructure to which we’ve become so accustomed, as the price of oil and Alberta’s current $10-billion debt clearly indicate.
So that puts Notley and Ceci in a Halloween thriller worthy of jump-scares and fake blood, if some of the public discourse haunting social and mainstream media channels is any indication. You wade through it all and you end up with, “We demand the level of service we’re used to, but it can’t cost as much.”
Spooky stuff for any government. Not enough witch craft or black magic in the Legislature to pull that off.
So it’s down to a choice of cutting funds to education, health and “infrastructure” – to name the big three – or continuing to fund them at current levels with low-interest borrowing.
The other option involves redefining “core” public services. Notley’s New Democrats could simply lop one off like a dead tree branch to reduce the cost of delivering on that core and significantly reduce the cost of running the public trust.
But the cacaphony of criticism would be loud enough to awaken the Headless Horseman from his Sleepy Hollow grave.
Which is why Alberta is here, now.
The Oct. 27 budget calls for a $6.1-billion deficit this year, with more to come. According to the capital plan, $34 billion will be spent over five years on, among other things, schools ($3.8 billion), health facilities ($2.2 billion), roads and bridges ($4.7 billion) with another $4.4 billion for projects to be announced.
So, how will this Halloween thriller end?
Bottom line: Albertans demand a high level of public service and take pride in knowing this province remains a top destination for productive, energetic people looking to put down roots. Four-million determined, hard-working people are making it go here.
Notley and Ceci have to tend to Alberta’s trend of being the envy of the nation and a destination for the world’s best and brightest. So they’re going to have to borrow in the near term to ensure these services are delivered until the province’s financial fortunes rebound.
Enjoy your Halloween candy. Reality will return soon enough.