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Smith’s misplaced rant


Danielle Smith’s audition as premier in waiting takes a step back every time she gives in to her penchant for hyperbole.

She apparently thinks that Albertans will respond better to reckless condemnation than reasoned discussion.

So the Wildrose Party leader occasionally offers up the kind of sound bites that resonate with outrage, but occupy a space at great distance from reality.

That she’s still flailing away at a false economic model as she rants makes it even more disconcerting.

This week, Smith jabbed at the Progressive Conservative government over suggestions by Finance Minister Doug Horner that the budget be split into two components: operating and capital. The premise is that the operating budget must be balanced and that the capital budget can be financed with borrowed cash.

Smith’s response? Sky-is-falling silliness.

“We get $10 billion worth of resource revenue (a year), they are blowing through our savings, and in addition to that they’re taking on debt?” she said on Monday.

“The level of incompetence on the fiscal side is stunning.

“They’re marching down the same path that so many jurisdictions around the world have marched down that has gotten them to the brink of insolvency.”

And in one grand gesture, she has painted Alberta as the next Greece.

What utter nonsense.

To be clear, what the Tories are now talking about is how most businesses operate, along with municipal governments and other public entities.

In essence, the Conservative premise is that they are being true to their goal of balancing the budget if operating expenses (including the costs of paying down the debt) can be paid for from revenue (taxes, service fees and oil royalties, primarily).

It’s fair for Smith to question the Tories’ track record on economic management. The budget introduced in February now seems like so much fudging, based as it was on $100-a-barrel oil (and the accompanying royalties). Post-election, Redford’s team has backed away from predictions of $40 billion in revenue this year.

That kind of quick-stepping deserves to be critiqued. It’s the kind of fiscal fiddling that many Albertans are long weary of, and made them look with more than a little interest at Smith and her Wildrose balanced-budget platform during the lead-up to the April 23 provincial election.

In the end, voters couldn’t take the jump, except in 17 ridings (five of which are in Central Alberta, surrounding Red Deer), but Smith’s right-leaning philosophy did attract 34 per cent of the popular vote.

Redford emerged with a 61-seat caucus and a powerful majority (based on 44 per cent of the popular vote).

In all, 66 per cent of Alberta voters opted for a candidate who offered a more left-leaning vision of Alberta than what Wildrose represented.

That vision includes an Alberta that meets its infrastructure needs now and into the future.

We are on the cusp of another astounding round of growth. Without the necessary infrastructure expansion, we are destined to suffer horrible social problems.

Part of what made Redford attractive was her insistence that Alberta needed a sustainable infrastructure funding model that gave municipalities the support they needed.

Part of what made Smith less attractive to voters was the insistence (which she was trumpeting again this week) that former premier Ralph Klein’s fiscal management was worthy of emulation.

Most Albertans now realize that Klein balanced the budget at the expense of roads, schools and hospitals. And that he frittered away our savings, and our control over our utilities, to do it.

In March, in the heat of the election campaign, Smith suggested “Ms. Redford doesn’t like Alberta all that much.”

But considering the absurd message being delivered by Smith now (including the suggestion that any move to provincial debt should only be made after a referendum), it’s fair to wonder what the Wildrose leader likes about this province.

Surely not its ability to move forward. Because resorting to baseless condemnation, coupled with a proposal to cap spending and handcuff government by insisting on referendums at every turn, will certainly not serve any of us well.

John Stewart is the Advocate’s managing editor.

 
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