The value of our dollars
The disconnect between Albertans and their leaders is rarely more apparent than on matters of fiscal management.
And few moments in history are more illustrative of that than late summer 2012.
The average Albertan is prepared for a sudden dip in financial fortunes, according to a recent poll by BMO. We apparently have taken the 1980s mantra to heart — finally — and have resolved not to piss the next boom away.
The annual BMO Rainy Day Survey says that Canadians as a whole are more prepared this year for a financial emergency. In fact, two-thirds of Canadians think they can now handle the unforeseen. And Albertans, above all other Canadians, have their financial ducks in a row: 79 per cent said they are prepared for a personal financial downturn.
The bottom line is that Albertans understand the overarching importance of the bottom line, perhaps more so now than in many years.
Why, then, do our political masters seem so out of touch with this reality?
We should never quibble about public spending for value, either for direct services to citizens or to generate more economic activity — and wealth, and services — for this province.
But we need to have confidence that our money is being spent wisely, with purpose, and with a sense of frugality that is in keeping with current economic circumstances.
When the Alberta government announced late last month that the provincial deficit could be as high as $3 billion in this fiscal year (a huge departure from earlier estimates of a $886-million deficit), we should all have taken note.
Certainly the leadership of this province should have taken note, and reacted accordingly.
But apparently Premier Alison Redford and the men and women who serve her at the highest levels, and in the most visible of positions, either don’t understand prudent fiscal management, have a different perspective on the word prudent, don’t think reality should reach to the highest levels, or just don’t care.
Take the travel expenses of Redford and Red Deer South MLA Cal Dallas, who is Redford’s minister of International and Intergovernmental Relations.
The expenses will reach nearly $380,000 for this year alone, after fall trips to promote Alberta’s economic interests. Redford is going back to Asia (at an cost of almost $67,000) and Dallas is going to Scotland, Germany and Italy (estimated tab: $41,000).
By year’s end, Redford alone will have been to London, Asia (twice), Chicago, New York, Virginia and Washington (repeatedly), and spent nearly $270,000 in the process.
The culture of entitlement runs deep. The University of Calgary board chairman, Doug Black, charged $28,000 for expenses from February 2011 to August 2012. Black, a Progressive Conservative senator-in-waiting, was appointed to his position by the provincial government.
The new chair of the Alberta Health Services board, Stephen Lockwood, a Conservative financial supporter, will receive $60,000 for the part-time job, plus per diems. He was appointed by the provincial government.
Former Alberta Health Services chief financial officer Allaudin Merali resigned in August after it was revealed that he charged $350,000 in expenses while working for the former health region in Edmonton.
Certainly, Albertans expect quality leadership, and we understand that quality costs in an open market.
But we also understand the value of a dollar.
The evidence is slim that Redford’s team shares that understanding.
John Stewart is the Advocate’s managing editor.