An ongoing theme of this particular space is the routine daylighting of the tremendous disconnect that exists between much of our elected (and unelected) leadership and the beleaguered taxpayer.
Take Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel for example. Since the day last week when it became public knowledge that the federal government had turned down Edmonton’s request for funding assistance for a proposed 2017 World’s Fair, Mandel hasn’t missed an opportunity to berate the Edmonton area MPs who are part of the federal Conservative caucus.
Mandel has consistently taken the position that these MPs have let Edmontonians down by failing to assist the city in securing federal tax dollars for the proposed Expo.
By Mandel’s acknowledged reasoning, one of the duties of MPs is to help smooth the flow of federal largesse, regardless of the nature of the supposed need, and that any failure to render assistance is automatically deemed a failure of duty.
The problem with Mandel’s reasoning is a simple one. Unfortunately it’s tremendously widespread and pervasive.
Mandel is a member of a growing club that seems to believe that any and all spending initiatives approved by any level of legislature are automatically valid, and that the duty of all legislators is to ensure that tax dollars are appropriated accordingly.
This attitude is both morally and ethically bankrupt. In spite of that, Mandel and other Edmonton aldermen are totally oblivious to the fact that Rona Ambrose — who has been exceptionally singled out in this fiasco — may have actually been thinking about the poor, beleaguered taxpayers who form the bulk of her constituency.
Look folks, this is truly simple stuff here. After several years of unprecedented economic growth in Canada, during which every single level of government ramped up spending and taxation at levels far exceeding population growth and inflation, the economy burped. And in the aftermath of that burp, governments at every level found themselves short of money.
All across the country, cities, towns, and provinces have found themselves in the very same boat as the federal government. All because they ramped up spending on the basis that next year would always be bigger than this year, and when that didn’t happen they found themselves in a cash crunch.
You tell me why the city of Red Deer has had to ramp up spending at a rate 2.5 times inflation and population growth for the last decade?
You tell me why Alberta managed to post an average surplus, over the course of 15 years, equal to what it collects in personal income taxes, yet in the span of 15 months we went from a multibillion-dollar surplus to a multibillion-dollar deficit while provincial unemployment only peaked at the 10-year national average?
You tell me how a nominally conservative government managed two consecutive budget increases that made similar Liberal fiascos look tame by comparison, before they inhaled a lungful of Keynesian swamp gas and plunged us into another decade of paying down billions of dollars worth of government stupidity in action.
They did it because we have populated our legislative bodies with people who simply believe that private capital and equity are not for us to use to look after our own families with. Instead, they eye it with the same hunger that lions gaze upon fat wildebeest.
Mayor Mandel epitomizes this attitude. His belief system doesn’t include the notion of letting people keep the money they earn for themselves, and he’s not alone.
Just this week, a scholarly article in this newspaper ran for several hundred words about how governments could employ specific strategies that would allow them to raise taxes for public health care, with nary a glance towards the idea that maybe governments don’t have unfettered rights to ever increasing chunks of the citizenry’s money. It literally did not occur to the authors.
Even at the level of local government, it’s a serious problem. As Vesna Higham pointed out, our city council apparently can’t grasp the idea that the city must set the budget first, without input from the various departments, and then let those departments pick at the budget as they see fit, instead of letting the tail wag the dog as is done now.
I’ve said this before, and we’ll likely see a manned Jupiter landing before I have to quit saying it. We need legislated controls on the ability of all governments to raise both spending and taxes.
It’s that simple.
Bill Greenwood is a local freelance columnist.