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David Marsden: Kenney needs a proper plan

The government has made no progress at putting Alberta on a better financial footing

Only someone who lives outside of Alberta would have been surprised at the size of the province’s deficit.

The Jason Kenney government had telegraphed the bad news that was delivered Wednesday: $24.2 billion in red ink.

More poignantly, a drive — or better yet, a walk — through most communities in the province provides proof of the widespread heartache created by closed businesses and others struggling to keep their doors open.

The combined bite of stubbornly low energy prices and COVID-19 have made cobbling together a defensible financial plan difficult.

Still, the Kenney government hasn’t helped its cause. It came to power in the spring of 2019 on the promise of restoring Alberta to its former glory.

The premier had a strong mandate to do whatever was necessary to balance the books and plant the seeds for a more sustainable government and economy.

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The United Conservative Party has squandered its opportunity.

It identified overspending as a concern, but in place of taking action, it appointed a so-called blue ribbon panel that took until last August to prepare its report.

Not surprisingly, it found Alberta public workers are better compensated than their colleagues in other provinces.

There was no revelation in that. Just as it’s no surprise that wages are generally higher in our province for every job category.

This is because, historically, employers were forced to compete with the generous wages offered in the oilpatch to attract and retain workers.

The oilpatch has struggled in recent years and compensation in the private sector has moderated. Not surprisingly, the public service has escaped largely immune.

The government, if it’s mouthings are to be believed, has known overspending was a problem since before it was elected, but has failed to do anything about it.

Instead, it makes threats.

The awkward charade being played out with physicians is another defeat.

The government has rejected what appears to be a sincere offer by the Alberta Medical Association to reduce total doctor pay, but rather than reach an amicable settlement, it has alienated an essential ally in the provision of Alberta’s most important public service: health care.

The Kenney government has chosen to nibble at the edges of expenditures, taking a little bit here and a little bit there, but accomplishing nothing.

It has tightened the budgets of post-secondary institutions, raising the ire of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, and thrown some park lands to the wolves in hopes of achieving negligible savings, which has worried the many Albertans who place great pride in our wild areas.

The result of all this is that the government has had public workers on edge for 16 months. That’s not fair. These fellow Albertans are our neighbours, who we count on for vital services.

Worse, the government has made no progress at putting Alberta on a better financial footing.

Let’s hope the billions being spent on repairing potholes don’t become a substitute for proper infrastructure planning. Central Albertans have the promise of a $100-million investment in our long-neglected hospital. The work is expected to begin next year.

All Albertans should hope the government achieves its focus and is able to implement a proper plan for Alberta’s long-term recovery.

David Marsden is managing editor of the Red Deer Advocate.