If you try to keep up with the news these days, sometimes it feels like your head is going to explode with an overload of information.
Between China’s spying and potential election interference, tailings pond leaking near Fort Chipewyan, the provincial budget – and don’t forget our local issues between the hospital and the farmer’s market – it’s enough to take down even the strongest of minds if you don’t focus your energy.
And if you like sports, the NHL had a wild week. It’s all a little overwhelming sometimes.
Oh and don’t forget our “feud” with The Beaverton! What a week! (The Beaverton, an online satire publication, wrote a satirical article about Red Deer, comparing it to a Boston Pizza. It was humurous and a little bit deprecating, which is fine.)
There was a short online exchange between us, and I agreed to buy them lunch the next time they’re in town. All in good fun, which with the dizzying nature of the news these days is completely necessary. (Salad is on me, if you’re reading this, folks at The Beaverton)
Now that you all know how immensely generous I am, agreeing to pay for a $5 salad for a person whose odds of visiting Red Deer are about as slim as there not being a line at Tim’s at 7 a.m., it’s time to move on. And talk about another immensely generous act.
Of course, I’m talking about the provincial budget.
Imagine for a second that you were given $1 million. Unexpectedly, but had to budget for a household of your five imaginary friends that you live with. (Not family, you’ll see why in a second)
You have to decide how much to spend on house upgrades, entertainment, bills and saving for a rainy day. In this imaginary scenario, you get to dole out another $1 million, if those people you live with, like how you spend it this time around.
All this is to say, it should come as no surprise to anyone that Premier Danielle Smith used a massive surplus, thanks to booming energy revenues, to throw money at nearly every sector in the province.
For the next several months, Smith and the UCP will announce wave after wave of funding as a result of this budget, as a way to gain support from citizens, in hopes to get their vote in the May election.
Because why wouldn’t you?
From some fiscal conservative corners of the world, I’ve seen cries about this budget being considered overspending. And to be fair, there was been some criticism from the opposition in this sense, because let’s face it, energy revenues won’t always be what they were over the past fiscal year.
And knowing that, the province did set money aside in the Heritage Savings Trust fund. Just a casual $1.8 billion. On the surface to the untrained eye, that seems like a lot. But consider that it’s just 6.5 per cent of total resource revenue, the main contributor to the booming budget. Resource revenue was over $22 billion in 2022 for the provincial government.
Jim Prentice aimed to save nearly half of resource revenues in the heritage fund, in his 2015 pre-election budget. To do that, they planned to raise taxes, which is almost always a non-starter for Albertans. It was so much so then, we all remember what happened. A monumental shift in the political alignment took place (for more reasons than just the budget, which would take a whole other column to suss out).
Smith had a front-row seat to see how that all played out and there’s no way she would let it happen again.
So, instead, she threw money at problems like it was going out of style. Yet conveniently, didn’t address a number of things that have been government talking points for months.
I could dive deep into health care or education spending, which was heavy on financial commitments yet light on a plan to actually fix any of the problems in those sectors, but I want to go a different direction.
The province didn’t mention any support for sexual assault centres, which are in dire need of support. They will be saddled with more responsibility and fewer resources than ever before and, as violence against women remains a massive problem, the government left those people out in the cold.
Also left out of the budget was any mention of a provincial police force or a provincial pension plan.
Why, you ask? Because those issues don’t poll well with the majority of the province and it seems that the UCP is firmly committed to them, the rest of the province isn’t so keen on it.
And with an election in May, you don’t want to ruin your good news budget with things that might be unbecoming to many voters who could swing a tight election race in the other direction.
As has been every move since Danielle Smith was selected leader of the UCP party in October, this budget was another piece of the puzzle in how the party gains another four years of power. They gave and they gave and they saved a little, showing the province that everything is sunshine and rainbows on the home front, while trying to shine the spotlight on the federal government and their failings, in order to gain support.
It’s a predictable playbook – one that has worked so far if you follow any provincial polling. The UCP has gained support consistently since Smith and her team set the plan in motion, one that inevitably leads to the May election.
It is still a tight race between Smith and the NDP and like I’ve written before, both parties have plenty of money and they’re eager to spend it.
The UCP has a bigger platform right now and they’re using it to their advantage. We’ll see how that plays with voters in May.
Byron Hackett is the Managing Editor of the Red Deer Advocate.