Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach appears to be trying to make his mark in the world by undermining everything accomplished by his predecessor, Ralph Klein.
As if spending like a drunken sailor and chalking up the province’s first deficit budget in 16 years weren’t enough, on Monday Steady Eddie made it clear that Alberta is back in the business of being in business.
Yes, in case you haven’t heard, the province has taken a 15 per cent stake in a private firm, Precision Drilling Trust, at a cost of $380 million.
It’s as if the bad old days of corporate welfare under then-premier Don Getty never really went away. Getty was premier from 1985 to 1992, following in the large footsteps of Peter Lougheed.
For some inexplicable reason, Stelmach finds it necessary to pick winners and losers in the current troubled economy.
So he’s bailing out Precision Drilling but letting countless mom and pop operations — restaurants, retail stores, etc. — go down the tubes.
Yet, don’t those businesses also pay taxes?
And what’s going to happen when Precision’s oilpatch competitors cry foul, as they like will? Will Stelmach open up the provincial purse to them, too?
If he does, he’ll be taking a page straight out of Getty’s playbook.
The former Edmonton Eskimos quarterback made big loan guarantees to Husky Oil ($380 million) and Syncrude ($200 million).
Plus, he provided a $55-million loan guarantee and a $20-million loan to Peter Pocklington’s Gainers meat-packing plant. Pocklington later defaulted on the loan and the government eventually closed the plant.
Deals the province made back then with NovaTel, a cellular subsidiary of Alberta Government Telephones, cost taxpayers more than $600 million.
Today Klein is remembered as the premier who slew the deficit while Getty is known for overseeing, in Klein’s words, a province with “a spending problem.”
It’s amusing to note that Health Minister Ron Liepert says the province can’t afford to provide Albertans with a fitness tax credit, but somehow there’s enough money in the kitty to bail out an oil company and give MLAs pay hikes of up to 34 per cent.
Stelmach describes himself as a leader, but where is he leading us?
He’s taking us back to the bad old days of Getty, and we ought not to go in that direction.
Plenty of Alberta vehicles used to be adorned with bumperstickers that said: “Please God, give me another oil boom and I won’t piss this one away.”
Stelmach is pissing our prosperity away.
Lee Giles is an Advocate editor.