Debate on debt to resume

EDMONTON — Alberta politicians return to work Monday at the legislature to resume what is becoming an annual political-existential debate over the definition of debt. Is debt the destroy

EDMONTON — Alberta politicians return to work Monday at the legislature to resume what is becoming an annual political-existential debate over the definition of debt.

Is debt the destroyer of worlds, a “trap” that “has proven the death of countless dreams” as Alison Redford told the legislature in her maiden speech as premier in October 2011?

Is it a “parochial” issue when set against the visionary quest to build a dynamic province, as Redford told reporters last March, a day before her government announced it was taking on $17 billion in debt?

Or is it, as Redford told an audience in Medicine Hat last October, the only salvation for a province blessed and burdened with hundreds of thousands of newcomers?

Debt, she said then, is not debt. It’s “hope.”

Hope versus death returns to centre stage on Thursday when Finance Minister Doug Horner brings in the 2014-15 budget.

If last year’s budget and last week’s third-quarter budget update are any indication, the only constant will be confusion on how to get to the bottom of the bottom line on how much Alberta owes.

Under former premier Ralph Klein, the Tories wiped out $23 billion in debt, announcing a decade ago that the red ink was gone forever.

That changed last year when Redford’s budget announced $17 billion will be borrowed by 2016 to build 50 new schools, improve roads and add 140 health clinics to take the burden off crowded emergency rooms.

She also split the budget into three budgets: day-to-day spending, capital spending, and savings, erasing the one consolidated number that previously determined whether a budget was balanced, or wasn’t balanced.

In last Wednesday’s third-quarter update for the current budget year, Finance Minister Doug Horner announced the operational side was $1.4 billion surplus, while the capital side was $8.5 billion in the hole.

But he noted there will be $4.6 billion in a rainy-day savings account and $17.3 billion in the long-term Heritage Savings Trust Fund.

“Alberta is in a good financial position right now,” said Horner.

The government pegged the consolidated debt number for this year at $335 million in the red, while opposition critics and the watchdog Canadian Taxpayers Federation pegged it at $3.5 billion.

Further clouding the issue is the government’s insistence that the debt is not true debt, but rather an investment, like a mortgage.

“As a typical Albertan. I pay for my groceries and I don’t borrow to do that. I have a mortgage on my house and that’s what we’ve got on infrastructure,” Redford told reporters last Thursday.

Horner himself has echoed that theme, saying that as a last resort, they could always sell hospitals, schools, and roads.

Wildrose finance critic Rob Anderson labelled the argument fatuous.

“I don’t know too many Edmontonians that would be too excited if we get a little cash-strapped we can always sell the Henday (ring-road freeway) and turn it into a toll road,” said Anderson.

“You don’t want to sell your bridges, your schools, your community infrastructure. That’s not what those assets are for. They’re assets in human capital.

“That’s why government debt is much different from business debt and personal debt.”

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation has set up a virtual debt clock to remind Albertans of the slide back into borrowing.

Federation spokesman Derek Fildebrandt said the math for this budget year is simple: The Tories are forecasting $40.5 billion in total cash revenue against almost $44 billion in total cash expenses — a $3.5 billion deficit.

NDP leader Brian Mason said Albertans will continue to endure random program cuts and layoffs while the Tories rely on the vicissitudes of oil prices until a fair progressive tax system is brought in.

The current 10 per cent flat tax favours the wealthy, he said.

“Thirty per cent of our program spending is funding by non-renewable resource revenue,” said Mason.

“Our budgeting process is like a yo-yo, and it’s got to stop.”

The sitting begins with a speech from the throne on Monday.

Along with the budget, Redford’s team is also bringing in reforms to public-service pensions and has promised new rules so the public can get more information on children who die in government care.

Just Posted

Patrons practice on a putting green as the Whitestone Bridge looms in the distance at Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point in the Bronx borough of New York on Tuesday, May 4, 2021. Former President Donald Trump has a rich history of fighting back when he’s down and making others pay, and that’s exactly how he intends to deal with New York City over its plans to fire his company from running the city golf course. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Dump Trump? Kicking him off NYC golf course may not be easy

Trump Organization has been reeling after the Capitol riots

A photo illustration made December 14, 2012 in Montreal shows a computer in chains. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Irish health system says it’s targeted in ransomware attack

Health care systems have been a target before

A woman wearing a mask talks on her phone near an exhibition depicting a rover in Mars in Beijing on Friday, May 14, 2021. China says its Mars probe and accompanying rover are to land on the red planet sometime between early Saturday morning and Wednesday Beijing time. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
China Mars rover to land between Saturday and Wednesday

Only the United States has successfully landed a spacecraft on Mars

Smoke rises following Israeli airstrikes on a building in Gaza City, Thursday, May 13, 2021. Weary Palestinians are somberly marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, as Hamas and Israel traded more rockets and airstrikes and Jewish-Arab violence raged across Israel. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)
Palestinians flee as Israeli artillery pounds northern Gaza

Israel called up 9,000 reservists as fighting intensifies

Bo’s Bar and Grill owner Brennen Wowk said the hospitality industry is looking for more clarity from the province around what conditions must be met to allow for restaurants reopening. (Advocate file photo)
Frustated restaurant owners want to know government’s reopening plan

Restaurant owners feel they are in lockdown limbo

Team Canada’s head coach Troy Ryan talks with players before the start of the of the Rivalry Series at the Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, February 3, 2020. Ryan of Spryfield, N.S., has been named head coach of Canada’s women’s hockey team for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Troy Ryan to coach Canadian women’s hockey team in 2022 Winter Olympics

Ryan was Canada’s assistant coach from 2016 to 2019

FILE- In this April 19, 2021, file photo, people wearing masks as a precaution against the coronavirus wait to test for COVID-19 at a hospital in Hyderabad, India. Misinformation about the coronavirus is surging in India as the death toll from COVID-19 rises. Fueled by anguish, distrust and political polarization, the claims are further compounding India’s crisis. (AP Photo/Mahesh Kumar A, File)
Misinformation surges amid India’s COVID-19 calamity

Distrust of Western vaccines and health care also driving misinformation

FILE - In this Friday March 6, 2020, file photo, Britain’s Prince Harry visits the Silverstone Circuit, in Towcester, England. In an episode of the “Armchair Expert” podcast broadcast Thursday, May 13, 2021, Prince Harry compared his royal experience to being on “The Truman Show” and “living in a zoo.” (Peter Nicholls/Pool Photo via AP, File)
Prince Harry thought about quitting royal life in his 20s

Feared his family would have to deal with the same spotlight that was on his late mother

Opinion
Mental health: Gossiping, backbiting and forming factions is unhealthy

We all know of dysfunctional organizations, which can be as troublesome as… Continue reading

Family practice physician Christina Tuomi, D.O., (right) gets Homer's first dose of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine from Emergency Department nurse Steve Hughes (left) on Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020 at South Peninsula Hospital in Homer, Alaska. Tuomi has been the hospital's medical lead throughout the pandemic. (Photo courtesy Derotha Ferraro/South Peninsula Hospital)
Alberta physicians: Vaccines are our path forward

As the AMA representatives for Alberta’s family physicians, we were immensely relieved… Continue reading

Vancouver Canucks' Nils Hoglander, right, is checked by Calgary Flames goalie Jacob Markstrom during third-period NHL hockey action in Calgary, Thursday, May 13, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Lindholm, Tkachuk lead Calgary Flames in 4-1 win over Vancouver Canucks

Lindholm, Tkachuk lead Calgary Flames in 4-1 win over Vancouver Canucks

Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine, right, drives to the basket against Toronto Raptors center Khem Birch, left, and guard Jalen Harris during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Chicago, Thursday, May 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
LaVine, Markkanen lead Bulls past Raptors, 114-102

LaVine, Markkanen lead Bulls past Raptors, 114-102

Most Read