To do list for Prentice

The following OpEd was published in the Calgary Sun

The pundit-ocracy has already spilled a lot of ink about Mr. Prentice’s new (and not so new) cabinet and potential by-elections, but what about a policy agenda? Mr. Prentice has a well-deserved record as an accomplished and intelligent man, but his leadership campaign was typical of frontrunners: vague on details.

Once Mr. Prentice and his cabinet are presumably in the legislature, here are a few suggestions for a governing agenda:

Fix the budget format

Former Finance Minister Doug Horner turned Alberta’s budget into a bad joke. It’s doubtful if even the government’s spin doctors believe themselves when they talk about Alberta running a “surplus” when they spend $3 billion more than they take in revenue.

Our budget debates should be about the content of the budget, not the format and accounting of it. Mr. Prentice should ask an all-party committee of MLAs to come to a consensus as to how the budget should be presented. Let’s get to a point where we can all agree about what the budget actually means, and then have a healthy policy debate about what should be in it.

Newly minted Finance Minister, Robin Campbell should make this job number one.

Balance the budget

Alison Redford’s PCs were elected with a clear mandate to balance the budget by 2012 without raising taxes. We are halfway through 2014 and the government isn’t even close yet. Alberta’s debt currently stands at $10.9 billion and is climbing higher every day.

Merely balancing the “operational spending” of the government and not its total spending is not what the PCs were elected to do. With the government netting all-time record high revenues in the first quarter of this fiscal year, balancing the consolidated budget should be child’s play. If the government cannot do it by the end of this fiscal year – two years later than promised – then they’re not trying.

Accountability for those who did wrong

Alison Redford may have been thrown under the bus, but the Auditor General has made clear that she did not act alone. Premiers don’t book so much as a coffee meeting without help, let alone operate a clandestine scheme of falsified flight manifests and the construction of the Sky Palace.

The police may well investigate actions of a criminal nature, but not issues of an ethical or wasteful nature. Those who assisted Redford – or knew about what she was doing and did nothing – need to be held accountable.

If Mr. Prentice is serious about rooting out the rot at the top levels of Alberta’s government, he will call a judicial inquiry into spending in the premier’s office and cabinet over the last three years. Anything less will be protecting those who have done Albertans wrong.

Ban contracts for insiders and donors 

Last year, the government handed the Tervita Corporation a $45 million dollar contract without any competition. That same Tervita Corporation has donated $36,755 to the PC party since 2012.  Delegates to the last PC convention even wore Tervita lanyards around their neck to hold their ID badges.

Some might say there is symbolism there.

Mr. Prentice can show that he is serious about cleaning this kind of thing up by banning corporations, unions and individuals from donating to political parties if they are doing any business with government – provincial or municipal.

Groups or individuals working on Mr. Prentice’s leadership campaign – formally or informally – should similarly be barred from government largesse.

But as Auditor General Merwan Saher said in his damning special report, government officials need more than a “corset of rules” for every conceivable situation, but a “backbone of principle.”

Of course, Mr. Prentice is off to a good start by announcing the sale of the government fleet of aircraft, which proved to be too great a temptation for many a politician, some of which are still sitting around the cabinet table.

There’s a lot more to governing Alberta than balancing the budget and rooting out corruption, but these are a good start.

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