Alberta’s government is running on autopilot right now, without any budgetary framework in place. In fact, the province’s finances are still being run based on Alison Redford’s budget from March of 2014, the last budget actually passed by the legislature.
While former premier Jim Prentice introduced a budget before calling an election, it was never actually debated or passed by the legislature. That means that the government has no constitutional authority to spend money much longer. As such, the NDP needs to seek authority to keep spending until it can piece proper budget together. They will do that in the form of an “interim supply bill.”
Normally, these bills are for sums of money ranging from a few hundred thousand dollars to a few million dollars. It is extraordinarily rare – if not entirely unprecedented – to use such an interim measure to spend tens of billions of dollars. It effectively constitutes a ‘mini-budget,’ and is likely to add up to between $15 billion and $20 billion.
The Wildrose Opposition will work with the NDP government to ensure that this mini-budget is held to a proper level of scrutiny befitting such a massive sum of money. That is why on June 12th I spoke at the legislature and laid out four points for the government to do just this.
1) Allow the mini-budget to be fully debated in the house, with all ministers accounting for new spending items presented;
2) Commit to returning the legislature after Labour Day and not delay the full budget beyond September 2015;
3) Provide full information on the true state of Alberta’s finances before voting on the bill, including estimates of revenue, spending, the debt, and deficit; and
4) Do away with the PC funny-money accounting tricks to stop hiding billion of spending from the deficit’s bottom line.
We would not being doing our job as the official opposition if we simply allowed a spending bill for $10 billion to $20 billion to pass through the legislature without proper scrutiny, and without knowing the big-picture impact to the province’s finances.
I thought that these measures were pretty reasonable, and in fact, a new way of doing politics differently, with the opposition and government cooperating together despite ideological differences. That is why I surprised to when Premier Rachel Notley responded why shrugging off our suggestions and stating that the legislature will just have to make due with minimal details.
The NDP hasn’t yet released the bill for us to see, but this doesn’t bode well for bringing a sense of fiscal responsibility to the legislature that has been sorely lacking for a decade.
It is critical that a mini-budget authorizing about half a year’s spending contain it some information to allow for even minimal accountability.
How much money is the government asking for in Program A? Without spelling that out, what’s to stop bureaucrats from going over budget?
If the government is merely given a blank cheque to spend as it sees fit without any oversight from the legislature, what’s to stop the cabinet from spending money on things that it would otherwise have no legal authority to spend on?
Is it responsible for the government to be given a blank cheque to spend if it doesn’t actually knowing what it’s impact will be on the deficit?
There are a lot of question marks that should leave taxpayers concerned. That is why I will be asking the government these questions when the legislature comes together for its first session this week.
It’s still early days for this government and it’s expected that things will be rocky at first, but that is why we want the government to work cooperatively with us.
The Wildrose Opposition was not just elected to oppose, but to propose. Hopefully, the NDP accept that olive branch.