TPP Trade Deal a Big Winner Alberta, and Canada

wheatOn October 4th, twelve countries – including Canada – came to a final agreement on the historic Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal. This agreement is of huge consequence for Alberta’s economy and consumers, and is overwhelmingly positive for our province.

This agreement will give Canadian exporters hugely expanded access to the markets of Australia, Brunei, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam, representing a 800 million people and a gross domestic product (GDP) of $28.5 trillion. This will build upon the trade agreements that Canada already has in place with 51 different countries.

Alberta alone already exports nearly $98 billion a year to TPP countries with current trade barriers in place. With Canada’s signature on this agreement, almost all remaining tariff trade barriers will be eliminated, allowing that figure to grow considerably.

The agreement will allow duty-free access to this massive market place for the vast majority of our industrial goods, minerals, forestry products, and agri-food products, including wheat, beef, pork, and barley. Many of the products on this list are key pillars of our economy right here in Strathmore-Brooks.

Any place named Wheatland County is sure to benefit from increased wheat exports. In Japan, feed wheat will now be duty and quota-free. Food wheat tariffs will be reduced by 45% and we will have access to 53,000 tonnes of export space.

Canada is one of the largest agricultural producers and exporters in the world. With almost half of Canada’s total agricultural production being exported, the potential for growth in the sector lies in its ability to expand into markets abroad.

Japan has long blocked our beef exports into that market. With this agreement, tariffs on Canadian beef into that country will drop from 38.5% on chilled or frozen beef to 9%. Tariffs of up to 50% on processed beef will be eliminated outright.

Similar numbers apply for other countries and countless products.

The benefit to Alberta’s export-driven economy will be profoundly positive.

Alberta’s consumers will also benefit substantially. In trade deals, politicians often pretend that allowing imports into our own market is somehow a net loss; that allowing more competition in our market is somehow bad for consumers. In fact, the biggest winners from free trade are the consumers who now have more choice and competition for their business.

A concession in the TPP is the “compensation” that taxpayers will pay out to industries that will now be open to more competition. This includes $1 billion to the auto industry where we will now be allowed to purchase some non-North American vehicles at a cheaper price, and where the costs of inputs to North American vehicles could also come down.

Add to this $4.3 billion in “compensation” to the dairy industry, where import quotas will only be opened by 3.25%. This is because dairy is a heavily regulated industry in Canada, with strict quotas on supply, and the government has deemed it necessary to smooth this transition.

The TPP will secure new market access opportunities for Canadian dairy, poultry and egg exports. Dairy, poultry and egg producers and processors will benefit over time from increased duty-free access to the United States and all other TPP countries. This will include complete tariff elimination on some specialty cheeses, including several artisanal cheeses, entering the United States. More importantly, if these payments are the price of Canada securing access to a $28.5 trillion market to export to, then it is well worth the cost.

The TPP has been negotiated for seven years, and timing of the conclusion of negotiations were out of our federal government’s control, as it involved 11 other countries. Since we are currently in the middle of a federal election, Canada has not yet officially implemented the deal. Our participation in this trade agreement appears to be contingent on the results of the October 19th federal election. Of the federal parties, the Conservatives support it, the NDP are strongly opposed, and the Liberals are currently refusing to make any comment on it.

It is irresponsible for parties to threaten to tear up such an economically important agreement just because it was negotiated by another party. Beyond the economic consequences, the diplomatic fallout would be considerable.

But that’s all federal politics, and both the NDP and Liberals don’t exactly have a long tradition of representing Alberta’s best interests. What about Alberta’s own government?

Virtually every sector of Alberta’s economy stands to gain from the TPP, yet our own NDP government has remained silent on it. Alberta’s government is playing politics by refusing to support a deal in our own best interests, ostensibly to avoid embarrassing Thomas Mulcair. Just as Alberta’s government has refused to table a budget until after the federal election is over, Alberta’s interests are continuing to take a back seat to the federal NDP’s political interests.

Alberta’s economy is hurting badly. Allowing our non-oil sectors to export their products to a larger world market is just the kind of thing that can get us back on track and diversify our economy. Alberta’s government should recognize this and do what’s best for Alberta.

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It’s Time to Stop the Blame Game & Solve Alberta’s Fiscal Crisis

Source: Canadian Taxpayers Federation

Source: Canadian Taxpayers Federation

On August 31st, the NDP government released its First Quarter Fiscal Update. That update is telling of the state of Alberta’s finances, and the picture isn’t pretty.

The provincial government is now on track to record a massive $9.1 billion deficit, the largest by far in Alberta’s history. Unless there is a drastic change in course, the deficit this year will surpass previous record deficits set by Alison Redford in 2012: $3.9 billion, Ed Stelmach in 2010: $4.9 billion, and Don Getty in 1986: 4 billion.

By the end of this year, Alberta’s contingency savings will be virtually depleted and future taxpayers will owe $14.5 billion of debt.

During his press conference, the finance minister laid the blame for much of the state of the province’s finances at the door of the previous PC government. Much of that blame is deserved: the PCs spent recklessly and ran eight consecutive deficits in a row, even when oil prices peaked over $100 a barrel.

But some of that blame is not deserved. The Prentice budget (which was never passed into law) projected running a deficit of $7.7 billion, even after proposing massive tax hikes on families. This portion of the deficit (84%) can fairly be blamed on the previous government.

But our government has not been operating inside of a bubble, and has contributed to the financial crisis currently facing the province. Their platform called for $1.4 billion in new spending that must be paid for.

Despite leaving in place tax hikes on things like gasoline imposed by the former government, the new government also stacked on a 20% increase in business taxes and a 50% increase on the top marginal tax rate on personal income. The NDP promised during the campaign that these measures would raise $1.5 billion in new revenue to pay for their spending promises, but economic reality is not so simple.

The NDP tax hikes are now only projected to collect $0.5 billion in new revenue, just one-third what they projected in their platform. This is because businesses and individuals faced with higher taxes will respond to the new market conditions and often reduce their economic activity, or move elsewhere to lower-tax jurisdictions. The NDP is getting a hard lesson in Economics 101 right now, and hopefully they learn soon.

With $1.4 billion in new spending promises but just $497 million in new revenue to pay for it, the NDP have contributed $1 billion to the deficit left them by the previous government.

As much as the previous government is to blame for the shoddy state of the province’s finances, it’s time to stop complaining about it and actually do something about it. The election is over, and they are the government. It’s time to stop playing politics, and actually get down to the work of fixing the problem.

In the spring session of the legislature, the NDP rammed through an $18 billion spending bill with just three hours of debate and providing virtually no details into how they would spend the money. The Wildrose Opposition demanded that the NDP government account for its spending and commit to at least give Albertans a proper budget in the fall.

Instead, the government is ragging the puck until after the federal election, refusing to give the province’s finances any sense of direction. It’s now unlikely that Alberta will have a budget passed until early November.

In the meantime, more than 35,000 Albertans have lost their jobs in recent months, oil and gas companies are pulling up stakes, taxes are going up and our debt is spiraling out of control.

Alberta’s government needs to do what it was elected to, stop playing political games, and get down to work.

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It’s Time for Alberta’s Government to Stand Up for Alberta

Credit: ffwdweekly.com

Credit: ffwdweekly.com

Most citizens expect their provincial premier to stand up for their province’s interests. It should go without saying that Alberta’s government should stand up for Alberta’s interests, but it’s a point that needs to be repeated right now.

Nearly every economic expert in Alberta understands that building pipelines to get our products to market is essential for the future of our province’s economic growth. The more oil we sell, the more jobs we create and the more royalties we collect to fund government programs. Alberta’s oil is landlocked and sells at a discount to the world market. It’s simple economics, but our new government has thus far shown an overt hostility to allowing – let a lone promoting – the construction of pipelines.

The new NDP government opposes the construction of both the Keystone XL pipeline to the US Gulf Coast, and the Northern Gateway Pipeline to BC’s Pacific Coast. The only major pipeline project supported by the NDP government is the Energy East project, although the federal NDP led by Thomas Mulcair opposes even it.

The Energy East project seeks to transport bitumen from Alberta’s Oil Sands to refineries in New Brunswick. It is a nation-building project that will get Alberta’s energy products to world markets – increasing prosperity here at home – and provide badly needed jobs for workers in Atlantic Canada. Roughly two-thirds of the Energy East pipeline already exists and only needs to be modified to carry raw bitumen. The project has cleared every safety and environmental hurdle in its way.

The project is a no brainer, and should have been built years ago.

Enter the Liberal governments of Ontario and Quebec. Despite their provinces being heavily reliant on oil imports from some of the worst human rights violators and polluters in the world, the governments of these two provinces are holding up the project for partisan political gain.

Every year, the federal government doles out more than $17 billion in Equalization payments to Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba and the Maritime Provinces, paid for (net) by Alberta, Saskatchewan, British Columbia, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

Ontario will receive $2.4 billion in Equalization payments from (mostly) Western taxpayers this year alone. Quebec will receive $9.5 billion this year from (mostly) Western taxpayers.
During a recent meeting of Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard, the Energy East project was the topic du jour. After the meeting, Premier Notley told the press that “What I heard from him [Couillard] is that if we’re able to move forward on that [climate change policy] in a meaningful and convincing way, that there’s more likelihood of Quebec being able to come to terms with it.”

Does this mean that if Quebec doesn’t approve of Alberta’s policies, that they will have justification for continuing to hold up the pipeline?

This arguably handed the premier of Quebec a veto over Alberta’s internal environmental and energy policies, with the Energy East project held as collateral. In effect, Alberta’s environmental and energy policies must now meet the approval of Quebec’s government, or else no pipeline.

Under the Constitution, the approval or rejection of pipelines falls strictly with the federal government, not with any province.

You would think that the government of Quebec – collecting $9.5 billion a year in Equalization payments – would be grateful to Western taxpayers. You would think that the government of Quebec – poorer than Alberta or even Ontario – would welcome a project that will inject badly needed capital into that province and create jobs. You would think that Quebec – heavily reliant on oil from Saudi Arabia, Nigeria and Venezuela – would rather buy its oil from fellow Canadians at an even cheaper price.

Instead, Albertans and Saskatchewanians are held hostage for a political game.

Saskatchewan Premier, Brad Wall summed it up best when he said, “Maybe we need to have Equalization payments start flowing through a pipeline in order to finally get one approved through Central Canada.”

Premier Wall was standing up for Western Canada the Saskatchewan. I want to hear that kind of leadership from our own premier.

For too long, Alberta’s premiers have been afraid to stand up boldly for the interests of Albertans on the national stage, while other premiers do not shy away from advocating for their provinces.

It’s time our government stood up for Alberta, and stopped making apologies for our success.

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First Two Weeks in the Legislature

The new Wildrose Caucus Comes to the Legislature

The new Wildrose Caucus Comes to the Legislature

On May 5th, Albertans voted for a new government led by the NDP and for a larger official opposition to hold it to account, led by the Wildrose. I promised that we would work constructively together where possible, but be tough when necessary. We would not just oppose, but also propose. In short two weeks that the Legislative Assembly met in June, we did both of those things.

We reached out to the NDP to work together on issues that we believed common agreement could be reached on, but fought them on issues where we will just have to disagree.

Firstly, we worked cooperatively with the NDP government on Bill 1 to ban corporate and union donations. For far too long, the influence of big money from unions and corporations has had a corrupting influence on politicians and political parties in this province.

The Bill banned cash donations to parties, but still allowed unions to donate the time of their staff to campaigns, a common practice employed to help the NDP. While we proposed amendments to fix this major loophole and others, the NDP refused to accept them. We did manage to successfully amend the bill to limit the practice of unsecured loans to parties from corporations and unions, but most other common sense amendments were rejected without much reason given.

The government’s Bill 2 raised business taxes by 20 per cent, and raised the top marginal personal income tax rate by 50 per cent, retroactively. This constitutes the largest increase to both personal and business taxes in the history of Alberta. While raising taxes on businesses might sound good in casual conversation, it threatens to do major damage to the economy.

Alberta no longer has the most competitive business taxes in Canada; British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec all have lower business tax rates than Alberta now. In the global economy, capital is highly mobile and it seeks out the most attractive place to invest. With a 50 per cent increase to the minimum wage, a hike to energy royalty rates, a new carbon tax, higher income taxes and higher business taxes, it is hard to imagine that Alberta will be as an attractive target for investment in the coming years.

In an effort to take some of the bite out of these measures on small businesses, I proposed an amendment to the NDP bill to reduce the small business tax rate by 1 per cent. This attempt at working constructively with the NDP to ensure that our small business owners and their employees stay competitive was rejected, and the amendment failed.

The only thing that the NDP is determined to hike faster than taxes, is spending. I wrote in these pages several weeks ago that if the NDP wanted to pass their mini-budget, that they should provide adequate detail for their spending plan and enough time to properly scrutinize it in the legislature. Unfortunately, none of these requests were heeded.

The mini-budget (Bill 3) authorized $18 billion in spending, but MLAs were allowed a mere three hours to debate it. Put another way, the government allowed only one hour of debate for every $6 billion dollars that it just spent. Additionally, the government only provided three pages worth of details as to how to spend the $18 billion. Suffice to say, this is extraordinarily worrisome to me and the Wildrose Caucus.

We could not let such a massive sum of money be spent without any details or accountability, and so we stayed in the legislature debating and attempting to get answers out of the NDP until after midnight for nearly two weeks. Under questioning, the NDP managed to tell us how much of that $18 billion was new and unbudgeted spending, sort of. We were given five different numbers in the span of 24 hours: $1.8 billion, $1.1 billion, $776 million, $682 million and $624 million. In Question Period, the Minister of Finance finally told me that it was in the “$600 million area.”

This level of clarity with such vast sums of money does not inspire much confidence.

Despite very significant differences in opinion on many issues, both the Wildrose and NDP MLAs are happy that Alberta has entered a new era, and friendships across party lines have already begun to develop.

My colleagues and I will continue to work helpfully with the NDP government where we can, such as on banning corporate and union donations, but we will also provide a tough opposition when required. As it turns out, it is more often than I would have liked.

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Mini-Budget Deserves Proper Scrutiny

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.

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Good Opposition Makes Good Government

Strathmore-Brooks Opposition Twitter BannerOn May 5th, Albertans elected a new government and an even stronger official opposition. Both the NDP and the Wildrose have important jobs as we move forward over the next four years.

While the new government has been off to a bumpy start, they will likely get a better handle on things as they settle in. The Wildrose Opposition understands this and will work with the NDP through its learning curve; nevertheless we will hold them to account.

For example, the NDP already tried to turn its taxpayer-funded swearing-in ceremony into a partisan fundraiser. We called the new premier out on this, and while they claimed innocence at first, they did eventually apologize to Albertans and backtrack on trying to raise money out of the event. Good on the new premier for accepting responsibility and admitting to an error.

This is the way government and opposition are supposed to work; when the government makes a mistake, the opposition calls them out and pressures them to correct course.

This is not to say that the NDP will always change course, even when doing so would be wise. The Wildrose and NDP have starkly different outlooks on public policy, particularly fiscal and energy policy.

The NDP has already announced that it will not introduce its own budget this spring but will instead seek to pass an ‘interim supply bill’ and bring forward its full budget in the fall.

In my new role as the Wildrose Shadow Minister of Finance, it is my job to lead the scrutiny of the government’s spending plan. If the NDP ask the Legislature for temporary authorization for $10-$15 billion dollars to fund the government until they can pass their own budget, I will work with them. However, I will fight for a proper accounting of how this money is being spent and not hand them a blank cheque.

The NDP platform was not given the same scrutiny as the Wildrose and other platforms during the election campaign. It contains many spending promises that just don’t add up. It promises to accelerate the PC platform’s plan to raise taxes, increase spending and take on more debt.

Either the NDP will have to backtrack on some of their spending promises or raise taxes and the debt by even more than they promised to. Unless oil prices make a comeback, there are bound to be some broken promises.

Some of those promises – like a Quebec-style government daycare bureaucracy – sound nice on paper. However, they have the potential to bankrupt the province, which already spends far more than most other provinces in Canada.  Raising taxes during an economic downturn – along with other retrograde policies, have the very real potential to make the economic situation much worse.

This is where the Wildrose Opposition must represent the views of the 21 constituencies in which we were elected as MLAs and bring forward common-sense alternative policies for debate in the Legislature.

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Death of the PC Dynasty & the Rise of the NDP-Wildrose Competitive Democracy

PC EmpireAfter crunching the numbers on the PC’s “10 year plan” in the budget lockup on March 26th, I half-sarcastically quipped that Jim Prentice had given Alberta its first NDP budget. I didn’t mean it literally, at the time.

I’ve been a non-partisan conservative fiscal policy analyst and advocate on the sidelines for most of my career and am now a Wildrose MLA, so I won’t pretend not to have a dog in this fight or to be entirely objective. That said, this short paper is my attempt to make sense of the volcano that has been Alberta politics over the last 6 months.

The Ides of December

The floor-crossings of December are likely to go down in history as simultaneously the most guile, careerist political betrayal in our country’s history, and as the worst career decision imaginable.

I wrote about these events on December 23rd, 2014. I argued at the time that by offering up their unconditional surrender to Prentice, the floor-crossers had given up all leverage in pushing for conservative fiscal reforms. With them comfortably seated on his side of the house, he would likely turn left to deal with the NDP.

It’s hard to resist the temptation to say ‘I told you so.’

Hubris

The media largely gave Prentice a free ride throughout the summer and fall of 2014. The sense of invincibility about him was no small influence in convincing the 9+2 floor crossers to take a leave of their senses and moral compasses.

With four-of-four by-election wins, most of the Official Opposition sitting in the nosebleeds of the government backbenches, and an overflowing war chest, the PC brain trust decided that a huge majority with a small opposition wasn’t enough. They needed an even bigger, crushing majority with effectively, no opposition but for a few Dippers in Edmonton.

Prentice needed an excuse to call an early election, and a “transformational,” “10 Year Plan” would suffice as an excuse. Wildrose is dead, the Liberals are chasing their tale in a corner, and who in their right mind would vote for the NDP? They were banking on Albertans feeling that they literally had no other choice.

This gave the Tories an overwhelming sense of hubris and their thorough-breed instinct for entitlement began to shine through again.

The Battle of Ideas

The Tories lost the battle for their budget’s pubic acceptability when they gave up on the battle of ideas without even trying.

Having amongst the highest per capita spending in the nation along with netting record revenues over the last decade, conservatives have a compelling argument that the province has a spending problem, and not a revenue problem.

For progressives, Alberta has a revenue problem. Spending might be high, but because Alberta is prosperous, it should be higher than it is. In their view, raising taxes on businesses and hiking royalty rates is a recipe for success. Importantly, they rhetorically focus on raising taxes on “other” people (businesses), but not “you.”

Prentice spent months making the argument that Alberta had both a spending problem and a revenue problem. He would cut spending by $2.5 billion, raise taxes by $2.5 billion, and borrow another $2.5 billion. Falsely believing the Wildrose to be dead and that he faced no conservative opposition on his right, he dropped any significant spending reform from the budget, preferring instead to merely “hold the line” for a single year, before increasing projected spending again.

Importantly, the PC budget contained in it 59 new or higher taxes and fees that would increase the average household’s tax burden by $2,500 a year. Raising taxes on individuals without cutting spending salted the earth for many voters who had been thinking that Prentice was a man trying to strike a balance.

As someone who had already been knocking on doors full time for over a month in my constituency of Strathmore-Brooks, I can tell you that this had a massive impact. As I poured over the numbers in the budget lockup, I viewed the budget as a betrayal of any pretense to conservatism, but also as a gift-wrapped billy club with which the Wildrose would be able to bludgeon the government.

It made clear to those still on the fence that the PCs would sell out anything to retain power, and that conservatives had only one voice that would stand on principle for them. I immediately felt the effect at the doors, and the PC Party itself felt it just days later. Any pretense that those who had crossed the floor from the Wildrose to the PCs were somehow going to pull it in a more conservative direction became a laughing matter. Floor crossers Danielle Smith, Rod Fox and Gary Bikman all went down in defeat in their PC nominations, and the party brass fatefully intervened to save Bruce McAlister’s bacon.

On the left, the budget was panned for not increasing spending in a single year by the combined rates of inflation and population growth, although it did grow in years two and three. There were cuts to several programs, but not to government spending as a whole. Coupled with not raising taxes on corporations or raising royalty rates, this was nonetheless enough for the NDP to seize on.

Choose your medicine

Prentice tried to make the election about the budget, and the budget options on the table were a suicide cocktail of his own making.

  1. Behind the blue door: Raise taxes on you.
  2. Behind the orange door: Raise taxes on someone else.
  3. Behind the green door: Don’t raise your taxes. Cut spending.

Prentice claimed that cutting spending in the Wildrose’s budget would be “extreme.” This was problematic after he had just spent three months traveling the province promising to cut spending by roughly the same sum.

Next, Prentice tried to poke holes in the Wildrose numbers by assembling The Ministers. Descending from their perches, they tried to say the Wildrose numbers didn’t add up, despite the PC government cooking the books on its own accounting for the last three years. The Wildrose responded when I challenged former PC Finance Minister to a budget debate, which he quickly turned down.

Prentice then tried to simply ignore the Wildrose and present the election as a “clear choice” between his PC Party and the NDP. This was fatal – framing the choice of PC) raise taxes on you, or NDP) raise taxes on someone else – and had what should have been an obvious consequence. Guess which one they picked?

For months, Prentice made the argument for both higher taxes and for cutting spending. When he jettisoned any spending cuts, he left the right wide open. When he was left only with raising taxes, people preferred to raise them on someone else.

Quicksand

The more the Tories tried to maneuver to save themselves, the deeper they seemed to sink.

Soon after the writ was dropped, it became clear that the Wildrose Rebel Alliance was in fact, very much alive. Prentice hadn’t expected a two-front war. Despite all the crowing about the need for a “10 Year Plan” requiring a mandate defying Alberta’s fixed election date law, Prentice tossed it out the window.

The first shoe to drop was government-sector salaries. In a bid to remind voters that ‘conservative’ was in his party’s label, he announced – in direct contravention of the budget tabled just two weeks before – that he would freeze government employee salaries. The “10 Year Plan” didn’t make it 10 days into the campaign.

The second shoe to drop was even more spectacular. The Tory brain trust came to the surprising realization that cutting the charitable tax credit from 22% to 12.75% – while leaving a credit at 75% for some political donations – might not be a very popular move. It’s fine for politicians to admit mistakes (I’m sure I’ll make enough in my time), but it looked entirely opportunistic.

If one could wear a third shoe, it was dropped when Prentice backed away from his “10 Year Plan” to not raise business taxes. It wasn’t a promise to raise business taxes, but it meant that the only tax that Prentice had promised not to raise, was on the table in the future, despite his repeated emphasis on the need for a “10 Year Plan.”

Reversal after reversal did not reverse Tory fortunes, but it made a joke of the need for an early election to rubber-stamp the “10 Year Plan.”

Red Scare

Internal PC polls must have shown that their two front-war was not working. After ignoring the Wildrose, Prentice instead tried to recast himself as the Great Right Hope to ward off the Red Hordes at the gate. It was a reversal of Redford’s play to ward off the Wildrose barbarians at the gate used in 2012.

“The NDP would take on debt, raise taxes and spend, spend, spend!” was a difficult rallying cry to bring back conservatives who were tired of the PCs taking on debt, raising taxes, and spending, spending, spending.

Data will need to be collected to know if the Red Scare had any effect or not. Our own internal indicators all pointed to the Tories headed for third place and with no sign of a last minute surge. If the PC’s Red Scare had any effect, it was to elect more New Democrats in the many races that were a Wildrose-NDP contest. While it had no effect on the outcome, the Red Scare may have shaved a small margin from my own contest in Strathmore-Brooks, but as stated, real evidence is needed to support this.

Alamo of the Elites

ceosAs it became increasingly obvious that Albertans were staging a full blown revolt against their government, the PCs resorted to the bizarre spectacle of trotting out leading elites of the governing and business class to remind the plebeians why they mustn’t ever upset the natural order.

The bright lights in the Tory War Room/Navigator nudged a group of businessmen to hold a press conference warning Albertans about the dangers of an NDP government. Their conclusions may have been right, but it was a PR disaster. Getting a bunch of pinstriped CEOs to sit at a corporate penthouse boardroom table to denounce raising business taxes looked sad, and hilarious. Even to Wildrose conservatives like myself, it appeared self-serving and desperate.

The full desperation of the Golden Cufflink Crew was on display as corporate Toronto ordered all four major Post Media outlets in Alberta to endorse Captain Cufflink. The Edmonton Journal is a relatively reliable centre-left outlet, but in the moment when the left was surging across Alberta – and especially in Edmonton – it bizarrely endorsed Prentice, literally as Alberta’s “CEO”.

The Calgary Herald gave an easy ride to Prentice during his fall honeymoon, but gave him a rougher ride for turning his back on his promises in recent months. It appeared to betray its conservative leanings when it also endorsed Prentice with ease, without even the caveat of a minority government or strong opposition.

The biggest shock came from the Edmonton and Calgary Sun papers; papers that have been consistently conservative and populist all of a sudden endorsed a tax-hiking, big-spending, un-conservative, elitist premier for that party’s 13th term. Their endorsements did not note a single PC scandal and did not once mention the $2,500 hike in taxes on the average family. It was a gross betrayal of everything that the Sun stands (stood?) for.

All four of these papers however are owned by Post Media, and were ordered to support Prentice.

In addition to badly damaging their own credibility, the appearance of it all was as the nobles rallying to save the Ancien Régime. I know many journalists at all four of these papers that were humiliated and embarrassed by the decision of their owners.

It was the Alamo of the Elites.

ABPC

While some ink has been spilt about vote ‘splitting’ on the right, the biggest vote ‘split’ that took place in my own estimation was among the Anybody But PC (ABPC) vote. When I am knocking on doors, I ask voters a question to try to solicit some reaction from them and spark a conversation, and shape a ballot box question.

In January and February, that question was, “Do you think we need a strong opposition?” In March, that question was “Do you think its right for Jim Prentice to raise your taxes after blaming you for overspending?” In April, that question suddenly became “Do you think it’s time for a change and new government?”

About one week into the formal election period, it seemed that nearly everyone (at least in Strathmore-Brooks) just ‘clicked.’ People were just done with the PCs, and would vote for anyone who could beat them. I was pledged votes from left-leaning voters in Strathmore-Brooks (not that there is a plethora of lefties in S-B) who recognized that I was the candidate who could best do that. It wouldn’t be a stretch to believe that if some right-leaning voters in other constituencies believed Prentice’s rhetoric that the NDP was the only party capable for defeating him, that they would vote for the NDP to do just that.

While I am obviously generalizing, there were four broad groups of voters in this election:

  • Right leaning voters who supported the Wildrose,
  • Left leaning voters who supported the NDP,
  • ‘Brand’ voters who would vote PC under any and all circumstances regardless of leader and policies, and
  • ‘ABPC’ voters of various political and non-political leanings who just wanted to “kick the bums out.”

In my own experience, the most fluid group of voters were not centre-right Wildrose-PC ‘switchers,’ but Wildrose-NDP ‘ABPC’ switchers.

While it would have seemed inconceivable just a month ago, it now appears that voters were determined to take this government down, come hell or high water.

Albertans did not (for the most part) vote for the NDP’s platform and policies, but to throw out the PCs and replace them with the likeable personality of Rachel Notley.

Waiting for the Wave

While I am not without my own biases in saying so, the Wildrose more likely represents mainstream Alberta values and policies than the NDP does, but the damage done from the December betrayal was too great to ride the wave of discontent to its full potential.

The Wildrose had come close to death (and been pronounced dead by the entire punditocracy) several times, but refused to die. As it turns out, the Wildrose was the grassroots movement it always claimed to be, and couldn’t be negotiated away as a pawn for the advancement of a few careerists. While the blow was not fatal, it was crippling for a time.

We had virtually no money when compared with the PCs, and trailed even the NDP for a time on the fundraising front. We were forced to hold the world’s fastest leadership race in time to elect Brian Jean just days before the writ dropped.

In the face of great personal tragedy, Brian preformed strongly, with dignity and purpose; but there was just no time and money to introduce him to most Albertans.

While it is a very big ‘what if,’ it is entirely possible that had Danielle Smith resigned the leadership honorably in December and allowed a normal transition to take place, the wave that swept Alberta on May 5th would be the green of Wildrose, and not the orange of the NDP.

Premier-elect Notley – or any premier ever again – is unlikely to opportunistically break a fixed election date the way Prentice did, for reasons that are now obvious. By 2019, Brian Jean will be known, and in my experience, the more you know Brian, the more you like Brian.

In 1996, Tom Flanagan wrote ‘Waiting for the Wave’ about the federal Reform Party being in the right place at the right time to catch those rare waves of popular discontent that sweep the prairies every two or three decades.

The May 5th, 2015 General Election was just such a wave, but circumstances made it nearly impossible for the Wildrose to catch that wave to its crest. Nonetheless, the Wildrose did in part ride that wave, but with a more ideologically homogenous voter base than the NDP.

Considering that most left the Wildrose for dead in December, its resurrection to an even larger caucus as the Official Opposition is nothing short of astounding.

End of the One-Party State

The PC dynasty is dead. If the PC Party is not formally laid to rest, it is likely in my estimation that it will limp on in a zombie-like state and lead an existence similar to Social Credit.

For an extended period of time now, the PC Party has had no reason to exist but for power itself. It has been neither rooted in progressivism or conservatism, or centrism, but has tacked this way and that to maintain its stranglehold on power. Now lacking power, it ceases to have any real purpose.

The 2015 General Election’s results herald the end of the one party state in Alberta and the rise of a competitive two-party (plus?) system. A clear democratic-socialist option represented by the NDP on the left is accompanied by the remnants of a morbid Liberal Party and plucky young Alberta Party on the centre-left. A clear libertarian and conservative option now dominates the right and centre-right represented by the Wildrose.

Irrelevance

Now adrift in a distant third place of seats in the Legislative Assembly, the PC’s remaining MLAs don’t appear to have any place on the political spectrum, with Ric McIver roughly falling on the centre-right, and Sandra Jansen falling on the centre-left. Others like Manmeet Bhullar have no discernible political leanings.

In the coming budget debate, the PCs are likely to be overshadowed in the battle of ideas. After frittering away most of the $17 billion Sustainability Fund, driving the province back into debt, failing to get spending under control and campaigning on raising taxes, how will they effectively speak out against the NDP’s budget, which is likely to do all of these things at an accelerated pace? Will they effectively support the NDP’s budget, but just advocate for it to be moderated a bit?

The PC’s last Hail Mary play was to rebrand the party as “The Prentice Team,” with its “10 Year Plan.” Prentice inevitably hit the ejection button on his leadership chair on May 5th, but also crassly jumped ship on his constituents in Calgary-Foothills, leaving them to face a third election in roughly eight months.

Will the PCs throw yet another leader under the bus and claim that they opposed him the entire time, again? Will they disown their “10 Year Plan”? Will the PCs now campaign against Prentice in the Calgary-Foothills by-election, as Prentice campaigned against Redford, and Redford campaigned against Stelmach?

The PC Party can no longer dole out contracts, patronage appointments and favors to grease the wheels.

This is all to say that in the new battle of ideas, you have to have some.

At this point, the PC Party is the western cousin of the Toronto Maple Leafs: relying on their blue and white colors for support, knowing that even if they don’t make the playoffs, you’ll still buy season tickets.

The New Order

Alberta has always been a one-party state, with the odd opposition party sparking a challenge. 2015 represents the first time that a significant opposition party has not only maintained its position, but actually grown its presence in the legislature, with the fourth-placed party taking power to boot.

The new order may see the PC Party unofficially disintegrate as Red Tories, the Liberals and the Alberta Party reach a common understanding.

It may also see the remaining conservative elements of the PC Party reach towards the Wildrose. A merger is inconceivable, but grassroots members uniting under the Wildrose, and some PC MLAs sitting as independents to work with the Wildrose would seem to be in the cards.

New Rule

Whatever my predictions, the only rule I now stand by in Alberta politics is: Everything that you know about Alberta politics, will be wrong in two months.

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Thank You Strathmore-Brooks

Credit: Strathmore Standard

Credit: Strathmore Standard

Thank you Strathmore-Brooks. I am humbled and honored by the trust that you have placed in me.

To those who voted for me, I will honour your trust, follow through on my commitments and endeavor to earn your trust again. To those who did not vote for me, I will serve your interests in the best way that I can, and even if we disagree on policy matters as they arise over the next four years, I will still be the same plain speaking MLA that I was as a candidate.

I also want to thank Molly Douglass, Lynn McWilliam, Einar Davidson, Mike Worthington and Glen Dundas for standing for election and strengthening the democratic process.

The May 5th Election was a victory for Albertans and for democracy. The PC one-party state with its stranglehold on power is dead. Alberta now has a competitive two-party system with a clear democratic-socialist option in the NDP on the left, and a clear conservative option in the Wildrose on the centre-right.

I committed to you that I would serve you above party interests, and I will stand by that. I will fight to implement recall legislation and to require the transparent disclosure of MLA expenses.

I will fight for proper healthcare for our seniors by shutting the tap on subsidies to the PC owners of the Kananaskis golf course.

While Albertans voted for change, many of them didn’t know ‘who’ and ‘what’ they were electing in many constituencies. In an understandable rush to throw the PCs out, many students and others who had never held a real job in their lives were elected as NDP MLAs. The NDP platform itself was also given a pass by the media as most believed that they would never win.

While I have a great deal of personal respect for Premier-elect Rachel Notley, the NDP platform contains in it many dangerous and extreme policies that could further undermine the Alberta Advantage beyond what the PC government has done over the last decade.

While it may sound easy, raising business taxes or raising oil royalties has the very real possibility of throwing the province – and especially our community – into a full-blown recession.

The NDP’s promise to raise business taxes is unlikely to collect as much revenue than they project, as that party’s ideology doesn’t believe that businesses will do less business if business conditions are less profitable.

The NDP’s platform was never intended to be implemented in government, and so contains promises to spend on everything under the sun without the consequences of reality.

While the now flopped PC budget would raise taxes, take on even more debt, and continue the province’s unsustainable spending spree, the NDP platform appears likely to do all of these things at an accelerated rate.

While Albertans elected a new government, they also elected a reinvigorated and larger Official Opposition in the Wildrose. Despite the betrayal faced by Wildrosers in December of 2014, the Wildrose caucus grew from 5 to 21 MLAs, or from 17 to 21 if we are counting pre-December.

The Wildrose and I will do our jobs to hold the new NDP government accountable. In particular, I will work to blunt the more extreme ideological excesses of the NDP that could harm our economy and government finances.

You elected me to do a job, and I can’t wait to get to work.

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It’s time for change and renewal

CCBHjExXIAAntD8On May 5th, Albertans will make a historic choice.

Choosing a 13th big PC majority would mean $2,500 in higher taxes, a blank cheque to impose a PST, continued overspending, and continued corruption for the party’s cronies. It would be rewarding the same club that broke the bank during a period of record oil prices, and then blames Albertans for it. It would be reaffirming their belief that they can do anything that they want, and still cling to power.

A vote for Wildrose is a vote for a strong voice, and a vote for change.

As the former Alberta Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, I am a proven fighter for taxpayers and for everyday Albertans.

If you’ve ever watched Question Period in the legislature, then you’ve seen Tory backbenchers asking “puff-ball” questions to ministers, written by those very ministers!

Unlike some other candidates, I don’t just read the party line written for me by some PR spin-doctor in Edmonton. If you’ve been reading my columns in these pages over the last few months, you know that I write my own words and think for myself.

While some would represent the government to Strathmore-Brooks, I will represent Strathmore-Brooks to the government.

A vote for the Wildrose is a vote to roll back Prentice’s planned $2,500 increase to your taxes and take on $31 billion in debt.

To do this, the Wildrose will reduce spending by $2.2 billion this year and $3.4 billion by 2017. That will allow us to balance our budget, stop taking on debt, and not raise taxes.

We will find these savings by rolling back cabinet and MLA pay and perks and reducing the number of managers in the bureaucracy by 33%. This, along with other money-saving measures will save taxpayers $308 million a year.

We will ban sole-sourced contracts to insiders and cronies, and put a stop to corporate welfare subsidies. This will save taxpayers $1.5 billion a year.

Alberta Health Services (AHS) has some of the best healthcare professionals in the world, but its management has left our system bloated and top heavy. We will eliminate half of the managers and consultants at AHS and focus resources on the front line. We will cut the government’s advertising and travel budget by 50%, and reduce the number of communications staff by 50%. That will save $297 million.

By not taking on $31 billion in debt as the PC budget calls for, we will save over half a billion dollars a year in interest payments alone.

We will roll back the Prentice budget’s attack on the charitable tax credit, and we will never spend $28 million on an early election. We have a fixed election date law in Alberta, and we will respect the law.

We will ban all corporate and union donations to ensure that politicians cannot be bought by the interests that they are doing business with.

We will make it illegal for politicians who are elected as an MLA for one party to cross the floor to another without a by-election.

We will give parents a clear letter or percentage grade on their children’s report card and make Alberta’s education system world class once again.

We will eliminate mandatory schools fees.

We will focus healthcare dollars on the frontline, not on bureaucrats, managers and communications consultants.

We will fight to ensure that Strathmore and Brooks has the quality long-term seniors care that was promised by successive PC premiers, but never delivered.

We will stop the practice of nickel-and-diming people every time they visit the hospital with two hours of free parking.

We will stand up for rural Alberta as both the economic engine and cultural heartland of the greatest province in the greatest country in the world.

After 44 years, it’s time to turn the page. It’s time for a fresh, new voice that stands up for everyday Albertans. It’s time for change.

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Government Should Lead by Example in Tough Times

QZRdM6Y5dnJv7jo-Albertans are generous people – especially during tough times like these. We need to be: as oil drilling declines by 40% this year, people here are losing their jobs, or fearing for losing them.

In fact, Albertans are the most charitable people in Canada, with the average tax-filer donating $2,289 per year. That’s far above the average tax-filer in other provinces that donate an average $1,411 per year. One reason for this is that the government of Alberta gives donors a 21% tax refund if they give, providing a real incentive for individuals and businesses to help others.

The new PC budget reduces that charitable tax refund to just 12.75%. This will seriously hurt Albertans who give to food banks, charities, churches and non-profits working to help others.

Interestingly, the PC budget didn’t touch the 75% tax refund that people get for giving to political parties and campaigns. That’s right: you can receive up to 75% of your money back in a tax refund for giving to politicians, but a paltry 12.75% for giving to charities.

That’s just not right. In fact, it’s downright wrong.

If the government feels the need to cut tax refunds for giving, should it not have started with the one benefiting politicians? Were charities and those who give to them truly the higher priority for cutting back?

As your Wildrose MLA, I will fight to reverse this wrong. The Wildrose will fully restore the charitable tax credit. If we are going to cut one of them, it will be for politicians.

And we won’t stop there.

The last thing that we should be doing during an economic downturn is raising taxes. The Prentice budget raises 59 new or higher taxes, and will cost the average household $2,500 a year. Taking this kind of money out of the economy and from the middle class right now could turn a slowdown into a full-blown recession. We’ll fix that.

PC MLAs have voted themselves massive salary increases in recent years. We will roll those back. It’s never right for politicians to be accepting a big raise when they can’t even balance the budget, and especially not when they are imposing the largest tax increase in Alberta’s history.

In addition to the rolling back the big PC pay hikes for politicians, we will also fine MLAs an extra 5% of their salary for every year that they cannot balance the budget. After running a decade of deficits, PC MLAs would be at the food bank themselves if such a law had been in place under their management.

As I discussed in these pages last week, the Wildrose has put forward a detailed fiscal platform to reverse the big PC tax hikes by getting spending under control. Our plan is fully costed and based on principle, not the polls and trying to hang onto power.

By contrast, the PC “10 year plan” has already changed three times in the first two weeks of the election campaign. Far from trying to obtain a “mandate” for a ten-year plan, this $28 million early election was called for the sole purpose of wiping out any opposition. That seems to not be working out quite as Jim Prentice had hoped.

Alberta has only voted out the ruling party in government three times in our 110-year history as a province. After 44 years in power, the Tories are ruling for themselves, and not for Albertans.

It’s time for a breath of fresh air in our government. It’s time for a change.

Note: Since this OpEd was published in the Strathmore Standard, Prentice has backtracked on his platform and budget to reverse the cut to the charitable tax refund.

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