Wednesday, December 06, 2006


Our new Premier and his soon to be slimmed down cabinet will quickly get to work, charting a new course for the Province. As we watch the new thinking unfold, there are ten tests which will help decide whether the Government of Alberta really understand the challenges they face.

First, will they reduce public spending? Public spending in Alberta is too high at around $9,000 a person – around $2,000 a year more than other Provinces. It is also growing its spending too quickly. The surpluses will not last and we need to plan responsibly.

Second, will it control spending? Every year for the last five years, Government spending has been higher than it budgeted for by about $1 billion annually. This needs to stop. Premier Stelmach needs to impose strong fiscal discipline if he is to set a new course.

Third, will the Government start to manage growth? Alberta is forecast to experience 86,000 vacant positions over the next five years. We have people in work, but living in their vehicles due to the lack of affordable housing. We have issues with the fundamental conditions for community which are threatened by growth. What we should watch for is a slowing of permits for expansion, a focus on affordable housing and a strong commitment to listening and acting on the recommendations of municipalities most affected by the current cycle of development.

Fourth, will the Government engage in a systematic approach to diversifying the Alberta economy? Our reliance on oil sands, conventional oil and gas for our future is a risky business. New proposals were submitted to the Government for a systematic approach to developing Alberta as a responsible bioeconomy – balancing oil and gas with bioenergy, biochemicals and other bio products. Our ICT sector is strong, but could be stronger. Look carefully at economic strategy and look at the ratio of oil and gas to “other” supports as a test of how serious the Government is about a different, sustainable future for Alberta.

Fifth, what investments will the Government make in the future? In 2002 the Tuer Financial Management Commission looked at Alberta’s finances and recommended that it spend no more than $3.5 billion of oil and gas revenues and invest the balance in the Heritage Fund and in its innovation funds. Klein’s government did not do this. Stelmach’s should. Watch how surplus funds are used and look for increases to Alberta Ingenuity and the other innovation funds.

Sixth, what is the strategy for the future of health care in Alberta? For the last decade we heard a lot about the “third way”. Health care is the minefield that Stelmach will have to find a pathway through. What is needed is a balance between public funds and user pay and a balance between public and private delivery. Alberta cannot afford to continue growing public funding at the 79% rate of growth seen over the last few years. How Stelmach’s team deals with this balancing act will likely determine the longevity of the Conservative hold on power.

Seven, what steps are being taken to increase the participation rate in post secondary education? Students are right concerned about affordability of College and University education. Albertan’s should be concerned about the need to have a highly educated workforce. This means that participation rates and completion rates in our post secondary programs need to increase – so look for a different kind of encouragement and incentives for participation in and completion of programs.

Eight, look at the way municipalities are treated – do Cities get a fair slice of the cake? Cities and communities are at the heart of our experience of Government. Look at the flow of resources to cities and communities and at the fairness of these allocations. Look too at the extent to which municipalities are re-engaged in decisions which affect them. Listen to the reaction of Mayors to policy announcements – expect a change of tone.

Nine. look at the relationship between Alberta and the Federal Government – is it a strong and effective partnership? On a number of issues, the Klein government were at odds with the Federal Government and Alberta lost opportunities. Will the new Government in Alberta strengthen its role in confederation, build positive ties department by department and will we all benefit as a result.

Finally, will Stelmach “fix” the democratic deficit in Alberta? Will there be reforms of the way in which the Government engages with and works with the legislature, a rethink of the way the Standing Policy Committees work, a real engagement with the political parties to restore some faith in our democracy, especially amongst younger people? Stelmach could start by sorting out the rules for electing a Conservative Party leader. Another strong sign would be how he works with the opposition parties in the house. Its time for a major change of attitude and approach.

The electors who chose Stelmach sent a message. “Smarten up! Be responsible. No more same old!”. These ten tests will tell us whether he and his team not only heard, but understood the message they were sent and are acting on it.

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