Thrusting Away the Future, Dealing in Facts That Are Not True: The Government of Alberta’s Budget (7 March 2013)

Today the Government of Alberta put 2 million people who may immigrate to the province over the next seventeen years ahead of those of us who live in the province now.

Those almost 2 million people, we were told, won’t be bringing schools or roads or hospitals with them. So we need to borrow money now to build the infrastructure for them. Other money will be poured into a savings account. And all of the key areas that the province needs to nurture it now — and bring the future into being for current Albertans — will be gutted.

The news is already hours old, and so there’s no need for me to repeat the brutal numbers here. But let me make a point that I don’t see anyone else making, yet.

The Government of Alberta proved today that it does not understand or know how to invest in culture.

It takes pride in the fact that it will not charge higher royalties for the province’s natural resources or raise taxes — “there will be no new taxes, no taxes increases, no sales tax. Period.”

And it talks of “quality of life” as if this was something provided only by schools and roads and hospitals. They are “critical” to it. Universities, apparently, are not.

Inasmuch as universities are good for anything, according to this Government, they are the source of research that can be commercialized — commodities, that is, that the Government will build a research institute to help “deliver . . . to market” while dictating to universities what research it should produce. With the blow it has dealt today to the province’s post-secondary institutions it will be all the more difficult for the province ever to extricate itself from the ideology of the market, or create public goods in which the market has no interest (except where they can be plundered).

Why this blow to culture? Has Alberta been growing too rapidly for its Progressive Conservative party? Is it becoming too cosmopolitan for it? Does the Government aim to nip a civilized Alberta in the bud by investing only in bricks and mortar and asphalt?

Today at the Legislature Finance Minister Doug Horner crowed that with this budget Premier Redford’s government is giving Albertans a budget like that of Ralph Klein’s 20 years ago, or Peter Lougheed’s in 1973. That is indeed what the Government is doing with this budget: turning the clock back by decades, and thrusting the future away from Albertans with both hands.

This “once in a generation budget” will put Alberta and Albertans on hold for a generation, as it waits for people to come from elsewhere to save us from the devastations the Government wielded today in the name of the “future.”

The greatest irony of all: this Government, which claims to act in the name of the Fiscal, has taken its decisions without paying attention to some basic financial facts — like those that demonstrate this province’s postsecondary institutions are vital economic drivers.

This is a budget that can’t even get its economics right, never mind the role that governments should play in shaping the culture of the people they serve.

Even more alarming: this is a budget based on an abuse of facts.

Just before he declared that “Budget 2013 makes no provision for increased public sector compensation costs,” Finance Minister Doug Horner claimed that “the fact is, Alberta has the highest paid physicians, post-secondary faculty and teachers in Canada.”

Not true, Doug —  not, at least, when it comes to faculty.

Here’s the list of average salaries for faculty at Canadian universities from a 2012 Maclean’s article:

1. University of Toronto ($136,483)
2. Queen’s University ($133,395)
3. McMaster University ($131,696)
4. University of Guelph ($127,307)
5. University of Waterloo ($127,238)
6. York University ($126,664)
7. University of Alberta ($126,549)
8. École Polytechnique ($123,524)
9. Ryerson University ($121,469)
10. Brock University ($119,472)
11. Trent University ($119,387)
12. University of Calgary ($117,682)
13. University of Windsor ($116,998)
14. Laurentian University ($116,214)
15. University of Ottawa ($115,839)
16. Western University ($114,835)
17. University of Saskatchewan ($114,807)
18. Carleton University ($114,413)
19. University of British Columbia ($114,356)
20. Lakehead University ($112,392)

Now if the fact were true, it would be a fact for Albertans to be proud of, for it would show Alberta’s commitment to its universities as places of creativity and intellection that support human flourishing. But it’s not true. And if the Government of Alberta is willing to mislead Albertans in this way, what else about this budget is not to be believed? 

Note: The reference to the numbers immigrating to the province by 2030 has been corrected.

Update (8 March 2013, 9:30 a.m.): Economist Satya Das writes that we should be in fact bracing for another million Albertans within five years.

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3 Responses to Thrusting Away the Future, Dealing in Facts That Are Not True: The Government of Alberta’s Budget (7 March 2013)

  1. Laurie Adkin says:

    Et oui,well said.

  2. janice williamson says:

    Arrogance and Strauss’s “noble lie” from the government as the budget is announced: “This will force us to look at how the system is operating and closer collaboration is where the savings will be found,” Lukaszuk said in an interview from Vietnam, where he is on vacation.”
    And what do we do?
    March on the legislature?
    Sharpen our pencils?

  3. Amy Kaler says:

    Well, we can tell our students that their education is being screwed by these cuts. If you teach a large undergrad class, I think it’s legitimate to suggest that students have a look at what’s been happening in the papers, and remind them that if they’re over 18, their MLA should listen to any opinion they might want to voice. This can be done without slipping over the line into partisan hectoring of students. I’m going to bring this to the attention of my big lecture class on Tuesday.

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