Alberta has made short-sighted choices. It has done so for decades. Hoping for long-term financial stability based on historically high oil prices was doomed to fail.
In recent years, we have heard, again and again, spurious claims that Quebec lives off Albertans’ taxes. Premier Jason Kenney is the latest in a long line of western politicians claiming that Alberta pays for Quebecers’ social programs. It is notoriously simple for an Albertan politician to score cheap political points in his own backyard by alleging that Alberta pays the bill for Quebec’s public daycare.
That is simply not true. Ask any expert worth their salt: Quebec does not receive equalization payments because it spends more, nor because Alberta spends less, on social programs. Equalization payments are calculated based on a province’s capacity to generate tax revenues. Alberta could generate huge tax revenues and chose not to do so. It is Alberta’s perfectly legitimate, albeit ill-advised, own choice. Therefore, Albertans should not complain about paying for any of Quebec’s social programs. It simply is not true.
Actually, Alberta is a bigger spender than its leaders would like you to believe. Before Premier Kenney’s budget cuts, Alberta’s government spent more per capita than its Quebec counterpart. After the cuts, it still spends only about two per cent less per capita than Quebec does. Alberta is not some libertarian’s dream, as some would like you to believe. The province is a perfect example of “big government.”
If Premier Kenney is looking for someone or something to blame for his gigantic fiscal deficit, he should blame his own province’s fiscal policy over the last decades. A low and formerly flat tax rate, the absence of a sales tax, Ralph Bucks, combined with big spending, will obviously result in budget deficits. For a long time, this mismanagement of Alberta’s finances was hidden by high oil prices. Albertans need to realize that their leaders have let them down. Premier Kenney needs to stop passing the buck and shoulder his government’s responsibility. He should look at his own fiscal policy, above all else, to find solutions to his $8-billion deficit. Should he choose not to engage in this fiscal self-examination, he will seal his place as the proud heir of past leaders who drove Alberta to the brink of the fiscal precipice where it now finds itself.
Pascal Bérubé is parliamentary leader of the Parti Québécois.