By Lethbridge Herald Opinon on January 24, 2020.
Though it’s getting a bit late in the month, I want to wish all residents of Lethbridge a very happy new year! I hope that 2020 has gotten off to a great start, despite the fearsome weather that we’ve encountered this month. As the Legislature has been risen since early December, I’ve taken the opportunity to spend much of this month catching up with constituents and hearing their concerns and anxieties around the UCP’s budget and the unbelievably negative impact it has had on some of our most vulnerable neighbours.
One of the most consistent things I keep hearing from constituents is “what is all this pain for?”
That’s an excellent question, especially as we consider the mounting impacts of UCP policy in our community and our province. We’ve seen more than a dozen positions lost at each of our school districts, and almost 20 jobs lost at the university as well. Lethbridge will also shoulder its share of 5,000 job losses in public health care. And, of course, every day I’m hearing new stories about residents losing access to their drug coverage or subsidized child care.
Though the UCP government continues to rationalize cuts to child care and seniors’ benefits by saying that we need to get our fiscal house in order, and reduce the province’s debt, it’s becoming clear that this isn’t the case.
We’ve seen a far higher deficit from the UCP compared to what they had inherited from the previous government – about $2 billion more when comparing their October budget to the final numbers in the 2018-19 Government of Alberta Annual Report.
Further, the Kenney government’s claim that Alberta’s debt is spiralling out of control is without basis in reality. According to RBC Economics (among others), Alberta’s debt-to-GDP ratio – which is a measure of the province’s debt compared to the size of its economy – is incredibly low compared to other provinces. In fact, our 2018-19 ratio of eight per cent is almost half that of B.C. and Saskatchewan, who are the next lowest provinces, and a fifth of the ratio provinces like Ontario and Quebec experience. More than this, our debt per capita is also the lowest in the country.
But perhaps most revealing about the Kenney government’s fiscal claims is the fact that they themselves will add more to the province’s debt by 2023 than the previous government had been on pace to add, as of the third quarter fiscal update delivered last February.
So, to echo the questions I’ve been hearing from constituents: what is all this pain for? We are getting fewer services, we will be paying more in income tax and property tax, and we will still be getting a higher deficit and more debt than we would have under the previous government. The answer is clear: the only thing we’re getting is a historic tax giveaway to profitable corporations that has failed to create jobs. In fact, our province lost 50,000 jobs over the last two months of 2019!
Through all of these challenges, though, I remain fundamentally optimistic about our community and our province, because I know the strength and resilience of Albertans, and especially southern Albertans. I was reminded of that strength and resilience when my office received notice that nominations for the Alberta Order of Excellence were open for the coming year. It caused me to reflect on the life and career of Leroy Little Bear, who was inducted in 2016 in recognition of his long career of advocacy, scholarship and community-building. My office was proud to nominate and promote Mr. Little Bear’s candidacy, and he remains a source of inspiration to myself and our community.
If you know anyone who has made similarly significant contributions to improving our community or the lives of southern Albertans, you can view nomination information at lieutenantgovernor.ab.ca/aoe.
You can reach my office at 403-329-4644 or email us at Lethbridge.West@assembly.ab.ca.
Shannon Phillips is the NDP MLA for Lethbridge West. Her column appears monthly.