Earlier this month, Alberta’s NDP Finance Minister Joe Ceci delivered the government’s 3rd Quarter update for the 2018/2019 fiscal year.
Unfortunately, he presented a plan that talks a good game about protecting public services, but is actually stuffed with soft austerity.
Here’s what that means for AUPE members and their families, as well as what to watch for when the government goes back to work on March 18.
Ceci talks cuts
This latest economic update went a lot like the other ones.
The NDP government keeps saying it is protecting the services Albertans rely on, and Ceci said so again this time. But then he boasted to reporters: “We’ve also been able to keep our spending below population plus inflation.”
This is huge. Not raising spending alongside population growth and inflation means the government is technically making cuts.
Why failing to keep up with population growth and inflation is a big deal
As Alberta’s population grows, we need to provide the same level of services for even more people. And as inflation naturally goes up, we need matching levels of investment to provide those same services.
When public spending doesn’t keep up with these two basic factors, it means AUPE members have to support more people with the same funding. That’s a cut.
So why is Minister Ceci bragging like it’s a good thing? Cuts don’t make life better for Albertans and their families.
It could get worse
Some politicians want to take these cuts even further. In response to this update, United Conservative Party finance critic Drew Barnes called the government “free-spending,” and said its “‘path to balance’ promises mean little.”
How could a government that is already not keeping up with population growth and inflation be “free-spending?” Does the UCP seriously think even more cuts is the way to go?
Lowering the deficit by cutting investment hurts ordinary people
Alberta’s Finance Minister also boasted about lowering the deficit by $1.9 billion. That’s $1.9 billion which could have been new staff to help with work-floor shortages, or invested in the programs and services Albertans rely on. But it isn’t.
Most of us agree that lowering the deficit is a good thing. But no government should do so by making cuts or shortchanging workers. Alberta even has the lowest debt to GDP ratio in the country, which means we don’t have to panic over the deficit because there’s so much room to borrow and invest.
That’s why many AUPE members are calling for the government to stop making cuts, and instead renovate its revenue sources, diversify the economy, and ensure the wealthiest Albertans pay their fair share.
But it’s clear the government investment isn’t keeping up with our needs, and it isn’t increasing revenues responsibly.
And the bad news keeps coming: according to a recent report from a University of Calgary economist, maintaining Alberta’s current spending would soon bring us to the lowest investment level we’ve seen since 1999, the days of Ralph Klein.
As AUPE members can tell you, underfunding and understaffing public services doesn’t make anything better.
What members should look for in the throne speech
When the NDP government goes back to work on Monday, Lieutenant Governor Lois Mitchell will deliver the Speech from the Throne, which outlines the government’s priorities. AUPE members across Alberta will be looking to Monday’s throne speech for signs that government investment will keep up with Albertans’ needs.
If we want to make life better for Albertans, we have to protect the things that matter. Public services are at their best when they have the resources they need, and our economy does better when it is stimulated by government spending, especially when times are tough.