UCP Leader Jason Kenney is evoking Ralph Klein’s Alberta Advantage program of low taxes and budget cuts. No thanks, says columnist.
Did someone say the words “Alberta Advantage”? Yes, someone did, and it was none other than United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney channelling Ralph Klein after a recent speech in Edmonton to the Alberta Council of Technology.Kenney was responding to Premier Rachel Notley’s criticism that his proposal for a freeze on government spending with the goal of balancing the budget evokes Klein’s slash-and-burn governance style.“The Alberta Advantage was a series of policies that let Alberta lead Canada’s economy with the highest levels of employment, the highest incomes, the lowest level of poverty, the strongest fiscal situation in Canada, if not North America,” Kenney said. “If the NDP think that’s a problem, that really reflects how off target they are.”If Kenney thinks the Alberta Advantage created such a paradise for Albertans, then that really reflects how off target he is. The Alberta Advantage was great for the old boys’ network, but that’s about it. What did the Alberta Advantage do for the most vulnerable and marginalized in our society who saw their services ruthlessly cut, with AISH payments frozen for years at unlivable levels? It wasn’t until Red Tory Alison Redford became premier that AISH recipients got a long overdue increase.What did the Alberta Advantage do for thousands of teachers and health-care workers who lost their jobs and went off to other provinces, never to return? What did it do for the children at the northeast Calgary school who had to be moved elsewhere before their school roof caved in – all because Klein’s cuts meant the most basic infrastructure repairs had to be put off?And what did the Alberta Advantage do for ordinary Calgarians when hospitals were blown up or sold, when there were continual hospital bed shortages and closures, or when their children had to be crammed into classrooms with too many other kids because of education cutbacks? What did it do for Albertans who had to travel to Fort McMurray on a highway dangerously in need of twinning that should have been twinned years ago during Klein’s tenure? What did it do for cancer patients, their doctors and nurses, and researchers who pleaded for 10 years for Klein to get on with building a new Tom Baker Centre? It was only the NDP who saw to it finally that the desperately needed new cancer centre would be built.When Notley said recently that Kenney’s proposal would lead to reckless cuts, Kenney fired back with, “I’ll tell you what’s reckless, driving us towards a $100-billion debt.”He conveniently failed to mention, of course, that the NDP had to incur debt because there was no other way to clean up the mess that Klein left. Just like some future government will have to do someday if Kenney is the next premier and sets about re-creating that very same mess. Which just goes to show that the UCP might not have a single new idea to offer Albertans. The fact that Kenney is content to parrot Ralph’s memes about freezes and deficits doesn’t bode particularly well for the rest of the planks in his party’s platform to offer any kind of thoughtful approach on the issues.Can’t wait to hear about their plans for health care, because I’m sure it will include building on Klein’s failed Third Way with a fourth, fifth or maybe even sixth way to privatize health care. Then, that evil socialistic public system will be weakened for those Albertans who aren’t rich enough to buy into the private tier.Klein’s destructive policies came into effect two decades ago, but as Notley has pointed out, their devastating effects have echoed down through the years. We need a new Alberta Advantage that includes all Albertans in its scope and that arises from progressive and innovative thinking. Twenty-first century Alberta deserves so much more than Ralph’s recycled, knee-jerk policies of cuts and freezes from a quarter-century ago.Naomi Lakritz is a Calgary journalist.