As former premier Jim Prentice once suggested, it may finally be time for Albertans to look in the mirror at their demands for government spending, says columnist Chris Nelson.
The Canadian Press
The biggest question of all is whether Albertans have the stomach for such a fight.Certainly, our newly minted provincial government appears on course to ask of us that very thing in the months and years ahead.It came as an actual relief hearing Wednesday’s throne speech, one in which Jason Kenney’s party laid out its plans for governing. The words — thankfully, free of the usual hopes and dreams stuff — actually made sense and helped dispel, for now at least, a disquieting feeling this was yet another bunch of politicians that would quickly dither, delay and dodge once they got their feet under those big, comfy desks of power.During a campaign that was the bitterest this province has seen in recent memory, Kenney was less than unequivocal in the need for real restraint; for example, trotting out personal anecdotes on the need to protect the shining wonder that is Alberta health care while suggesting the medicine this province so obviously needs won’t include any real bitter aftertaste.Well, I suppose you’ve got to get elected in the first place and when your opponent is promising more taxpayer spending at a level that would make even the Sultan of Brunei wince, then a mere mention of any future restraint would appear barbaric in comparison to the two chickens and half a turkey in every pot Rachel Notley was endlessly waxing lyrical about.Anyhow, if that appears a tad cynical then so be it. Because we’re going to need a premier with some gamesmanship up both his sleeves when it comes to fighting those world masters of political expediency and sleight of moral hand in Ottawa. Yes, the current Grit leader and one-time world media star, Justin Trudeau, may not be the sharpest knife in the political drawer but never underestimate the well-honed lust for centralized power that has always emanated from the Liberal Party of Canada.That national conflict, which is going to be a doozy, has already begun, as has the dismantling of some of the more harebrained policies put in place by the outgoing NDP.But it is within Alberta’s own borders that the real fight will take place. Kenney acknowledged this in more straightforward fashion than he did on the campaign trail in saying that, yes indeed, there will have to be restraint and that the two biggest consumers of taxpayer loot, in health and education, can’t continue spending more than the inflation rate and population growth allows as they have for so many years. (Don’t forget, it wasn’t just the Dippers who allowed this state of affairs.)Then Kenney said the words sure to inflame the already aggrieved public sector unions, announcing there would almost inevitably be reductions in those ranks, hopefully achieved through attrition.But if we think we can get this province out of hock simply on the back of cutting the public sector numbers, then that is exactly the type of head-in-the-sand assumption that has led to the odious amount of current borrowing in a province so richly blessed by nature.“No economic hardship has ever ruined us; no political enemy has ever defeated us; no national disaster has ever stopped us,” was this new government’s call to arms.Stirring words indeed and with more than a grain of truth embedded within them.However, there is another opponent that is much more devious and relentless that we must face first — ourselves. Have we, step-by-step, grown too demanding of government to fix every problem? Are we willing to consider doing without even the most fanciful of programs? Will we rebel at the first sign of discomfort and cry out to borrow more money and fix it quick?The late Jim Prentice was pilloried when he once said Albertans should look in the mirror when it came to the level of government spending in this province. Well, the time for exactly such reflection could be at hand.Chris Nelson is a regular columnist for the Calgary Herald.