Thursday, August 27, 2009

Governance By Ideology

In Alberta, the Conservative government has been in power so long that they have lost sight of the practical realities of government, and in particular the need to be flexible in coming up with policies to deal with difficult situations.

First up, we have Ed "I won't raise taxes" Stelmach whining about how it's going to be "long and painful" getting out of the fiscal hole that the PC's are busy digging for taxpayers.

Stelmach has vowed there will be no tax increases or new levies introduced as the government scrambles to balance the books, and reiterated government spending will be reined in.

"We will tighten our belt further," he said. "Steady Eddie" is going lean entirely on standard neo-Conservative dogma about taxation and take a primary tool of government off the table - taxation.

During the 90's and early 2000's, Ralph Klein took advantage of burgeoning royalties from the energy sector, and proceeded to chop taxes. That's all well and good, except that it leaves the government fiscally starved the moment that energy prices fall. (which they have)

Instead of investing the surplus revenues in the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund, Klein mostly burned the money, and put a dribble here and there into his own "Sustainability Fund" - all the while draining any gains from the AHSTF. Had the Trust Fund been allowed to grow as it should have during the recent boom years, it would be worth a lot more than it is today, and much more than the $12bn "sustainability fund". But Klein, and now Stelmach, are far to short-sighted to understand this concept.

Then we get the government talking about "belt tightening". That always sounds good to the public - mostly because the public memory in this province is disastrously short term, and few people remember the consequences for Albertans from Ralph's early years, or the disastrous cuts that Getty imposed on areas like education.

Add to this the announcement yesterday from the Alberta Health Superboard that they are going to "cut jobs to improve service".

Currently, the health system faces a $1.3-billion deficit and has long surgical and emergency waiting times. It aims to have a balanced budget and reduced waiting times in three to four years. Part of those cost savings must focus on the workforce, since 70 per cent of the budget is spent on human resources, Duckett said.

Wait a second here. Health care delivery is primarily done with people - lots of them. Whether we are talking about nurses, doctors, clinical technicians, laboratory technicians, there's a lot of people that need to be present to analyze, diagnose and treat patients. You aren't likely to improve service by axing people.

... one might consider the massive pay hike that the "superboard" voted itself as the first place they should start cutting.

At least the UK government has looked at its NHS and published an extensive program of reform and funding change where the public can read and understand it.

Instead, in Alberta we have a government that is so used to being unaccountable to its citizens that it keeps its plans secret, only to drop it on us at the last possible minute - just as they did with the 2009/10 budget, where they conveniently chose to announce that a large number of health care services were being arbitrarily delisted.

No rationale, no chance for public input, no explanations whatsoever - the axe just fell.

This is not government, it is dictatorship. Sadly, it is dictatorship by the mendacious, and I have little faith that there is anything resembling actual thought going into the picture.

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