Category Archives: ableg

RACHEL NOTLEY’S CABINET

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NDP Caucus 2012-15, credit: rabble.ca

Later today at a public celebration on the legislature grounds, Alberta’s new NDP government will be sworn in. With a large number of inexperienced MLAs elected, many are suggesting that the NDP doesn’t have a strong group for cabinet. The announcement earlier this week that the cabinet would only have 12 people, including Notley, served as proof to these people that the caucus was weak.

I’ve been spending some time since May 5th looking at the makeup of the caucus and I didn’t find that to be the case at all. There may be a few holes, like in energy, but there are plenty of qualified people with a wide range and depth of valuable experience. In fact, I earlier thought there would be about 17 cabinet ministers and I still had many good people sitting away from the table.

Alberta Premier-designate Rachel Notley addresses the media in front of her caucus at Government House in Edmonton, Alta., on Saturday, May 9, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta Premier-designate Rachel Notley addresses the media in front of her caucus at Government House in Edmonton, Alta., on Saturday, May 9, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

With the 12-person announcement this week, I have revised my estimates and come up with a new prediction. With only 12 people and only four incumbents (all from Edmonton) the trick to cabinet making will be geographic diversity. I suggest that the cabinet making starts outside the two metro areas, then goes to Calgary and finally ends in Edmonton. Here are my picks:

Outside the Metros:

  • Shannon Phillips, Lethbridge West (Int’l and Intergov Relations)
  • Colin Piquette, Athabasca-Sturgeon-Redwater (Environment, Agriculture)
  • Marg McCuaig-Boyd, Dunvegan-Central Peace-Notley (Advanced Ed, Jobs and Labour)
  • Bob Wanner, Medicine Hat (Municipal Affairs)

Calgary:

  • Joe Ceci, Calgary-Fort (Human Services)
  • Kathleen Ganley, Calgary-Buffalo (Justice)
  • Karen McPherson, Calgary-Mackay-Nose Hill (Service Alberta, Culture and Tourism)

Edmonton:

  • Rachel Notley, Edmonton-Strathcona (Premier, Energy)
  • Brian Mason, Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood (Finance)
  • David Eggen, Edmonton-Calder (Health, Seniors)
  • Deron Bilous, Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview (Infrastructure, Transportation)
  • Sarah Hoffman, Edmonton-Glenora (Education, Women)

The interesting thing to me about this experience is that after filling in these qualified cabinet candidates, you end up with a quite a strong list of backbenchers who just miss the cut, like: Bob Turner, Lori Sigurdson, Marie Renaud, Danielle, Larivee, Richard Feehan, Marlin Schmidt, Stephanie McLean, Ricardo Miranda, Irfan Sabir and David Shepherd.

 

Saving for a rainy day

The tragedy of recent historic flooding in Southern Alberta has had a profound impact on us. As an Edmontonian who spends a good deal of time in Calgary, my heart goes out to those who have been affected. Encouragingly, the Alberta spirit lives on and Calgarians will demonstrate resiliency as the rest of us demonstrate high levels of empathy and community through giving in the ways that are available to us.  I have to give big kudos to Mayor Naheed Nenshi, Premier Alison Redford, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and all three levels of government who have been absolutely stellar in their response. These tragedies and struggles do emphasize the important role of government in acting as the vehicle through which we take collective action and in the value of the public service and public servants.

Recently, the Redford government announced that it would pledge an initial and immediate $1 Billion in aid with more to come. They also said that in doing this, the priority of a balanced budget would be set aside. They should be applauded for doing the right thing. We count on government (ie our neighbours) to be there for us on rainy days. But, talk of a balanced budget in this context made me think of where this money will come from, could come from and should come from. Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a rainy day fund for such unforeseen instances?
Oh?! We do???
That’s right. We have the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund which sits at $16.8 billion. This is good. It could come in handy here, but with BMO estimating the costs of recovery in the $3-$5 billion range it would make a considerable dent in the fund. Unfortunately, the fund has not grown substantially in decades. The last systematic investment into the fund was made in 1987 and while the fund has generated $33.4 billion in total income, $34.6 billion has been transferred out of it largely to fund general programs. 
The Alberta fiscal formula is fundamentally flawed. Last year the government brought in $38.6 billion in revenues. Of that, $7.6 billion came from selling off non-renewable resources and $2.5 billion came from siphoning off investment earnings. At the same time they still spent $2.8 billion more than they raised which was drained out of another smaller more temporary rainy day fund, the Sustainability Fund. 
This all becomes a critical issue when you account for the fact that Alberta is the lowest taxed jurisdiction in Canada and could raise $11 billion more in taxes and maintain the lowest tax regime in the country. 
In simple terms, we are selling off the farm and dipping into our RRSPs in order to pay the bills just so we can take more time off work. 
As much as some would say debt is stealing from future generations, what we are doing amounts to grand larceny fraud against our great grandchildren. They should have a stake in both our non-renewable resources and our savings and in the meantime we should continue to contribute by paying our fair share. 
A fiscal prudent strategy would look like this. Instead of selling off non-renewable resources to fund programs we should treat it like a transfer from fixed assets to liquid but restricted assets. In other words, put all non-renewable resource revenue into the Heritage Fund. We should quit the vacation from responsibility and increase our taxes to the point where we collect the $11 billion more in revenue while maintaining our tax advantage. We should then quit using interest to fund general programs and instead use it for an endowment fund to help diversify our economy and train our people for the day the oil is gone. 
And when catastrophic flooding or fires occur again we sensibly and responsibly use the rainy day fund to pay for recovery… without guilt or regret because that is what we planned for all along.