What was the Alberta Advantage?

Posted: January 14, 2019 by Ty in Alberta Politics, Current Events
Tags: , , , , ,

Ah longing for days of yore. When Alberta became “debt free”, and “King Ralph” reigned as Premier. It is amazing though what is forgotten within this reminiscing. As we gear up for probably the dirtiest and nastiest Provincial Election in 2019 between the entrenched ideologues United Conservative Party (Official Opposition, supposed government in waiting) and the New Democratic Party (the governing party); perhaps it is time for an old journo and politico to dust off the highlights of this era for the non-wealthy that we seem to have forgotten.

The entire premise of the Alberta Advantage was built on three fallacies:

  1. The market and privatization are better than government and public sector.
  2. trickle down economics works (that is the failed belief that when the wealthy are wealthier, the poorer become richer).
  3. The government costs per citizen were out of control, when in fact when the costs per capita were adjusted appropriately for inflation it was shown that costs had risen negligibly in the era of the P.C. Governance of the province.

This was the era of rapid emigration from other provinces to Alberta for “jobs” while failing to remind folks that the jobs that were growing were unskilled labour, or minimum wage jobs that required 2-3 to make ends meet and hopefully break even.

The flat tax era. This is a stepping stone many point to as needed for wealth, but were we the lowest taxed in Canada at this time? Well, let’s look at the shift that happened with the flat provincial income tax. Public Services entered the era of the “user fee”; which is essentially a government tax on services that one is not able to recoup if they fall behind a certain wage line. Such users fees introduced were for public education; public health care (ah the wonder of the monthly levy); libraries; and anything else that a fee could be attached to.

Also saw divestment from community public schools into more government funding for private and charter schools. A system created for funds to follow the child wherever they went. Sociologically the effect created a stratification between the have and have nots, but also removed the backbone of why public education creates a healthy society– that all socio-economics and cultures/religions of an area go to school together.

The de-regulation of public utilities. Following California’s idea that private industry could do utilities better than the government which is bullocks. There is no way to effectively privatize utilities for cost that would benefit the consumer, possibly if all companies were on hand at the build and owned the supply and the lines, but we are a bit beyond that. While many in urban areas (rurally is another issue) complain vehemently about the Conservative idea of the implement Carbon Tax under Premier Notley they have missed the biggest levies costing families money on their utility bills. That is all the regulatory and supply fees that have grown costs exponentially. Oh, and the grand King Ralph de-regulated even after California announced failure with the experiment.

The rise of control of public discourse. Government was wielding a big stick in this era. I remember them threatening to and pulling funding from arts programs that put on shows or plays they did not agree with. The biggest spectacle made of trying to shut down the play “Angels in America”.

But the censorship of ideas did not end there. With the rise of a more Americanized public education system (which the idea of funds following child is actually from the Democrats I believe), came the concept of the banned book list. The removal of teaching history and context with literature, and that which offended could be shunted away. Things from Dickens, Shakespeare, Twain (and yes even me) were all put away for various reasons. The updated banned literature list was released each year on the first day of “Freedom to Read Week”.

The rise of high school drop outs that rivaled developing nations. We saw during this era a full on creation of a volunteer sector to enter Schools to meet with youth for 1 hour a week who were deemed at high risk to volunteer. Why? Drop out rates where crippling, for a couple reasons:

  1. if you could not pay school fees and your child was 16 the school would “drop them out”.
  2. Unskilled labour and rig work targeted this age group for workers.

For those that believed in the Protestant-Work Ethic narrative our parents told us about getting through school on to tech school, college or university then great work. What met us was a crisis of out of control tuitions and costs that burdened Generation X and Millenials with a crushing debt before even entering the living wage career field.

Speaking of work, it was under the wonderful Klein regime that two things happened:

  1. Elimination of tiered minimum wage (used to be from 16-17 you made $4.50/hour, at 18 it went up to $5/hr).
  2. The legal age to work in the province (not talking flyer force or newspaper route, we are talking service industry) was lowered to 12 years old (yes we proudly brought back child labour).

It was also during this era that something wonderful could have happened. The government seeing the success of the Waterloo model for ending institutionalization of persons with disabilities and mental health issues and moving them with appropriate housing and supports into communities. Unfortunately due to the faux crisis the government created in the minds of Albertans, what happened was only step one–the closure of institutions; and a rapid increase of complex individuals into homeless shelters.

Oh and homelessness? It became a crisis in the “Alberta Advantage” and “Wealthy Alberta” for years there was not a year that did not go by where the government did not declare states of emergencies during winter months due to the imminent threat of loss of human life.

Alberta Works (Welfare) was also used in the austerity crisis as a weapon. There was a meta-narrative crafted that people were scamming the system to not have to work. The concept of the “lazy welfare bum”. What was not spoken of was that the rental portion of Alberta Works for a single up until 2012 was $183/month; in 2012 it was increased to $323/month (where can one rent?). This was deducted from the cheque for a single that would not exceed $700/month approximately, if they were lucky to get medical it would increase to $900. Yes, part of the system was medical covered which was nice.

It was also the era that saw the Alberta Income for the Severely Handicapped (Premier Redford, the 3rd last P.C. Premier brought in a nice raise for this monthly entitlement to up it to $1588/month). It was not until Notley’s government that much of the red tape was cut away to allow easier access. Unfortunate is that it is designed for those who should not be working, but it has built in mechanism for work to top up income.

They say there was a building boom. Yet chronic of homeless increased as the motels/hotels/trailer parks they would have lived in shut down for condos, and houses. Businesses pushed a building boom for new spaces and moved around, leaving old empty. We talk of a crisis of vacancy now, but it was always there just hidden through the constant moving around. Building was happening, but not out of necessity.

Federally and provincially, funding stopped for affordable housing for those in need. We did not plan for the fact the generation governing at this moment, and the biggest generation- the Baby Boom would be aging into seniorhood. In fact, we know how badly seniors were screwed over by the Klein government (and every government since); thanks to the bravery of whistleblower Kevin Taft’s bookĀ Shredding the Public Interest that showed how we used to care for our elders and now, well we leave them to their own devices in a lot of ways. It used to be complete coverage, now it is Blue Cross cost share plans for medical. The sad shell-game of removal of massive rights of being an elder in Alberta, and the pittance returned preyed on those that built our province in a disgusting and abusive way.

I was thankful that my Granddad was a veteran when his emphysema set in and he needed medical help. Veterans Affairs covered everything so we did not have to play these petty Alberta games. (No, I am not a Liberal schill even though those were the Chretien years, I took him to task as much as Klein, I was a working class writer).

Ah health care, with the drive being for “privatization” it was a gutting of Pastor Tommy Douglas’ dream that no family would have to go bankrupt to care for themselves. It was also premised on the idea health care is for the healthy, that is like saying life insurance is for the living. Health Care is there when we are in need, the encroachment of privatization, closure of beds, implosion of hospitals, is all being seen in repercussions today with long wait times; lack of capacity for medical whether the be physical or psychological services; continued challenges on long ER wait times, and lack of EMS. Our Aboriginal elders speak of making decisions with forethought on how it affects 7 generations down the line…Rod Love, Klein’s right hand admitted they did not have a plan, less than a generation down the line we are literally suffering on hallway gurneys as a result. The Third Way is a failure, and the fact the NDP has not acted on all the information they have from experts to correct it in this term is a failure as well.

Let us not forget our bread and butter industry. Oil & Gas. It was during the Klein era when it left the hands, as Lougheed would say of being Albertans’; and became the natural resource of the multi-nationals. Royalties were plummeted (fallacy of trickle down); and our Heritage Trust Fund, the model that Norway used and whose citizens are reaping the benefits of now, well… it did not turn out so well for us.

I love my province. Part of a democracy is the ability to challenge ideas. It is not about crushing the opponent, or a blood sport. It is about the interchange of ideas. It is about what is best for the citizen. Yes during the Klein era and after, we lost the concept of citizen, and the only people that mattered were “tax payers”; and even then not all tax payers just the 1%. It is time to reclaim out constitutional promise of Peace, Order and Good Governance. In the school yard antics of the NDP-UCP currently I do not see that. I encourage you to look to Alberta Elections site for all registered parties:

https://www.elections.ab.ca/parties-and-candidates/parties/Ā 

Find one that resonates with who you are. Get active, even run as a candidate. Personally for my riding I am leaning towards the Alberta Liberals or Alberta Party. But it does come down to me the strongest local candidate (yes they need to be from the area); then what the party stands for; and finally the leader. For remember, members voting on a leader is a function of a system, the actual system allows for caucus (the elected members in the Legislature) at any time to take a vote of confidence in the leader and replace them. That is why it is oh so important you look to your local candidate for credibility and character.

As we move towards an election, open yourself up to not only answering what things effect you, but all citizens of Alberta. Think globally, act locally… and vote for a better future not a re-tread of the damaging past that has left us this quagmire.

 

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