Oh, Jeff, if you continue to turn out columns like this one on a regular basis, I just might be tempted to download your books onto my tablets or e-readers.
But I digress.
Globe and Mail columnist Jeffrey Simpson's latest column on Alberta's "boom-and-bust" is a winner in my book. After all, he raises all the various points and issues I've been writing about myself for a long time.
Relying for revenue on oil and gas, as Alberta's government does, is a recipe for disaster - especially when the province has no other industry or economic sector of any real importance.
Failing to save oil revenue, and then raiding even the little bit set aside to make budget deficits appear less ominous than they really are, is not only a recipe for disaster; it's downright dumb.
In the past, long periods of boom would be interrupted by relatively short bouts of bust. But today's bust will likely last for a very long time - because there's no light at the end of the tunnel this time.
Alberta's stuck in a deep hole, or well if you'll pardon the pun. Its oil is practically being given away these days. As Alberta oil has no good way left of leaving the province and going to markets of high demand, it is being sold off at a steep discount.
Americans are no longer the rabid buyers of Alberta oil they used to be, as they're working hard on becoming self-sufficient. And new pipelines and facilities that would allow Alberta oil to be shipped to Asia, and particularly China, are still several years from becoming a reality - for that matter, they may never be realized at all.
In light of all this, any reasonable government would have switched gears a long time ago and diversified its economy, so that not all eggs end up in the same basket. A sensible government would have also introduced a provincial sales tax to ensure a steady stream of revenue for all the programs and other goodies that citizens regularly demand.
A government of reasonable and smart people would have done all that, but not in Alberta. Simpson, in so many words, clearly considers Albertans short-sighted for failing to recognize the predicament they're in.
Unfortunately, Alberta has always been dominated and ruled by "dynasties", each one governing over long stretches of time. Many parties have come and gone, but in essence Alberta has always been a one-party state. That's the democratic equivalent of being afflicted with a chronic disease.
Andrew Coyne recently suggested that, at the federal level, all progressive parties should unite for one single election for the sole purpose of taking power, adopting proportional representation (PR) and then calling for a new election under the new system.
I have always supported PR, and as such, I would sign Coyne's proposal in a heartbeat. But we need PR not only in federal politics, but also in the provinces, starting, first and foremost, with Alberta.
Only PR will prevent the same ridiculous, and undemocratic, scenario from playing itself out over and over again, where the PC party gets to claim it won a "majority" when, in fact, only 21% or so of all eligible voters voted for it.
To bring about the changes that Alberta so desperately needs, the province cannot be allowed to fall into the hands of one party alone, no matter whether that's the PCs, Wildrose, NDP or whoever.
PR usually results in coalition governments, forcing a wide range of views into a single government. In Alberta's case, that would be a welcome and healthy change.
Of course, Albertans today aren't prepared for any of this. Many of them are still in la-la-land thinking that their way will prevail. Wrong. At the rate with which the province is headed into the abyss, quality of life will soon suffer - not unlike Colorado Springs, where narrow-minded and selfish individuals voted down vital tax increases, leaving the city in the dark at night and without transit services, creating a mugger's theme park. (In Alberta, it's already been suggested that people should rely on "slugging", a form of hitchhiking or "spontaneous carpooling", as an alternative to a proper and modern-day public transit system.)
It's easy to laugh at such problems from an Albertan's point of view, but the problem is slowly but surely taking on a life-or-death dimension. Alberta's premier Alison Redford recently attacked doctors for supposedly earning too much money (while politicians keep pocketing more and more tax dollars and building themselves fancy new offices). Alberta already has some of the longest wait times for key procedures (Ontario, by comparison, has some of the shortest), and the shortage of doctors and other medical staff is literally keeping people in pain for many years (and no doubt killing many in the process).
If Redford settles on doctors as "scapegoats" and ends up cutting their pay in an attempt to reduce her disastrous deficit, they will start leaving the province, aggravating the shortage and increasing wait times. Getting life-saving attention in a timely and professional manner, thus, becomes more and more like winning a lottery jackpot, rather than something that we all should be able to take for granted.
Sadly, Alberta will first have to hit rock bottom hard before people there see the error of their ways.
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