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Commentary: Throwing ever more cash at ever more issues

This open chequebook campaigning is yet again built upon the massive revenues currently being generated from the latest oil boom
MVT Chris-Nelson-mug
Chris Nelson is a syndicated columnist.

There was once a bluntly worded bumper sticker that became quite famous across Alberta in the early 1980s, as it promised not to waste the proceeds from another oil boom, if such a glorious event ever should happen again in our province.

Well, perhaps if anyone does come across some of those ageing stickers – maybe tucked away at the back of a drawer - they could send them off to Danielle Smith and Rachel Notley.

Because this current election campaign is turning into the equivalent of a child’s advent calendar, where each passing day leading up to the big event a new box is opened. But instead of a little chocolate goodie, we’re treated to yet another promise involving massive future spending.

Despite the vitriol between the two political combatants there’s actually not much to choose between them when it comes to making grandiose promises to throw ever more cash at ever more issues. 

Of course, this open chequebook campaigning is yet again built upon the massive revenues currently being generated from the latest oil boom, without the slightest thought or consideration of the inevitable crash that will occur when those energy prices collapse. 

Perhaps neither Smith nor Notley think they will. Maybe they believe oil prices will never again fall off a cliff and that the land of milk, honey and $100-bucks a barrel crude will be a permanent feature here in Wild Rose territory. If so it’s about time someone gave them a wake up call because eventually bust follows boom as surely as night follows day here in Alberta.

As fair warning, today the barrel price of WTI is currently almost 10 per cent below where the government estimated it would average during this current financial year that started April 1. 

Meanwhile, the Trudeau government back in Ottawa is always capable of some gross stupidity that would cripple Alberta’s energy industry regardless of global oil markets.

But it would be churlish to simply blame the politicians. After all, they are simply giving us what we demand – billions more spent on health and education, handouts for major capital projects, subsidies on gasoline for our vehicles and electricity for our homes, with no tax hikes to cover the cost. Even then it’s never enough. 

It wasn’t supposed to be like this, of course. We were going to save diligently for a rainy day by putting a big chunk of energy royalties into a fund that would only be touched when the oil riches were gone for good. Yes, the Heritage Savings Trust Fund would prove to be our ace in the financial hole.

That was more than 45 years ago. So we must have saved a bundle by now. After all, Norway, with a population that’s not much larger than Alberta’s, followed our lead and today has amassed 1.4 trillion US dollars in its sovereign wealth fund.

So how much is in our provincial piggy bank? It must be bulging at the seams. Well, not exactly. Less than $20-billion, and those are Canuck bucks, is the sum total. In case you’re wondering, that’s enough to cover less than four months of current government spending.

You see, there was always some juicy new program to fund, some popular giveaway to announce, some vote-catching scheme to launch, so that putting a good chuck of current energy royalties into a fund for the future lost its appeal pretty darn quickly.

So, if you discover one of those old bumper stickers simply let it rest in peace. That was a different time, a different attitude. 

Come on, Danielle and Rachel: we want more.

Chris Nelson is a syndicated columnist.