Amongst all the facts, figures and recommendations the recently released MacKinnon report came up with regarding Alberta’s financial future there was one simple analogy that summed up the dreadful bloat that’s endemic within our public services.
It’s not often you get straightforward language in these type of reports. Usually everything is carefully covered in that strange, syrupy language bureaucrats adore: suitably smudging the plain truth. Not this time. Nope, we got the message right between our wide-open eyes and ears.
So, buried deep among the many recommendations, was this little gem: “If a family was paying more than their neighbours for having their car serviced and getting worse results it would not simply find more money to pay the higher costs. Instead, it would find out what others were doing to get better results at a lower cost.’’
Now there, in wording any Albertan can understand, is the result of the bill of goods that we’ve been sold by governments, unions and public sector bosses for decades. We’re paying more than anyone else and yet too often getting worse results.
So good on Janice MacKinnon and her panel, who were asked to investigate how deep in hock Alberta actually is and then recommend ways of dragging our carcass out of this dreadful borrowing hole. In response they made it crystal clear just what an overpriced pig’s ear of service-per-dollar-spent we’ve accepted for far too long.
The dissecting of how badly we’re being served is even more disheartening than the amount of money paid out in big-ticket areas like health and education.
This arose because whenever a problem was pointed out the resulting cry would be ‘give us more money to fix it.’ Yet, after decades of this shameless self-serving malarkey, the results remain poor.
A furious counterattack is now underway by all those who fear this jig is finally up. They proclaim the Kenney government intends to cut the atrocious $6-billion annual deficit on the backs of the sick and the young. Oh really? Well, let’s see how the young and the sickly are doing right now, given we spend more than any other province on health care.
So let’s agree, if you haven’t your health then what have you got? Therefore we’ll confine ourselves to that huge ministry – it consumes 42 per cent of Alberta’s operating budget, after all.
This past financial year we spent $5,077 on health care per Albertan, compared to B.C.’s $4,267, Ontario’s $4,080 and Quebec’s $4,370 – the other richest and most populated provinces in Canada.
So, given what we shell out, surely we must be getting the best health care in the land. Not a chance. In fact, in several vital categories, we’re bottom of the heap.
The cruellest cut comes from infant mortality rates. In Alberta the rate sits at 4.9 deaths for every 1,000 residents, in B.C. it's 3.1, Ontario 4.7 and Quebec 4. These are babies dying and we’re last of the rich-province pack.
Oh, and in regards to those infant mortality rates? Alberta also lags behind Cuba, Belarus, Greece, Iceland, Slovenia, Guam, Israel – the list goes on. I don’t know what these various countries spend per capita on health care but I’ll wager it pales in comparison with Alberta.
But maybe we make up for this later in life. Sadly no – the average expected lifespan of an Albertan today is less than someone born in B.C., Ontario or Quebec.
This is scandalous. For years the only answer to such poor performance was "give us more dough.” Well, that can’t wash any more. It’s time for a reckoning.
Chris Nelson is a long-time journalist. His columns on Alberta politics run monthly in the St. Albert Gazette.