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Fanning the hysteria


What’s more important: financing health care or balancing the provincial budget? And why can’t we do both?

Well, we can, but you wouldn’t know it from all the speculation out there on what will be forthcoming when the UCP government tables its first provincial budget on Oct. 24.

There is understandably a lot of fear circulating at the moment as we lead up to the late fall budget. There are people worried about crippling cuts to mental health and addiction supports, restricted health care options and a lack of financial support for school divisions.

The Official Opposition is fanning the hysteria. Those fears were at the forefront for the 50-some St. Albertans who attended an NDP Opposition town hall meeting Wednesday night. The town halls are going to help create the NDP’s shadow provincial budget, which will be released soon after the provincial budget comes out, according to Opposition Leader Rachel Notley,.

These sorts of meetings draw a certain crowd, which generally is not comprised of UCP supporters. Health care, mental health supports and education funding were top of mind for those residents. And understandably so, given that the people who attended shared personal stories of how health care reductions could impact them, or how their families have been scarred by addiction.

While such personal stories and concerns ought to be heard, a provincial budget for 4.3 million Albertans needs to go beyond that. However, Premier Jason Kenney’s attempts in recent weeks to quell some of those fears appear to have fallen on deaf ears.

At a meeting of the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association last week, he hinted to municipal leaders that they should expect a reduction in capital funding – no surprise there. But addressing the bogeyman of “Klein-era cuts,” he pledged the budget would not include cuts anywhere near the level seen in 1993, when the government of the day slashed operating grants by a quarter.

He’s also promised not to cut education and health care budgets, instead angling to find efficiencies in those departments and considering closing vacant job positions – strategies built upon sound fiscal judgment.

But those promises don’t play as well as speculation does. Very likely, when the provincial budget is released, much of the fear currently filling the province will dissipate – although that’s not to say the fiscal belt-tightening will be painless across the board.

When the budget does come out, there will no doubt be plenty to criticize, and a good opposition party will be able to use that to its advantage, instead of trying to fight an enemy it hasn’t yet seen. A good shadow budget is built on more than phantom fears and needs to present alternate solutions. But with the NDP’s fiscal record, we shouldn’t expect finances to take a front seat.