Thursday, January 31, 2013

Cutting Alberta's spending

The Alberta Government is asking Albertans to go online and share how they would cut the provincial budget. Essentially, they are asking the public for advice on what the government should cut to balance the budget.

I don't have a problem with the government reaching out to the public and asking for input, but let's not pretend that the government has not careful framed their requests in such a way so as to get the answers they want to hear.

Here's what I mean.

Before you can make any changes to the budget, you are asked to select a projection price for Western Canadian Select Oil which is one of the main standards the government bases its revenues on. The pages that follow take you to the different areas the government spends money on such as education, health, energy, environment, culture, human services, infrastructure, etc.

While the government distracts us with the question: "What should be cut?", we aren't focusing on asking other more important questions like: "Why do we continue to stake so much of what matters most on the price of a barrel of oil?" 

Just this month, Premier Alison Redford released a video where she informed Albertans that budget constraints would lead to some very difficult choices. It's telling that inside of her 8 minute video, she said the word "oil" 18 times. 

Should the Alberta Government's primary responsibility be selling oil?

Redford would have us focus on the difficult choices required in selling oil and cutting budgets, but I think we need to focus at least as much time and effort on the difficult choices required in diversifying Alberta's income. 

Alberta has dedicated a considerable amount of time, effort and resources on becoming the world's second largest exporter and fourth largest producer of natural gas while simultaneously helping Canada become the seventh largest producer of oil. 

But now, because the price of oil is lower than projected, the things that matter the most to Albertans like health and education are on the chopping block. 

Noam Chomsky puts it this way:
The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum - even encourage the more critical dissident views. That gives people the sense that there's free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.
Who benefits from encouraging Albertans to focus intensely on the incidental details of making budget cuts? While Albertans are busy bickering over how and what to cut, Albertans aren't asking whether we should be cutting at all or how we can create the necessary conditions so we don't need to cut.

Rather than narrowing our attention to just asking "What should we cut?", I'd like us to ask:

What if Alberta placed as much effort in diversifying its sources of revenue as it does selling oil and cutting budgets?

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