The Redford PC government delivered the 2014-2015
provincial budget on March 6. The budget continues the anti-social
austerity agenda but with a new twist. Instead of claiming no
alternative to austerity, as it did in last year's budget, the
government now says it has "turned the corner" and has delivered a
Straightforward fraud has become the "new normal"
in the budget speech and accompanying documents. For example, Finance
Minister Horner states there will be "more teachers, doctors, nurses
and other essential front-line supports for Albertans." Yet according
to the government's own projections, population
growth in Alberta next year will be 2.9 per cent and inflation 2.2
percent. This means that an increase of more than five per cent would
required for all population-based programs such as health and education
just to maintain their current levels. Given the budget projections,
investments in social programs and public services
will be well below this needed level of five per cent and will not even
restore funding taken from program spending in recent budgets.
at the Alberta Legislature on opening day to oppose attacks on pensions.
By robbing social programs and public services of
funding and forcibly reducing the wages, benefits and pensions of
workers who deliver them, the government boasts of "savings." In
reality, the so-called savings result in a loss of value to the
society, economy and the working class. This loss to the people is
compounded when public funds are diverted to pay the rich such as the
global energy monopolies.
Both the PCs and the official Wildrose opposition
by their own admission declare their role is not to look after the
well-being of Albertans and contribute to nation-building, but rather
to act as salespeople for the energy monopolies and keep Alberta open
for imperialist pillage and exploitation. Their anti-social
program is based on selling out the resources and allowing the
monopolies free rein to destroy the social and natural environment and
deprive the working class and First Nations of their rights.
The working class that creates the wealth by
transforming the bounty of Mother Nature, and the First Nations whose
ancestral lands comprise Alberta played no role in developing this or
any other government budget. Privileged private interests representing
the global monopolies dictate the terms of every Alberta
budget. The people have no say or control over the content of
government budgets, which brings to the fore a problem in need of
The working people are deprived of the economic
and political power they need to set the direction of the economy to
serve the public interest, provide solutions to the social and other
problems confronting society and affirm the rights of all. The lack of
empowerment in political affairs reflects a lack of empowerment
in the main sectors of the economy. Decisions on major economic matters
in the basic sectors are made behind the backs of the people. Those
same private interests that control the main sectors of the economy
control the levers of political power. For the people, their lack of
control over the basic economic sectors
is reflected in their lack of control over the
To turn the situation around requires conscious
organizing of committees for people's empowerment. Opposition to
government and monopoly dictate is crucial in defending the well-being
of the people, but without conscious direction to organize for the
people's empowerment, opposition by itself does not and
cannot lead to empowerment of the people. Empowerment can only result
from conscious organizing to activate the human factor in a direction
to gain economic and political control for the people. This economic
and political control is won by the people themselves, by mobilizing
their own thinking, independent
politics, determination and vast numbers to deprive the rich and their
monopolies of the power to deprive the people of their right to control
the political and economic affairs of the country. Join in the work for
people's empowerment! It can be done!
Redford Budget Continues Attack on
The Redford regime brought down its new provincial
budget on March 6, 2014. Denying that education is a right that must be
guaranteed, the government continues to starve post-secondary
education. The budget continues the chronic underfunding of last year's
cut of 7 per cent to the operating budgets of Alberta's
universities, colleges, and technical institutes (PSEs).
The 7 per cent reduction followed a Redford
promise of a 2 per cent increase, a promise made even though the PSEs
(which are run by Tory appointees) had repeatedly stated that a 4 per
cent increase was the minimum requirement just to keep pace with normal
growth. Had the PC appointees' demand of at least
a 4 per cent increase been given instead of the 7 per cent cut, the
operating grant in 2013 would have been $2.22 billion, compared to $2
billion in 2012.
The 2013 operating grant cuts led to a loss of
jobs, courses and programs. Huge reductions were also made to PSE
maintenance budgets, for example, a 67 per cent less in the case of
Mount Royal University and a 40 per cent less in the case of Northern
Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT), even though all
PSEs have millions of dollars worth of uncompleted maintenance projects.
In the just-released 2014 budget, the Alberta PSEs
receive $2.1 billion, a miniscule increase over even the reduced 2013
budget of $2 billion. Further, the 2014 amount is still $120 million
less than the minimum amount that the PSEs stated was required in 2013,
the previous year. Assuming the PSEs require
at least a 4 per cent increase every year according to the Tory
appointees, the minimum amount required for PSEs in 2014 over the
minimum amount required in 2013 (based on what was provided in 2012)
would have been $2.3 billion. One could say that in 2014 the funding
shortfall is about $200 million, which
is 36 per cent above the shortfall in the 2013 budget.
In November 2013, due to opposition to the cuts,
the government was forced to restore $50 million, meaning that the PSEs
still received almost $100 million less than in 2012. With this move to
try to improve its public image, the government showed the original
cuts were unnecessary and damaging.
While the government advocated "fiscal austerity"
for the PSE operating budgets, money for pet capital projects could
always be found. For example, on October 9, 2013, the government
magically "found" $142.5 million to hand over to the University of
Calgary for expansion and renovation of its Schulich School
of Engineering, which provides free training for employees of the
energy monopolies. When the March 2014 budget was released, the
government also announced $70 million for the new university-based
Peter Lougheed Leadership Institute (PLLI), which aims to train a new
generation of sellout, anti-working class
leaders in Lougheed's image. The chairman of the PLLI is John Ferguson,
current chairman of oilsands monopoly Suncor.
The Redford regime's escalating cuts to
post-secondary education are part of the anti-social offensive that the
provincial government has carried on for decades, particularly since
the 1990s. The aim of denying the right to education and starving the
education system of funds is to free up more money to hand over
to the energy monopolies. In fact, the Redford regime has repeatedly
expressed that the PSEs should expect less and less funding from the
government budget, especially from the "non-renewable resource revenue"
category, which means the profits of the monopolies that plunder
Alberta's resources. Instead, the government
insists PSEs should become "self-funded" via commercialization of
publicly-funded research, student fees, private donations and alliances
with business etc. In other words, the PSEs, like every other sector of
society, should become institutions serving privileged private
interests and do everything possible to ensure
that the Redford regime keeps paying the rich, rather than serving the
public good by providing quality education to build a bright future for
the people of Alberta.
Balancing the Budget -- In Whose Interests?
Since the publication of the provincial budget on
March 6, 2014, much ado has been made about the fact the budget is not
"balanced." The term a "balanced budget" has a positive sound and seems
to resonate with the reality of daily life. A budget is said to be
balanced when expenditures are equal to revenues.
In an individual household, revenues (e.g., wages, salaries, etc.) are
a certain amount and out of those revenues must come food, shelter,
power, heat, transportation, cultural and recreational activities and
so on. To have a balanced budget means that household expenditures are
equal to revenues. Of course, circumstances
may be such that earnings decrease, e.g., a plant closes and someone
loses their job, or that expenses may increase, e.g., utility costs.
Or, earnings may increase and costs may decrease. Such changes in
revenues and expenditures would require changes in household budgeting
in order to continue to have a balanced
The Redford regime also has revenues and
expenditures but on the scale of the entire province. It would seem
likely that the government has in mind much larger budgetary goals than
just making ends meet, but what are they. Analyzing what the Alberta
government really wants to accomplish by balancing the
budget, first requires finding out what the government's revenues and
expenditures are. How is the government obtaining its revenues and in
what is it investing its revenues?
Second, analyzing what the Alberta government is
really up to involves investigating what the government plans to do
with its revenues and expenditures in order to balance the budget, and
how those plans might affect the people of Alberta whom the government
claims to represent. The key question becomes
— would the Redford regime balance the budget in the interests of the
people of Alberta or in the interests of others?
The Redford regime claims that the amounts of its
revenues and expenditures are accurately stated in the provincial
budget. The March 6, 2014 budget shows total provincial revenues of
$44.4 billion. Few details are available on the specific revenue
sources and the specific expenditures. The top two revenue sources
in recent budgets have been non-renewable resources revenues and
personal income tax, equivalent to over 40 per cent of total revenues.
In the 2013 budget, personal income tax exceeded
revenue from non-renewable resource revenue for the first time, showing
clearly that the overall aim is to take more and more revenue from
individuals and less and less revenue from the energy monopolies.
The top five budget expenditures, which should
more accurately be called investments, are generally health and
wellness, education, advanced education and technology, human services,
If the Alberta budget were balanced, how would it
likely occur? Many recall that in the early 1990s, the same Progressive
Conservative Party led by Ralph Klein advocated a four-year plan to
eliminate the provincial deficit and balance the provincial budget. The
plan was implemented by forcing concessions from
workers and slashing much-needed social programs.
It is instructive to note that stealthy and open
cuts to Alberta social programs continue to be made today. One is
reminded of the saying "death by a thousand cuts." For example, Alberta
Health Services has been steadily cut, post-secondary education was
severely cut in the 2013 budget, promised schools have
not been built, fees for seniors in long-term care facilities have been
raised, and so on.
It is well known that the energy monopolies are
the real rulers of Alberta, so the main purpose of the provincial
budget is always to pay the rich, in particular the energy monopolies.
As the champion of the monopolies, the Redford regime pays them in many
different ways to facilitate their plunder of Alberta's
workers and resources:
- reductions of revenue through royalty relief,
credits, standard corporate income tax deductions, special tax
deductions, and accelerated capital cost allowances;
- direct payments through subsidies, exploration
development expenses, and other ongoing pay the rich schemes;
- and, "special programs" such as the $2 billion
Alberta Carbon Capture and Storage Fund, the to-date $2.9 billion
Alberta Drilling Incentive Program, and the $3 billion publicly funded
Alberta Oilsands Technology and Research Authority 2 (AOSTRA 2) to
improve oilsands technology on behalf of the monopolies.
Since the Redford regime rules on behalf of the
monopolies, any balancing of the Alberta budget will be done on the
backs of the people, not by demanding that the monopolies, who make
their profits by seizing the value created by Alberta workers, must
turn over more revenue to the government so that investments
in social programs and public services can be increased.
The question of balancing the Alberta budget boils
down to on whose behalf it will be balanced. Will it reflect the public
will and be on behalf of public right and the public interest, or will
it reflect monopoly will and be on behalf of monopoly right and
privileged private interests? Will it solve the real problems
facing the people and society or will it solve problems facing the
energy monopolies concerning their aim for private profits? Will it be
attacking workers' rights and slashing social programs or will it be
based on restricting the monopolies?
If the budget is to be balanced, the people want
to see it balanced by increasing the amount of revenue turned over to
the government by the monopolies, which grab all the value they can by
exploiting the work of Alberta workers and the resources that belong to
the people. The revenue taken from the monopolies
should first and foremost be used to increase investments in social
programs and public services, which are the sectors that produce the
human means of production, the source of all value in the socialized
economy, the infrastructure and meet the general needs of society. Such
a plan would achieve a balanced budget
based on restricting monopoly right and recognizing public right and
the public interests. It would be a balanced budget not in the
private interests of the monopolies, but in the public interests of the
people of Alberta.
School Construction: Denounce Redford's Plan to Build
Alberta by Paying the Rich
The shortage of schools in Alberta is a serious problem
province. Children face overcrowded schools, classes held in spaces
never designed for instruction such as front foyers and staffrooms, and
in many cases, extremely long bus rides.
The Alberta government projects the number of students
schools will grow from 596,000 students in 2012 to 709,000 in 2022.
Population has been growing at more than double the national average.
With this in mind, the promise to build more school infrastructure was
a key point in the PC election
campaign last election but this promise has gone unfulfilled.
At the time of the 2013 Budget, Premier Alison
Redford pledged to
build 50 new schools and renovate 70 existing schools. Absent from the
government's website claiming they are "Building Alberta" is any
timeline as to when these schools will actually be built. Recent news
suggests the answer is later rather
In 2008, the government announced that it would build
public-private partnerships (P3s). It opened 28 P3 schools by 2013,
with 12 more scheduled to open in the 2014/2015 school year. While
schools in the newer neighbourhoods of Edmonton and Calgary are
overcrowded and bursting at the seams,
none of the schools currently under construction are located in either
of Alberta's two largest cities.
P3 schools have been totally discredited as a
However, the government, citing reports by the "big four" multinational
accounting monopolies, states "cost savings" can be achieved through P3
arrangements. The "big four" firms are infamous for their creative
accounting in service of the owners
of capital. For example, an inflated "risk factor" is tacked on to the
estimated cost of building schools, and then a claim is launched that
the P3 arrangement will save the government money by externalizing the
Similarly, the government cites the existence of a
architectural plan for all the schools built in each phase, even though
this has nothing do to with P3s. Public institutions could build and
have built schools using a common architectural plan when deemed to be
in the public interests. In addition, P3s
extract huge profits through the maintenance of schools, which is much
lower for the first years after construction, compared to what will be
needed in 30 years when school ownership reverts to the public
Now it appears that even this P3 pay-the-rich scheme is
Information obtained by the Alberta Federation of Labour indicates that
the latest procurement process has come to a halt. The government put
out a Request for Qualifications to design, build, and maintain 19
schools as part of "Building Alberta's
School Construction Program" and received only one response.
Deloitte, one of the "big four accounting firms," was
investigate the reasons for this low response. The main issue,
according to Deloitte's capital-centred outlook, is that building
schools is simply not profitable enough. The big construction companies
have many other construction opportunities to
make big profits and expect the energy industry will continue to heat
up. Deloitte says the P3 model is "price competitive" and provides
"diminishing margins." Relative to other opportunities, schools do not
deliver "high value per location," making it less profitable for
monopolies to send their limited number of
project managers and equipment to those sites.
In addition, Deloitte's report reveals that
Alberta's P3 model, as
it stands, favours the largest construction monopolies. P3 school
construction is tendered in bundles of 10 to 20 sites. Smaller
companies claim they lack the capacity to participate in such large
undertakings. As well, many smaller companies feel
that large developers with previous experience in Alberta's P3 projects
have a better chance of landing a contract.
What will be the solution to this lack of interest on
the part of
the construction monopolies in building schools? How will the
government provide "incentives" for school construction? Eerily, the
Deloitte report states, "The Alberta P3 model restricts innovation: In
the case of Alberta's schools, P3 participants
noted there is a limited opportunity for proponents to add value
through innovation which could reduce costs and increase efficiency."
This talk "to add value through innovation" is
for handing over even more control of the education system to the
monopolies. In their eyes, governments serving the public interest are
nothing more than a restriction on their freedom to explore new ways to
make maximum profit. More control
over schools could mean handing over activities such as food service
and after-hours rental of school facilities to the P3 consortiums.
Why should Albertans be held hostage in this manner? It
acceptable that children will have a school in their neighbourhood if,
and only if, the construction monopolies find it profitable to build.
Just because big scores are to be made in the oil patch, should badly
needed schools be placed on the back burner?
To pose the issue as one of making school construction a
attractive business for private profit is objectionable and
unacceptable. Every dollar that the construction monopolies claim in
profit from schools is a dollar not directed towards educating the
youth. The refusal of the construction monopolies to build
schools unless their demands for more private profit are met really
shows to the people of Alberta that they should dispense with these
monopolies and deprive them of their stranglehold over the economy, an
iron grip that blocks the people from solving problems.
An issue of great concern to Albertans and people in
where private mining interests predominate, is the control that the
oil, gas, mining and construction monopolies exercise over the building
of schools. It cannot be permitted that these monopolies build whatever
they want while the people suffer
for lack of infrastructure. Instead of allowing the unrestricted
development of the oil sands or gas fields for example, a government
upholding public right and public interest and not monopoly right and
private interest would demand that infrastructure needed by workers and
their families be built as a precondition
for expansion of industry. The government would also demand that the
value workers produce from the oil sands, gas fields and mining
projects in exchange would realize the value from public infrastructure.