Panel Reports Pre-Determined Conclusions for Austerity
– Dougal MacDonald –
The Alberta government released the pre-determined conclusions of their Blue Ribbon Panel on September 2. The Kenney government mandated a hand-picked group of seven neo-liberals last May to do an inquiry into how Alberta spends its money but not how it acquires it. According to Premier Kenney, the panel was “an independent non-partisan group of experts.” Independent of what is a fair question. Upon looking at their biographies, one could fairly assume they are independent of Alberta’s working people and the difficult social conditions and problems they face and totally dependent on the financial oligarchy that dominates the province.
The panel was just another in a long line of phony inquiries initiated by various Alberta governments to justify pre-determined policies and practices and their refusal to lead any discussion let alone implementation of a new pro-social direction for the economy that solves its fundamental problems.
The established five-step process for such fraudulent inquiries is the following:
1. Decide in advance what conclusion the inquiry is supposed to reach.
2. Populate the panel with people who agree with the pre-determined conclusion.
3. Consult with Albertans but ignore everything they say that disagrees with #1.
4. Find various data that support the pre-determined conclusion.
5. Publicize the pre-determined conclusion.
6. Brag that the inquiry shows both the chosen experts and the public support the pre-determined conclusion.
Janice MacKinnon, former NDP Finance Minister from Saskatchewan, headed the Blue Ribbon Panel. During the Romanow NDP government’s austerity program in the 1990s, MacKinnon closed 52 rural hospitals, cut funding to heath care and education, boosted the provincial sales tax to 9 per cent and increased assorted user fees. Even though a former NDP cabinet minister, she meets the litmus test for a Kenney neo-liberal and has proved in practice her loyalty to the financial oligarchy.
Other panel members were Jack Mintz of University of Calgary, corporate Canada’s favorite economist; Mike Percy, former chief of staff to former Conservative Premier Jim Prentice; Dave Mowat, who led the previous government’s royalty inquiry, which reached the pre-determined conclusion that royalty rates in the oil and gas industry should stay as they are; Kim Henderson from BC’s Liberal Christy Clark government well known for its attacks on social programs and working people; Bev Dahlby of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank; and Jay Ramotar, a former deputy-minister in Alberta’s Conservative government.
The report of the panel contains 26 recommendations, none of which is a surprise. The recommendations for an austerity agenda can be summed up as follows: cut public funding for social programs especially health care and education; privatize all aspects of health care and commercialize post-secondary education to make them a source of enterprise profit for the rich oligarchy; cut workers’ wages, benefits and pensions; raise tuition fees; close public post-secondary institutions; cut public funding for infrastructure, especially public services and privatize what is not already in the direct private hands of the oligarchs; privatize public land; cut taxes for the wealthy; and, attack workers’ rights starting with depriving public sector workers of their right to negotiate and collectively have a say in determining their wages, benefits and working conditions.
Public opinion strongly holds that the panel was a hoax and that the UCP government had already decided on implementing the austerity measures outlined in the recommendations. The actual report of the panel was a rubber stamp. In fact, panel members MacKinnon and Mintz had already published a similar paper in October 2017, which recommends many of the same policies. No matter. The people of Alberta will not accept these attacks and will fight them, just as they have always done in the past and will continue to do in the future.
Dougal MacDonald is the MLPC Candidate for Edmonton Strathcona.