EDMONTON - The Alberta government has begun consultations for the next provincial budget, set to be released in February 2021. A key part of the consultation is a survey which asks Albertans to respond to several questions about budget priorities. However, the background information given for the survey and the consultations as a whole contains information that is either given without context or out of context in order to direct the thinking of respondents to the answers the government wants to receive.
“The facts the government is providing to Albertans on the budget lack context and, so, may easily mislead the public,” said Dr. Mel McMillan, professor emeritus of economics at the University of Alberta. “The size of the deficit is given no context related to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has resulted in higher-than-normal spending and lower-than-normal revenue. The $24.2 deficit expected this year is about three times the structural deficit which the province must address. The government’s presentation of the facts seems to be designed to make Albertans more alarmed about the deficit than they should be.”
The government was also very selective about its spending statistics from other provinces and gave them without context to make it look like Alberta’s spending is unreasonably high.
“Alberta does not spend much differently than the average province,” said McMillan. “In 2019-20, Alberta’s per person program spending was only four per cent above the ten province average. In fact, the major problem with Alberta’s finances is that non-renewable resource revenue has significantly declined and the prospects of any major recovery are dim. The clear solution is to change our tax system to replace that non-renewable resource revenue.”
The government’s own numbers show that the tax system of any other province in the country would raise Alberta an additional $14.4 to $25.5 billion per year in revenue, yet their budget consultation materials don’t mention that gap.
“Albertans deserve to know the truth about our tax system - that it raises far less revenue than any other tax system in the country would if applied to our province,” said Joel French, Executive Director of Public Interest Alberta. “Instead, the government is cherry-picking statistics to continue justifying its massive cuts to public services.”