The performance of Premier Stelmach thusfar has rendered his sobriquet 'Fast Eddie' as pure nonsense. The Premier is anything but fast. But he is special. Special to the opposition parties in the Province and particularly to the opposition and government-in-waiting Liberals of Kevin Taft. And so, for the forseeable future unless anyone has any objection, I will refer to the Preem as Special Ed.
Special Ed did not have a good week. It was the week of the unveiling of his first Budget - to devastating reviews. His Government intends to spend a monstrous 33.1 billion big ones with total spending increasing by 7%. Unfortunately, most of the money is going to the operations of secondary schools and hospitals, together with infrastructure maintenace. Aside from a few meaningless tax cuts, there was little left over for anything else. As usual, there is not even a whiff of a long-term, short-term, or any kind of plan.
18 billion or so is for capital spending over the next 3 years - about a 5 billion increase from last year. More than 25% of that 5 billion - 1.3 billion - covers cost escalations of on-going capital projects as a result of the hot economy. Another billion of that 5 billion is being kept in the bank in case costs increase even more than anticipated. In fact, there is little difference between this additional capital cost caused by rising costs of projects, and paying interest on a Government debt. Either way, the Government is spending money for no material return. Because of current projects and their cost escalations, there is little room for new projects - like schools and hospitals, not to mention affordable housing.
This sad state of affairs is a direct fallout of the disasterous johnny-one-note policy of the Klein Government of which Special Ed was very much of a Big Stick. Its only policy was to kiss the backsides of their fat cat neocon friends and wannabes in or on the fringe of certain elements of big business. It was they together with Klein's brains trust who counselled that the quick and full payment of the Provincial debt should be its only priority - over a period of 13 years. And we're all paying for it now - including Special Ed, Ralph's former Big Stick.
Calgary specifically gets in in the ear. Again. There is 96 million dollars allocated to major school maintenance. 15 million or 16% of that sum is allocated to Calgary, a city that contains roughly 33% of the Province's population. The deferred maintenance backlog on Calgary schools is almost 500 million. So, that generous sum represents about 3% of the city's needs.
Particularly ominous for Special Ed were the rants of gutsy and popular Mayor Bronco. According to Bronco, the Budget was 'hocus-pocus, booga-booga economics.' Thats a pretty strong indictment coming from a guy who until the Budget was brought down was making nice to the Premier. Bronco expected that the municipalities would get an annual amount equal to the education portion of the property tax with no strings attached - 400 billion this year to about 1.4 billion by 2010-11. Ah, but Special Ed's Government attached strings - the money is ear-marked to a series of specific projects. It was not the deal Bronco thought he'd bargained for, and so Bronco is letting him know. Special Ed becomes Slippery Ed.
The Public and Catholic School Boards, the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association, the Mayor, Members of Calgary City Council, SAIT administration, U of C students, the Mustard Seed Ministry, the Alberta Chamber of Commerce, the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the Certified General Accountants of Alberta, are but a few of the voices of the underwhelmed heard in the wake of Special Ed's first Budget.
Yes, Special Ed has had a tough five months. Given the demands on his Government, and the fact that he has to play catch-up because of the past mindless pursuit of the debt to the exclusion of all else, things are not likely to get any better.