Alberta’s fiscal prophets hit snag

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Alberta’s self-proclaimed fiscal prophets seem to have hit a rather embarrassing speed bump on their pursuit to obtain power.

After the former Wildrose Party and the Alberta PCs recently merged to become the United Conservative Party, the newly formed caucus found itself facing a significant $337,000 budget shortfall.

Options under consideration to remedy the situation include staff layoffs as well as asking MLAs to dip into their members’ services allowances, the Edmonton Journal reported last week.

Each caucus has an annual budget for staff and operations that cannot run into deficit, with the funding largely coming from taxpayers, administered through the legislative assembly office.

Before the merger, estimates put this year’s allowance at $2.8 million for Wildrose and $1.1 million for the PCs. The new combined caucus is now expected to get approximately $1.9 million for the rest of the fiscal year.

The budget black hole materialized as a result of a roughly $322,000 deficit brought to the UCP table by the Wildrose, although the PCs also came in with some red ink. The merge also resulted in a duplication of staffers, which was compounded by the loss of legislature funding.

Interestingly enough, the conservatives, known for incessantly bemoaning big bad bloated government, actually have by far the most staffers of any caucus — 38 for their 28 MLAs, as compared with the NDP’s 24 staffers for 55 MLAs. The Alberta Party has three and the Liberals four. So the next time the UCP calls for government cutbacks, perhaps the new party should look internally first and lead by example.

While the conservative caucus has reportedly been taking action to rectify its shortfall, such fiscal woes certainly do not go a long way towards inspiring much confidence in those who would have the rest of us believe they are the only ones capable of efficiently and effectively running Alberta’s economy towards booming prosperity.

But sometimes, opportunities ironically present themselves as problems.

As UCP leadership hopefuls Brian Jean, Jason Kenney, Doug Schweitzer and Jeff Callaway attempt to sway conservative voters in their favour, perhaps one will actually propose a plan that could potentially restore the party on the road to greener pastures.

After all, Schweitzer was not wrong when he recently told the CBC the new party will not be a credible voice for fiscal management if it cannot keep its caucus out of the projected $337,000 deficit this year.

So depending on their response and proposed solutions, this latest development could actually be a unique chance for the candidates to prove themselves not only to their base, but also perhaps to those who are still sitting on the fence waiting for a message that resonates.

The party’s membership will decide which candidate makes the best case when polls open on Oct. 28. The leadership hopefuls have until then to convince their fledgling party’s membership they are the most suited to take the helm.

May the best man win.

— Ducatel is the editor of the Sundre Round Up, a Great West newspaper

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Simon Ducatel is the editor of the Sundre Round Up and a longtime columnist for other publications of Mountain View Publishing.