By Medicine Hat News Opinion on March 21, 2020.
If you’d like to place a bet on who is playing political games at a time when the focus should be on anything but, look for the one who makes a point of saying, “Now is not the time to play politics.”
With everyone’s attention squarely on the spread of COVID-19 and what it will mean for our health, safety and economy, the United Conservatives pushed through their budget on Tuesday night. In the days leading up, the government – with the help of its $194,000 Twitter twit – suggested several times that the NDP’s opposition to it was a game that would lead to disaster.
According to Matt Wolf, the ‘executive director of issues management’ for the premier of Alberta (no one actually knows what that means but don’t confuse it with the ‘issues manager’ for the premier of Alberta, because that’s a different six-figure gig altogether, and his name is Brian) took to Twitter to tell all 3,770 of his followers that, “A spending bill is needed to keep government services running. Money runs out in weeks. Additional spending measures will no doubt be brought forward. Vast sums will be spent on emergency pandemic response. Ms. Notley knows all this, but is choosing to play politics.”
As I’ve said in past columns, it doesn’t matter if he’s outright lying (which he was called out for numerous times by numerous people) or if he just doesn’t know what he’s talking about (a solid theory for anyone who has read his tweets before), all that matters is it’s not true.
We aren’t the U.S., and there’s no such thing as “money runs out in weeks,” because it doesn’t work that way. First, the UCP doesn’t need the NDP’s approval to pass a budget, since they have a majority government. But more importantly, it doesn’t actually need a budget at all in order to keep functioning.
Saskatchewan proved that by doing exactly what the UCP should have done (Ontario as well), as it not only decided against tabling a budget until the pandemic subsides, it also vowed to spend whatever is necessary to get its people through it. Alberta’s government has measures it can take to do the same but instead decided to push its austerity-riddled plan through and suggest the NDP was putting Albertans at risk by not co-operating.
Forget the fact that this budget needed oil at $58/barrel, and forget the fact that a global credit rating agency dropped Alberta to ‘AA low’ and said this budget isn’t valid, the simple fact that they chose to pass it at all is a sign of the type of government we have right now.
Using crisis to distract has been the UCP’s playbook since before they were even in government, with the only difference now being that COVID-19 is a very real situation, while “Alberta is broke” was a lie they needed to repeat daily in order to create belief.
We’re not even a week into this “new norm” that health officials tell us could last months and the UCP has already misled you over an invalid budget, sold Crown land after flat out promising they wouldn’t, tore up a recently-signed contract with radiologists almost immediately after receiving cheques from a 12% retroactive wage cut and launched an app with Telus that will funnel public dollars to private health-care providers at a rate nearly double what it gives Alberta’s doctors.
The plan of austerity and privatization continues, and not only will a global pandemic not stop it, COVID-19 is actually helping the government execute it. It might sound crazy, but think about it… if you need to sell people on policies that remove services or cost them money (basically every bill we’ve seen over the course of their first year) what better time to do so than a crisis?
Distraction has been the Alberta government’s biggest tool for getting away with decisions that hurt Albertans – health-care cuts, education cuts, childcare cuts, senior services cuts, AISH cuts, etc. – forever telling you to look to Ottawa or environmentalists or whomever else for the reason behind your struggles. This virus is the ultimate distraction, and the UCP government proved in the first week that it is more than willing to use it.
However, while COVID-19 certainly provides the perfect crisis to keep everyone preoccupied, it also happens to provide a perfect example of just how fragile this system really is. The longer you look at it, and the longer we are forced to abandon daily economic activity, the more obvious that will become.
We’ve spent decades letting a small few hoard money on the backs of everyone else, and we’ve let essentials like hospital bed numbers suffer in order to do it. We are terrifyingly underprepared for disaster, both in public services and through our economy, and barring major systemic change that recognizes how obsolete money really is, we will need piles of it to deal with this.
The only question that remains is who is going to pay it. Much of it will come from the federal government – as it should – but there is no way Ottawa will cover it all, and if Alberta doesn’t make the same promise that Saskatchewan has – spend whatever is necessary to get everyone back on track – the only place left to get it is you.
Everyone in Alberta is going to need a bailout over this virus – individuals and small businesses especially – and even if we get one from our reluctant provincial government, their plan is to follow that up with further erosion of the public services we already clearly lack. If a global pandemic won’t even alter their plans for austerity, the next time you turn to the government in crisis (see: oil prices, see: climate change), they’ll have erased the means to help.
Scott Schmidt is the layout editor at the Medicine Hat News. He can reached at email@example.com, or follow him on Twitter at @shmitzysays. All opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the News’ editorial board.
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