During the recent federal election campaign, the West-dominated Conservative Party rallied support by declaring the Liberals had overstayed their welcome.
Fourteen years was too long, went the mantra. Time to clean house.
If a government sticks around too long, things get sloppy. Politicians and their handpicked senior mandarins get fat and sassy.
Mistakes are made, some on purpose.
As the adscam scandal showed, a few clever, ethically challenged folk on the inside can make off like bandits.
So you shake the tree, elect a new government, toss out the rascals and start anew.
It makes sense.
Except in Conservative Alberta.
The Tories have ruled that province, virtually unopposed, for 45 years.
Yeah, 45 years.
Things roll along so easily in the place, greased by the oil reserves that successive Conservative majorities have exploited with abandon.
The wealth of the province — inherited through a quirk of geography — is enormous. This year’s government surplus is expected to top $9 billion.
And the whole schmozzle is managed with scarcely any objective oversight.
You gotta believe there are elephant-sized skeletons buried in the books down there.
Corruption? With that much money floating around, you’ve got to believe it.
Gross patronage? Absolutely.
Scandal? Of course, c’mon, nobody’s that naïve.
Has the Opposition Liberal Party managed to lift the floorboards on the province’s finances? Nope.
Has the local media? Nope.
Recently, Premier Ralph Klein faced what, in Alberta, is severe criticism.
People don’t think he’s spending the money well.
In fact, a few people have dared to ask whether Alberta’s duly elected monarch has a post-debt vision for the province.
Klein responded in two ways.
First, he softened dissent by sending out a $400 cheque to every Albertan.
The criticism continued.
So this week, in a 25-minute address to the province, he vowed to sink another $1 billion into Alberta’s Heritage Trust Savings Fund, which, in this era of record high oil prices, currently sits at $12.6 billion.
That’s a lot of cash. Among the nation’s political elite, the fund is envied.
It bears noting that, in 1987, it sat at $12.7 billion.
Yup, today it has $100 million less than it did 18 years ago.
Shouldn’t it have been accruing investment income throughout that time? What happened? Did Klein invest the whole kit and caboodle into Enron?
But who’s asking it?
Heck, after several years of record oil prices and annual surpluses exceeding $6 billion, shouldn’t there be more in the bank?
Klein sent out $1.4 billion in refund cheques to citizens, and he’s tossing another $1 billion into the heritage fund kitty, but that doesn’t come close to eating up the provincial surpluses.
So where’s the money going?
Klein has raided the fund, and almost depleted it, before the rising value of oil allowed him to, slowly, top it up.
Nevertheless, nobody has thoroughly investigated the provincial finances.
After 45 years of one-party rule, the wealthiest province in the country has become fat, sassy and sloppy.
If there was ever a jurisdiction that needed an extensive housecleaning, Alberta is it.
Residents haven’t figured that out yet.
They are poorer for it. (RM)