Progress Alberta Report #176

From: Jim Storrie jim@progressalberta.ca
Sent: July 22, 2019 7:07 AM

Progress Report #176
Your weekly update on Alberta politics for July 22, 2019

Miserable and unnecessary austerity coming for Calgary

Calgary continues its miserable–and unnecessary–march towards austerity as council votes, this Tuesday, on a sweeping package of cuts to public services.

Miserable because of what’s on the chopping block: $382,000 from the affordable housing budget; $700,000 from Calgary 911; $7.6 million from the fire department; $6.8 million from public transit; and more.

And unnecessary because of what the cuts are for: they’re meant to go towards a payout of over $130 million to private interests who have complained that Calgary’s municipal taxes are too high.

If you don’t look too closely, municipal budgets in Alberta do seem constrained. Cities are reliant on property taxes and a few user fees for most of their budgets, and they aren’t allowed to run deficits, so any big adjustments to the balance sheet (like coming up with $130 million in tax breaks all of a sudden) appear to require cuts, property tax hikes, or some combination of both. But this scarcity is mostly an illusion. If you look at the financial flows for Calgary in 2018, for example, you’ll see that nearly $800 million of the city’s revenues were remitted to the province.

The provincial government could resolve Calgary’s temporary budget woes with the snap of a finger, but given the ideological leanings of our current one, action by the province to prevent austerity seems pretty unlikely. In fact according to the Star Calgary, the UCP municipal affairs minister isn’t even meeting with non-conservative Calgary city councillors–icing them out in favor of private meetings with the city councillors he deems acceptably “pro-business” and “pro-growth.”

But even if the province isn’t going to help, Calgary’s austerity is still clearly very optional, as the city is closing in on a $600 million deal on a new arena for Murray Edwards and the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation. A city that says it can’t afford to pay for affordable housing, public transit, emergency services or firefighting can still come up with $130 million for tax breaks to businesses and a $600 million giveaway to a billionaire–oh, Calgary.

Progress Report podcast now online

Duncan’s very excited that we’ve started a project we’d been talking about for a long time–it’s the new Progress Report podcast and you can check it out online here. The first episode features Edmonton’s Dr. Shama Rangwala for a recap of the UCP spring session in the Legislature. Make sure to subscribe by RSS, on itunes, or on Spotify, so you don’t miss our next episode on conservative SLAPP lawsuits featuring Bashir Mohamed and Avnish Nanda.

Sundries

You can tell the federal election is nearly here because the billboards are starting to go up, and as usual, the conservative ones are lousy. Press Progress has an interesting article up about West Watch, a conservative PAC out of Saskatchewan; West Watch is targeting some of the few non-con MPs out here in Alberta too.

Alberta’s Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, Jason Luan, went on an absolutely bonkers rant online last week about safe consumption sites–Luan alleged on Twitter that the harm reduction services for needle drug users are being pushed by a conspiracy by “big pharma.” It’s very disturbing to hear Luan repeating the mistaken idea that safe consumption sites serve to enable addictions. Petra Schulz was on the Ryan Jespersen show last week to speak about this and I recommend checking it out. Luan and the UCP have frozen all funding for new safe consumption sites in Alberta.

The CEOs of 9 Alberta gas companies wrote to Kenney urging that he let them form a price-fixing cartel to drive up the price of natural gas. The Alberta natural gas industry has been barely limping along after massive expansion by the US shale gas industry drove the price of natural gas down to historic lows; the Alberta government is desperate to keep these companies afloat because if they start going bankrupt, the province will start getting orphaned wells dumped on them, as happened for example back in May when Trident Exploration unexpectedly stopped operating. The punch line? Cutting production to drive up prices will cost these companies money, so they want the provincial government to pay them to do it.

That’s all for now. Please share our newsletter with any friends or family who you think would like political news and commentary from a progressive point of view. If someone forwarded this newsletter to you, you can sign up for it here. Donations to support our ongoing work are always welcome and if you’re interested in volunteering with us, just reply to this email.

Jim Storrie
http://www.progressalberta.ca/