Now that Teck has withdrawn its application for an oilsands mine in northern Alberta, Jason Kenney will be spitting fire and brimestone, blaming Ottawa for what he sees as a failure. He will repeat his song of grievance, claiming that Ottawa has treated Alberta unfairly since time immemorial. But Kenney is a hyocrite. If you're interested in unfair treatment, Mitchell Anderson writes, look at the gulf between Alberta's rural communities and its cities:
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s most recent political career is defined by battling perceived inequities with Ottawa. The province’s municipalities seem to feel the same way about their lopsided relationship with the legislature.
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi recently pointed out the irony in Kenney’s public fight with Ottawa over transfer payments.
“The real fiscal imbalance in this country is not between provinces and regions, it’s between cities and everyone else. Taxpayers in the cities pay the freight… If you want to talk about fair deals, I’m happy to have that conversation.”
Kenney's base is in rural Alberta. And it's rural Albertans who Kenney favours:
A study from 2014 showed the Alberta government took in $2.7 billion more from the City of Calgary than it returned in provincial funding — an imbalance that ballooned from $883 million in 1991.
While rural Albertan municipalities are being told by the premier to eat $173 million in unpaid property taxes from oil and gas companies, the province’s largest cities have their own fiscal indignities to deal with.
Kenney’s government slashed funding to the City of Calgary by $73 million in its last budget, and imposed a $13-million cut in funding for Calgary police — the equivalent of 130 full-time positions, the chief of police said.
“From a government that prides itself on law and order, the fact that the biggest whack by far that they took to the city’s budget was to the police, is pretty surprising to me,” fumed Nenshi. Calgary city council was forced to cut $60 million in program spending, with the remaining $13 million coming out of capital reserves.
Running an effective government is hard when senior partners exercise arbitrary authority over budgets and policy.
And it's Calgary -- the beating heart of the oil industry -- that is being squeezed:
Calgary has been trying to expand public transit capacity and has an agreement with the province to go ahead with the Green Line LRT project, which the city says would create 20,000 jobs and move up to 170,000 people a day. Instead of providing stable predictable funding, the Kenney government last fall passed Bill 20 that allows the province to cancel committed infrastructure funding to local governments without cause and only 90 days’ notice.
Provincial funding cuts also forced the Calgary Board of Education to axe a popular transit pass program that helped low-income families cover the cost of getting children to school.
Alberta’s largest city already has a 10-year funding gap for infrastructure spending of $5.7 billion. Rather than expanding services for a growing population, Calgary councillors report that they can only maintain legally required municipal assets and essential services. Other urgent priorities languish on the drawing board, with potentially disastrous results.
Like the Mighty Moron south of the border, Kenney's strength is in the open spaces, not in the population centres. Just who is treating whom unfairly?
Image: The Hill