Toronto – March 13, 2017 – With the collapse of resource revenues, the Prairie Provinces have had to deal with growing budget deficits. Two provinces in the region are determined to address this issue with austerity measures, while another province has decided to take a different approach.
In Manitoba, the Conservative government of Premier Brain Pallister started their term in office by attacking workers and making it more difficult to join a union. Now the party is cutting frontline services in health care and education, making it more expensive to go to university, exploring the privatization of public services, and freezing wages in order to tackle the deficit.
In Saskatchewan, Premier Brad Wall of the Saskatchewan Party has also chosen the austerity route for dealing with revenue shortfalls. Wall refused to save any of the revenue that the government accumulated during the resource boom, instead choosing to dole that money out in the form of expensive corporate tax cuts. But with the collapse of resource revenues, the government is now trying to punish average Saskatchewanians by imposing wage cuts, gutting public services, and privatizing major crown corporations like the beloved Sasktel.
Alberta, meanwhile, is facing the greatest financial hardship of all three provinces, due to the collapse in resource revenues and the unexpected and tragic Fort McMurray wildfires. And yet, despite this unfortunate reality, the government is taking a completely different approach to addressing declining tax revenues.
Alberta NDP Premier Rachel Notley has passed legislation to bring the province’s minimum wage to $15 an hour. The government has also introduced a carbon tax and is investing the revenues collected from that tax in sustainable energy projects – like solar energy farms – as part of the most aggressive climate change plan in North America. Notably, the government has chosen not to attack public service workers and their unions in its bid to improve the province’s finances. Instead, the Alberta NDP has invested in health care and education by raising corporate and income taxes on the wealthiest Albertans, creating good jobs in the process.
Why are these provinces taking such dramatically different approaches to the same problem? Could it be that Saskatchewan and Manitoba are implementing austerity measures because they have right-wing, corporate-backed, Conservative governments, while Alberta is investing in jobs, communities, and average citizens because the NDP actually represents workers’ interests? Perhaps these are rhetorical questions.