Welcome to the second, less frequently-posted decade of RevMod.

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Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Survey says....

Health, education, infrastructure. That's how Albertans want their money spent, now that the debt is paid. The province spent half a million dollars generating the answers almost anyone could have predicted months ago. It's a good PR scam - ask people what they want, knowing full well the answers you're going to get are the ones you were prepared to act on anyway. Then call an election, running on doing only what you were told to do. It makes the Tories relatively bulletproof from the emerging Alberta Alliance, who are talking tax cuts and more democracy. Sorry, but more democracy says more social spending. Nice try.

This isn't what I would call "leadership". Let me make a little proposal of my own, instead, for at least a few of these dollars. It's not an idea that would ever emerge from a survey, but it would serve the government well in a few different ways.

According to Ron Suskind's book The Price of Loyalty, Paul O'Neil, Dubya's first Secretary of the Treasury, lobbied toward the end of his tenure for a clean water project in Africa. He waanted to start with a single test country, Uganda, where the entire population could be provided with wells for US$25M. Long story short, the Bushites were too busy planning for their Iraqi adventure to mess around with a project like this, and it never got done.

Alberta could get a lot out of making this investment.

First and foremost, we could be doing something for Africa, something the developed world should be doing anyway, without any further incentive.

When the Premier heads to the United States to complain, again, about the border closed to Alberta beef, he gets to speak with a tone of moral superiority that he was probably going to use anyway, but this way, it's justified. "We're picking up your responsibilities, making the world a better place, and you still won't buy a roast?"

If the federal government starts thinking that Alberta has more money than it has really "earned", well, we're acknowledging that. But instead of contributing beyond our responsibilities to transfers, we're giving back to people who wouldn't see any assistance at all without Alberta's help. Is the federal government willing to plunder from Africa to pay Manitoba?

Finally, it gives Klein a stick against the feds, and you know how he likes those. Forget firewall-based ideas, which stink of greed and selfishness. And forget about the standard provincial-federal (and increasingly, municipal) power struggles, which tend to have each level of government fight for more power and less financial responsibility. Let's intrude on a federal responsibility, and have them just try to say no to such an egalitarian effort.

No survey is going to produce this idea. My party certainly isn't going to run on a policy like this, so I'm not going to be advocating for it at forums. But I might just whisper it in the ear of the Tory candidate at those forums. I hope that some leadership, and some sense of responsibility to people who have not had the advantages Alberta has had, will exist in the new government caucus.

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