Albertans are at it again. After changing leaders four times in the past five years, the Progressive Conservatives have dropped the election writ a year early and forced Albertans to endure another $28 million round of signs, debates and ballot boxes. While the politicians fight it out on TV, average Albertans are faced with a difficult decision of who to support this election. That decision, which all Albertans eligible to vote must make on May 5, will have long-lasting effects on the province’s future.
What are the stakes in this election? Judging by the state of the province’s economy, it could be all of Alberta – and the future livelihood of all Albertans. With oil prices and the Canadian dollar looking more depressed than ever, Alberta’s financial stability is at risk. A projected $5 billion deficit this year, which a number of fee and tax increases failed to dent, has provided some political ammunition on both sides. The Tories are calling for cuts to services to “tighten the belt” whilst conveniently ignoring our 10 per cent corporate tax rate – still the lowest in Canada, while critics are saying the crisis is indicative of mismanagement by the PC party for the greater part of 40 years (although ignoring what many believe were the “golden years” of Ralph Klein).
We shouldn’t care about the talking points, though, because it’s the hits to our bank accounts and the services the government is supposed to provide to us that we, as average Albertans, should focus on.
Now, those things that we should focus on, they aren’t doing very well. The new budget by the “Prentice Team” is taking a bigger bite out of our wallets, while simultaneously cutting funding to services we rely on most; health care and education. Sure, as students we generally won’t face the brunt of these changes – we don’t make enough to be subject to the new “progressive” income tax structure, or to pay the new health care premiums (the pay more to get less system). However, gas taxes, cigarette taxes and liquor taxes all affect users and all new fees and taxes will affect us in the long run.
Cuts to education and health care, however, will affect us immediately. Already emergency room wait times are detestable (I’ve personally waited over six hours in a waiting room a couple of times) and access to family doctors is suffering, even in cities like Edmonton and Calgary. With further cuts, inevitable to frontline positions, service will continue to decline and the blame almost certainly laid at the feet of the workers left to shoulder the burden. Cuts to education are also leaving post-secondary students high and dry, as the Prentice Team is calling for post-secondary institutions to stop their reliance on provincial funding. Let’s repeat that – the provincial government is asking public institutions to stop relying on public funding. With rumours still not settled on the fate of the tuition cap even with promises of “no imminent changes” by the minister of Innovation and Advanced Education, post-secondary students face a real possibility of tuition increases and service losses as institutions seek to stretch their budgets.
This all circles back to the provincial election. This is the last issue of the Nugget this academic year, so it’s my last chance to urge every single NAIT student to get out and vote this election! I don’t care who you vote for but exercise your democratic right to have your voice heard. If you’re unhappy with the re-introduced health premiums or the stagnating corporate tax rate, or if you’re happy with how your MLA represents you in the legislature – make sure you are registered to vote, and go to your polling station on May 5. Information on registering to vote is available on the Elections Alberta website at www. elections.ab.ca.