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Editorial - If burdens are for sharing, so is prosperity

March 10, 2015 Jonathan Teghtmeyer, ATA News Editor-in-Chief

When I look at the kindergarten program of studies, there are many great outcomes that amount to important lessons for life. One of the most important lessons for socializing five-year-olds is about sharing.

The concept is woven throughout many of the learning areas in the curriculum. The citizenship and identity section prescribes an outcome in which the child “demonstrates a willingness to share space and resources.” The personal and social responsibility program says the child “demonstrates sharing behaviour.”

Kindergarten teachers know about sharing.

I suspect that they, like me, turn their head sideways and scrunch up their forehead in bewilderment a little as they hear the premier talk about sharing.

I’ve found that, in many circumstances and on a wide variety of issues, the premier is noncommittal and somewhat vague about his beliefs and intentions. This is not uncommon for skilled politicians, because it allows them flexibility. Despite this general tendency, however, he is absolutely clear about his stance on a couple of things.

Jim Prentice never misses an opportunity to reiterate his two favourite talking points: Alberta’s public sector employees are the highest paid in Canada, and he expects public employees to share the burden of an anticipated $7 billion revenue hole for next fiscal year.

Despite his general vagueness, he is being absolutely clear that he believes that public sector salaries are the root of the government’s fiscal problem, and he intends to deal with it.

Most recently, he announced that the government will attempt to “modernize” and centralize bargaining with all public sector employee groups, including teachers. Through this process, he intends to assert control of the bargaining processes by the premier’s office, prioritize achieving the fiscal objectives of government and “get the cost of public services in our province down to something that reflects national averages.”

Here is where I really start to doubt the premier’s understanding of sharing.

Corporate profits in Alberta (as a share of GDP) are the highest in Canada; corporate taxes are the lowest. Income inequality and private sector income in Alberta are the highest in Canada; tax on the highest income earners is by far the lowest. Oil ­companies enjoy great profits from our oilsands; our royalty rates are some of the lowest in the world.

The premier has ruled out increases to corporate taxes, changes to the flat tax on income, changes to the royalty regime and the introduction of a sales tax. Therefore, while it is acceptable for us to be exceptional in the areas of corporate profits, personal private wealth and petroleum profiteering, it is seemingly unacceptable for us to be anything but average in terms of public employee compensation.

The government’s own data shows that a private sector worker earns 26 per cent more in Alberta than a comparable Canadian, while a public sector worker in Alberta makes just eight per cent more. Despite the fact that public workers are participating in the same labour market, the premier repeatedly says that public sector pay is unsustainable. Those in the private sector and particularly those engaged in the energy sector are allowed and encouraged to benefit from the wealth it creates, but public sector workers are not.

Pay, of course, is not the only issue. Cuts to public services are going to disproportionately affect our society’s neediest and most vulnerable.

This is unfathomable and illogical to me. And it makes me shake my head at the premier’s perception of sharing. Perhaps he needs to look in the mirror when he preaches about sharing.

Corporations, wealthy Albertans and oil executives are not being asked to appropriately share their prosperity, nor are they being asked to adequately share the burden of important public services. In the premier’s mind, prosperity is not for sharing; burdens are. And even those are only to be shared by some. ❚

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