Fiscal reckoning

That’s the term used by the current provincial government. It refers to the reality it is (and we are) facing. Billions in the hole and the hole is getting deeper. Expectations of revenue were too high. The price of oil, apparently, dictates everything in this province. Unless a barrel of the sticky black stuff goes above a certain number of bucks per barrel, we’re broke and getting broker.

Meanwhile, the cost of doing business keeps on rising. As a society, we are lousy at taking care of ourselves. Large numbers of us are addicted to one or more unhealthy activities, and the cost of looking after us (via health care, social work, income support, police, EMS or whatever) is way higher than it needs to be.

In about 1991, the manager of the hospital in Slave Lake told a local newspaper reporter if people took better care of themselves, health care costs could be cut by something like 30 per cent. The situation seemed dire then, but since then diabetes has reached epidemic proportions and the costs to society of drug use and abuse have gone rather crazy. People are stealing ATMs just to make ends meet. (Sorry, it’s not really a joking matter.)
So back to the fiscal reckoning. If we agree that government spending far in excess of revenue is a bad thing (apparently not everyone does agree), then what cuts can we live with? Well, for starters, the government itself needs to set an example of frugality. That seems obvious, but if it’s happening, the message isn’t getting through. Other things are, and they do not paint the right kind of picture.

After that, all parties – from the government down to the individual and everyone in between – needs to draw up a list with two columns; One is ‘Needs’ and the other is ‘Wants’. In other words, what is essential and what is not. What we can we live with and what we can’t. Nobody is off the hook. We can’t howl too loudly about the need to control spending if we aren’t willing to put up with less in our own lives. We’re all involved; all implicated in this lifestyle of rampant expectations that might not be viable anymore.

And if the government ever does get back into the black, for any length of time, it should be socking away cash like crazy, against a return of bad times. It’s not a new concept. The Pharoah of Egypt did it and if it worked for Egypt 3,000 years ago (give or take), why not Alberta?

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