Foreign Affairs and You
One of the most controversial issues being talked about today is of course the United States’ insistence upon waging war in Iraq. The Government of Canada has been criticized for its lack of stance and for fence-sitting on the issue.
The United States and Canada have also been butting heads on international trade, specifically on softwood lumber and the duties imposed by the U.S.A. Some people feel that Canada is letting itself be pushed around too easily by the U.S., while others feel that this is what we get for relying on the United States for the majority of our international trade.
Now the Government is trying to get your opinions and views on these matters, as well as on what role Canada should play in the future on the global stage. The department of foreign affairs and international trade has set up a web-site where ordinary Canadians can go and get involved in a discussion about Canada’s international actions, and what we should aim for in the future.
You can find the site at http://www.foreign-policy-dialogue.ca/en/welcome/index.html and read the discussion paper put forth by the minister of foreign affairs, as well as make your ideas and comments known. If you have been looking for a way to tell the government exactly what you feel about recent foreign affairs decisions, this looks to be the place to do exactly that.
A Billion Dollars Extra
What do you do if you happen to raise a billion dollars more than you planned for? Well, if you’re the Alberta government, you split the money between paying your debt, and your pocket.
The provincial government had expected to be getting about eight hundred million more dollars this year than it spent, however, because oil revenues are (again) more than they budgeted for, it seems they have an extra billion dollar surplus on top of their eight hundred million dollar surplus.
So what do they plan to do with this 1.8 billion (See: http://www.gov.ab.ca/acn/200302/13969.html) dollar surplus? To start, $900 million will go into a new Capital fund. Basically to roads and other needed infrastructure. Of course, most of that $900 million had actually already been expected – the $800 million surplus that the government originally intended. Which leaves the unplanned for billion dollars. Half of that is being cut off the top and put directly into the Alberta debt. The remainder is going to be going into the government’s “sustainability” fund. This is the fund the government is setting up so that they no longer have to worry about oil prices dropping.
Here’s the problem with these ideas. The Alberta schedule for paying down the debt is already ten years ahead of the legislated schedule. Yet it was not that long ago that the government was crying that there was no money to pay for teacher’s needed salary increases, that we were getting too little from the federal government for health care, and that enough had already been invested in post-secondary education, even though the U of C is being forced to cut $30 million dollars from its budget to stay in the black.
As to the sustainability fund, think back to the last time that you can recall the government actually going a full year where oil prices were below what they had projected. One credit I will give to the current Alberta Government is that however they determine their numbers for oil and natural gas prices, they seem to have a solid track record of underestimating what the revenues will be – thus ensuring that there is no shortfall. Even in the last quarter of the budget when you heard the government declaring that there was no extra money due to low oil prices, even then they still had a cushion of almost 200 million dollars, and that’s after accounting for the extra 400 million dollars of expenses that they had not budgeted for.
In short, this sustainability fund is really just a way for the government to pocket extra money that they happen to tax from Albertans, rather than investing it in programs that have a real chance of ensuring sustainability, such as scholarships and grants for needy students. If the government says it wants to get off the “oil roller-coaster”, why is it trying to set up a cushion for when the roller coaster travels down? Instead, use the money to educate the citizens and diversify the economy – diversification is the only real way off of the ride.
Of course, the truth is that the government likes being dependant on oil prices. It makes for a convenient excuse when it doesn’t want to give money, and a convenient excuse come election time when it does.
A native Calgarian, Karl is perpetually nearing the completion of his Bachelor of Arts with a Major in Information Studies. He also works for the Computer Sciences Virtual Helpdesk for Athabasca University and plans to eventually go on to tutor and obtain his Master’s Degree.