Budget and support to agriculture

This week's editorial looks at the many opinions regarding the Alberta budget announcement.

The government of Rachel Notley finally announced its first budget with a delay of almost six months after the provincial elections in the first week of last May and predictably drew both positive and negative reaction from a wide range of stakeholders.

Association of School Boards of Alberta said they were happy with the cancellation of the funding cuts of the pre-election PC government but they indicated they expect more to provide school divisions across the province to have “flexibility”.

Manufacturers and exporters described the budget as “underwhelming” and criticized it for lack of support for “job creators”.

Consulting Engineers of Alberta applauded the budget for its emphasis on infrastructure buildup and the money to be allocated for it.

AUMA, the provincial organization of the municipalities, in simultaneous press statements, both praised and criticized the budget, for increased support for FCSS and other community service organizations and lack of adequate support for affordable housing, respectively.

One of the key stakeholders in the province’s economic management, Alberta Chambers of Commerce found both positive and negative elements in the budget. Positive elements included realistic exchange rate and oil price predictions taken as a basis for calculations and lack of tax rises for small and medium businesses while it was reported that the predicted depletion of the Contingency Fund in 2016 and the planned length of the period until the return to a balanced budget were serious concerns.

As with many other elements associated with politics, a budget is just another set of promises, with two important differences as compared to others. One is that the set of promises in the budget directly impacts the amount of money we can spend, therefore our welfare and way of life; the second is that the promise is clearly calculated and expressed in concrete figures, an element which hangs over every government like the sword of Damocles, making it very difficult to stray from the announced intentions.

We should, however, also be cognizant of the fact that, despite its nature of mathematical certainty and accuracy, the implementation of the budget as a process of delivery is just as important as the text of the promise, itself.

There are several questions one might be tempted to ask with regard to the implementation of this recently announced budget as a function of the wider policy promises made during the election campaign.

One that immediately comes to mind is the how responsive the government will be towards the various sectors of the electorate in delivering on the promises. For instance, it was widely discussed after the provincial elections that the outcome had shown the power of the urban constituencies in determining the composition of the new provincial legislature. Will that mean the new government be paying much closer attention to the concerns of the urban constituents and consider the rural as of secondary importance?

Having come to power with a distinctly pro-diversification economic agenda, how much support should the province’s second strongest asset, the agricultural sector, expect to receive from the new government?

As these lines were being written, the government was in the process of announcing a new program to support jobs and business in the province. The details will clarify whether agricultural businesses will also benefit from the program.

One hopes that the government will keep a focus on agriculture in planning its economic management strategies because that very sector is supported by governments all around the world, including by those of the United States and European countries. Albertan and Canadian farmers don’t deserve less.