Alberta Politics

Fiscally Conservative doesn’t mean what you think it means

About a week ago I responded to a tweet asking about the “socially liberal and fiscally conservative” ideology. Today I saw another and decided that it deserved attention beyond Twitter’s 280 character limit and my reluctance to create threads.

Growing up in a politically-engaged household in Alberta, spending my formative years, misspent years, and my wisdom-gaining years under a Progressive Conservative government, “socially liberal and fiscally conservative” was a common identifier aligned with the uncommonly unchangeable government.

What I, and many others, understood the term to mean was that the government was going to stay out of our personal lives and make good fiscal decisions.

That’s what it was supposed to mean.

“Fiscal conservatism” may even have been the intention when any party campaigned for the role of government – to provide good financial stewardship.

I’m not about to attempt to determine the intention of every MLA or MP to ever run on a platform of fiscal conservatism – I’m here to point fingers.

Throughout the years, especially near the end of the PC reign in Alberta, “fiscally conservative” became a punchline culminated in part by Ralph bucks, sky palaces, sunshine lists, Agencies, Boards and Commissions “perks”, no-meet committees, and debt – lots, and lots, of debt.

But that wasn’t all.

The rotting cherry on top was cutting programs and services to the most vulnerable; as if saving a few million a year – taken from hundreds or hundreds of thousands of families who legitimately had few to no other options – was the answer.

To use a recent example: cutting $5 million for provincial park maintenance and threatening to sell them, de-indexing Assured Income for Severely Handicapped (AISH) payments – and changing the cheque delivery date by five days to save $30 million in a fiscal year – reducing post-secondary funding for thousands to save $70 million, K-12 education funding for hundreds of thousands to save $75 million, and then investing $1.5 billion in a not-so-sure thing to create around 7,000 *temporary* jobs.

Saying one thing and consistently demonstrating the opposite has the effect of causing people to question the truthfulness of the statement. That’s what happened to “fiscally conservative”.

Fun fact: there are people who still believe “fiscally conservative” means using taxpayer dollars wisely.

Not-so-fun fact: there are people who still remember every tax dollar that lined the pocket of a wealthy friend, family, business, or donor while people in need lost their homes and/or dined on cat food.

So, while someone may earnestly use the term in order to highlight their regard for spending money responsibly, others will tear it to shreds with decades of examples of misspending.

There is no moral – just a brief explanation about how the term is currently in a tug-of-war that may one day be won… but that day is not yet here.

This post is anecdotal… yet totally correct.

Deirdre Mitchell-MacLean is a political commentator physically distancing in Southern Alberta. Connect: @Mitchell_AB for more, @thisweekinAB for posts

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