Braid: Brian Jean assails Kenney promises as 'fiscal fairy tales'.
Yes, that Brian Jean. The one who led Wildrose. Who then lost the UCP leadership to Kenney, but retained the loyalty of many conservative supporters.
Jean is said to be restive about the conduct of that party leadership campaign. He isn’t talking publicly about those concerns. Not yet, anyway.
What he does talk about is Kenney’s pre-campaign promises. He’s very upset about them. Jean thinks they’re a further inflation of the NDP’s optimistic fiscal projections, which he calls “garbage.”
Jean says Kenney’s plan to sharply cut business tax will not bring economic growth.
“Kenney predicted that with his corporate tax cuts we will grow our economy by over $113 billion or 25.7 per cent in the same period (by 2024),” Jean wrote in the column, published in the Edmonton Journal.
“That’s just not possible!”
The reason, he argues, is that growth will be constrained as long as Alberta has inadequate pipeline capacity.
Kenney promises to cut the tax by one per cent a year for four years, until it’s at a national low, eight per cent.
He projects a revenue loss the first year but big gains afterward. Jean thinks that can’t happen.
The NDP is equally opposed to the business tax cut, for different reasons. Premier Rachel Notley says it’s the least efficient way to spur the economy.
A government poll (budget-related and billed as non-partisan) found that only 11 per cent of Albertans want tax cuts for big business.
Jean is poking a sharp stick into an issue that could be very contentious during the campaign.
This could hurt the UCP. But Jean does not repent.
“Let’s show some political leadership instead of selling Albertans fiscal fairy tales,” he says. “We owe it to our children and grandchildren.”
From Kenney’s camp, the response is instantaneous and sharp.
“Mr. Jean is a private citizen and is entitled to his opinion,” says Christine Myatt, Kenney’s spokeswoman.
“We believe the focus needs to be on reigniting our economy, not cutting front-line services Albertans depend on.
“If we get the economy growing again and show discipline in spending, we can again balance the budget.
“Our job creation tax cut was crafted in consultation with experts such as professor Jack Mintz and Bev Dahlby, and oft-critics such as professors Trevor Tombe and Andrew Leach spoke favourably.
“Professor Dahlby estimated that our job creation tax cut would eventually grow the economy by $12.7 billion.
“Our full fiscal plan, being crafted in conjunction with some of the top economic minds in Alberta, will of course be released in due course during the campaign.”
But Jean feels Kenney has already forsaken fiscal discipline.
“In the last three weeks, Kenney has declared about 70 per cent of the Alberta budget to be off-limits when it comes to finding savings,” he wrote.
“He has also one-upped the NDP’s insanely optimistic growth projections for Alberta’s GDP. In doing so he is being as fiscally irresponsible as the NDP.”
Jean argues that by exempting both health care and public service pay from cuts, Kenney will never be able to get Alberta’s finances under control.
“First Kenney declared — as an afterthought to an insignificant MLA pay cut — that there would be no cuts in pay for public-sector workers in Alberta.
“Pay represents about half of what government spends, so a promise of ‘no pay cuts’ is a very significant announcement.
“Then a few days later, Kenney declared that there would be no savings to be found in health care, which is over 40 per cent of the provincial budget.”
Jean says that after leaving politics, “I promised to advocate on issues that matter to Albertans.”
He doesn’t think his comments will hurt Kenney or the UCP. “Unless something unexpected happens, Kenney will win a landslide election,” he predicts.
“This is the time to get Albertans to agree to work together and get our finances in order.”
But conservatives who remember the Wildrose-PC split might shiver in the dark of night. And wonder what Brian Jean plans to do after the election.
Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald
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