Despite government reassurances that “we can do more with less,” Albertans know from experience that deep cuts hurt. Albertans know that the kind of multi-billion dollars cuts being contemplated by the Stelmach government will have negative impacts that can last for years, even decades.
Lessons from the Klein cuts
That’s what happened the last time Alberta resorted to major cuts during a recession.
Albertans remember that those cuts – part of the now infamous “Klein Revolution” – led to the creation of a “lost generation” of nurses, teachers and other Alberta-trained professionals who left the province, often never to return, as a result of mass layoffs and hiring freezes.
Albertans also remember that deep budget cuts led to the creation of a massive infrastructure deficit (embodied by crumbling roads, out-dated schools and over-crowded health facilities) and a critical shortage of hospital beds that we’re still struggling to recover from.
Just as importantly, Albertans remember those brutal cuts made the last recession deeper and more painful than it had to be. Economists now agree that it was economic growth and the prosperity generated by rising energy prices that allowed Alberta to eliminate its debt and deficit – not the deep budget cuts imposed by the Klein government.
All pain, no gain
In other words, the budget cutting approach championed by Ralph Klein, Mike Harris and other conservative politicians in the 1990s was all pain and no gain. It inflicted real hardship on individuals, families and communities when they were already struggling – and it weakened the very services and institutions that were necessary for a return to sustained prosperity.
Why would any current government even consider returning to those kinds of failed policies?
A return to cuts – and their predictable consequences
Unfortunately, when it comes to ill-conceived budget cuts, 2009 and 2010 are starting to look more and more like 1993 and 1994.
We're already seeing the impacts of recent cuts, cuts that have led health care employers, school boards and post-secondary institutions to impose hiring freezes, eliminate front-line positions and increase fees.
If we fail to join together and challenge these cuts, more teachers will be laid off; classroom sizes will continue to increase; post-secondary institutions will become more expensive and less accessible; nurses and other health care workers will lose their jobs and hospital waiting times will increase.
Does it really make sense to dig ourselves another hole, just as we’re finally close to climbing out of the last one?