EDMONTON – Alberta Premier Alison Redford’s government is spending $350,000 to mail out a full-colour budget brochure — something critics suggest is Redford’s latest attempt to save her job.
“It’s desperation,” Wildrose Opposition Leader Danielle Smith said Tuesday.
“We have a premier who is desperately afraid of losing confidence from her party in her leadership vote in the fall, and she’s pulling out all the stops, including using taxpayer money to send out political propaganda.”
The eight-page mail-out repeats dollar figures, commitments, and talking points used by the government when it delivered the budget March 7.
That financial forecast is for $6.3 billion in red ink along with cuts or reductions in spending across the board. But it also promised renewed savings and infrastructure spending to keep pace with a growing population.
The brochure, called Report to Taxpayers, highlights spending, savings and infrastructure goals, but doesn’t mention the key concern of critics: that Redford plans to accrue $17-billion of debt over the next four years.
The brochure, which also includes testimonials from Albertans praising the budget and the government, also reiterates that the province is being hammered by what Redford and her government are calling the “bitumen bubble.”
Redford coined the term to explain the price difference between what Alberta’s oil sells for compared with the North American oil benchmark, West Texas Intermediate.
The government has said the bubble is taking a big bite out of resource revenues, but critics suggest the price spread is not far off traditional levels and is being used by Redford as a red herring to justify service cuts and debt.
Redford, in her personal address to Albertans on page 2 of the brochure, mentions the bubble twice in the first three paragraphs.
She defended the mail-out during question period.
“We’re very excited to be able to make sure that we are accountable to Albertans for the decisions that we made in Budget 2013,” said Redford. “And we’re proud of the fact that we’re going to deliver that fact-based document to 1.2 million households this week.”
Added Finance Minister Doug Horner: “We don’t apologize for communicating to Albertans the information that Albertans want to know.”
Smith said the money could have been put to better use by a government that cut $210,000 from a social program for victims of sexual exploitation.
“The $350,000 that this government wasted on a PC-election-style brochure would have covered Safe House for more than a year,” she said.
NDP Leader Brian Mason pointed out the brochure is even in the blue and orange colours of the Progressive Conservative party.
“To me it’s nothing but a very expensive taxpayer-funded piece of propaganda.”
Mason said Redford is running a de facto election campaign. She faces a mandatory vote of confidence from party members in November but has seen her popularity fall drastically in recent public opinion polls.
“This has got a lot to do with the premier’s campaign, which is now in full swing, to win her leadership review in November,” said Mason.
All parties agree the brochure highlights the increasing politicization of government business under Redford.
News releases from the non-partisan civil service on recent school construction announcements rebranded the “Alberta government” as the “Redford government.”
Those releases also included interviews with happy participants.
“I think it’s awesome that they’re building a new school for our community,” Grade 8 student Shaurye Agnihotri said in a news release May 3.
Redford used the school announcements to deliver partisan attack speeches against her opponents to the children and adults present. She warned them that a Wildrose government wouldn’t build anything.
All parties labelled the attack on the Wildrose in the presence of children as shameful.
“The premier seems content to campaign in front of schoolchildren on the taxpayers’ dime,” said Liberal Leader Raj Sherman.
On Monday, Mason said it’s time the Tories stopped using children as political “props.”
Redford said she doesn’t plan to stop delivering her message to audiences. Page 2 of Tuesday’s mail out features a photo of Redford holding up a smiling tousle-haired little girl.