Spending trend likely to continue as election looms





The Stelmach government is throwing money at political problems to pay their way out of a huge slump in the polls, a political expert warned yesterday.

And the trend will likely continue throughout the fall to win back Tory supporters in time for a possible spring election, said Keith Brownsey, a political scientist at Calgary’s Mount Royal College.

“There’s a whole number of big-spending announcements planned, all designed to make the government look like its capable of governing Alberta and that it’s responding to the wishes, the needs, in the province,” he said.

Part of the government’s trend to roll out positive funding announcements, he said, is Finance Minister Lyle Oberg’s update on an additional surplus recorded during first-quarter budget results.

On Friday, Oberg told reporters that the expected surplus has grown by $300 million, to $2.5 billion, due to unanticipated increases in non-renewable resource revenue and income tax from a booming population.

“Alberta’s economy continues to outpace the rest of the country,” Oberg said, explaining that the money has been earmarked towards savings and capital projects.

But recent poll results demonstrate that it will be increasingly unlikely that the Tories can stop a wave of opposition from storming large urban centres like Calgary and Edmonton, Brownsey said, even with funding increases to needed projects.

A recent Cameron Strategy poll pegged Tory support at 32 per cent, down from 54 per cent when Premier Ed Stelmach took the reigns of the province from Ralph Klein.

“When you take a poll outside of an election period people are likely to say that they’re going to vote for the incumbent government since the other parties just don’t have the profile at this time that the government does,” Brownsey said. “In these circumstances, to lose the 20 to 25 points is in-and-of itself quite remarkable.”

Liberal critic Rick Miller said the government is deliberately underestimated budgets so they can “spend their way out of political problems” by rolling out continued funding increases.

“Low-balling revenues and then making announcements about unbudgeted surplus spending is no way to plan responsibly,” he said.