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Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Planning - We Don't Need No Stinkin' Long Range Planning

So the Premier says Alberta doesn’t need long range planning for oil sands development and those “think-tanks” who say differently ought to keep their nose out of the risky business of oil sands development. So there! That attitude sums up the short sightedness that has characterized our provincial policy planning since the “victory” over debt and deficit. With such hard fought fiscal flexibility one would think long term infrastructure planning would be Job 1 for a fiscally prudent government - but it obviously isn’t. At least not until there is “new management” in place.

The oil sands industry has been trying for years to get the province to do some public sector infrastructure planning for the Wood Buffalo region – Fort McMurray especially. There were three comprehensive business case studies done jointly by the municipality and industry over the years. Each one was done professionally, with prudence and caution. Each time the province was forewarned of the dire consequences to the region of public infrastructure neglect in the face of rapid populaton and oil sands project development.

Each time recommendations were persistently ignored by the province. Each time government said industry should take over government’s role and provide the Ft. Mc. public infrastructure. Each time industry said OK as long as it was included as part of project costs. Nothing ever came of it.

A good example of the political neglect is how the province perpetually sat on the release of residential land supply in Fort McMurray in the face of 6-8% annual compounding population growth. Land for housing was, and is, totally within provincial control and for years nothing was done. Now Ft. Mc. housing prices rival Toronto and Vancouver. And we wonder why we can’t get any labour to work up there.

We did a long range plan once - in 1993 - to eliminate the provincial deficit and debt. We said we would do it over 25 years. The powers that be at the time took personal pride in the fact that “they did not blink.” True enough. So steely and concentrated was their focus on the fiscal goal, that it was accomplished in a mere 8 years – and to great fan fare. Every available loose nickel seems to have been put directly to the debt and deficit.

Government did not blink but they wore blinkers. They let infrastructure demands slide in the face of population growth and ignored things like school maintenance. Such infrastructure neglects and planning “mistakes” were widespread. Alberta taxpayers are now paying a premium to fix up the messes - if contractors can even be found to bid such public sector projects in this over heated labour constrained construction market.

Long range planning? We don’t need no stinkin’ long range planning…not at $78 oil we don’t. Cash flow can hide a lot of sins…for a while! Just ask the federal Liberal Party. And remember - there is more than one way to piss away a boom.