Doer no model for Notley
Some commentators are encouraging Premier Rachel Notley to govern more like former NDP Premier Gary Doer (Manitoba) rather than former NDP Premier Bob Rae (Ontario).
Although more moderate than Rae, even Gary Doer's track record seems contrary to Albertans' values of freedom, reasonable tax rates and responsible government.
Shortly after Doer was elected Premier, his government shocked the business community (and many working Manitobans) by stripping employees of the right to vote on whether or not they would like to join a union. Instead of having a workplace vote over creating a union, the Doer government changed the rules so that union organizers merely had to go around and sign people up.
We don't conduct elections this way for a reason - the secret ballot is an important aspect of a democracy. It prevents people from succumbing to peer pressure, threats, bribes and other activities. One can imagine why Doer (a former union boss himself) and his union-backed party changed the rules.
Under Doer's reign, unions were given all kinds of other special deals. For example, employees of companies working on the province's massive floodway project were forced to pay union dues even if they weren't unionized. Would Albertans support Notley making similar radical decisions?
In terms of finances, the Doer government increased spending well above inflation and population growth and every year they would blow through their own spending targets. From 2000 to 2009 the NDP spent more than budgeted eight times in nine years. During the Doer era, no problem came along that wasn't met with a new social program or spending announcement.
The government's high spending levels had to be paid for somehow. Doer accomplished this through sky-high taxes, piling on debt and generous funding from the federal government.
Consider that Manitoba drifted away from having middle of the road tax levels to paying some of the highest taxes in all of Canada. According to international accounting firm EY (formerly Ernst and Young), Manitobans pay the highest income taxes in Canada at the $30,000 and $40,000 income levels. At other income levels, Manitobans pay close to the highest tax bills in all of Canada. (Note: Although Doer left office in 2009, Manitoba's tax rates have not changed).
While Doer's successor was the one to raise the province's sales tax from 7 to 8 per cent, the Doer government started charging the tax on a number of services that previously weren't taxed (e.g. legal, accounting fees, etc.). Numerous other taxpayer-unfriendly decisions were made during his time.
One cannot ignore that many of Manitoba's current financial problems trace back to unsustainable spending increases during the Doer era. Instead of aggressively paying down debt during the good times, modest spending increases and reducing taxes, Manitoba today is a financial basket case. The province has sky-high taxes, a huge bureaucracy and debt that will hit $36 billion by year's end.
Make no mistake, Doer's reign wasn't all doom and gloom. Like any government, there were initiatives his administration got right and he was less extreme than other NDP premiers in the past. However, Albertans will likely expect Notley to govern in a manner that is more committed to low, reasonable tax rates, moderate spending and less focus on favouritism towards unions.
Colin Craig works for the Manning Centre in Calgary. He previously worked for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation in Winnipeg.
This column was published by the Calgary Sun on May 11, 2015