It turns out that Scrooge – Ebenezer or McDuck, take your pick – is alive and well and running the Canadian province of Alberta. On Thursday, Conservative Premier Ed Stelmach told reporters the provincial government wouldn’t be donating a nickel of its lush, oil-and-gas royalty enriched treasury stash to aid in Haitian relief efforts.
Instead, Stelmach told reporters that Alberta contributes to humanitarian aid in other ways, largely through charitable tax deductions for individuals.
"That is the best tax deduction in Canada, so those individuals that want to contribute to humanitarian aid will see that tax credit," Stelmach stated proudly.
Huh? Even George Bush, the original tightfisted “compassionate conservative,” is doing more to help the quake-levelled island nation.
Meanwhile, far poorer provinces and the federal government were busy putting Alberta to shame. Canadian forces search-and-rescue teams were among the first to arrive in Port-au-Prince, showing up on military aircraft within hours of the disaster, and Ottawa pledged $50-million in relief and rebuilding efforts. The Ontario government, struggling under the weight of massive unemployment in its huge automotive, manufacturing and financial services sectors, managed to scrape together $1-million to donate as did Canada’s poorest province, Newfoundland and Labrador. Even sparsely populated Saskatchewan, where agriculture rather than energy drives the local economy, found $250,000 to add to the relief effort.
Stelmach’s comments did not go down well in Alberta, incluing among its overwhelmingly conservative base of voters, and his stinginess was roundly booed by people across the political spectrum – and across the nation. The chorus quickly grew so loud that, by Friday, the premier was back in front of television cameras to say he changed his mind: Alberta would somehow scrape together $500,000 to donate to relief efforts.
While that sounds like a noticeable chunk of money, when compared to Newfoundland and Labrador where the major industry is poverty and the largest business sector is unemployment, this is chump change. Alberta probably spends more on coffee and sweet rolls at government meetings each year than it is giving to Haitian relief. And as a percent of its provincial tax revenue, it is as if Newfies were contributing something like $30-million, dwarfing Alberta’s miniscule contribution; in those same comparative terms, it’d be like Saskatchewan turning over the proceeds of an entire year’s crop to help ease the suffering in Haiti and contribute to rebuilding the country as opposed to Alberta’s paltry donation.
Meanwhile, Alberta’s oil-and-gas fields’ pump out nearly $500,000 in royalty payments to the province every week – maybe more – and the province’s political sway on Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper is the primary reason Canada played mostly an obstructionist role at the Copenhagen climate change summit in December.
It’s amazing that Canada, with its deserved global reputation as a generous, caring nation, could produce an Ed Stelmach, as much of a Scrooge as a Disney character and as big a dinosaur as the fossil fields that are uncovered regularly in Canada’s prairie land.
Bah humbug, Premier Stelmach, because you are – with apologies to Keith Olbermann – today’s worst person in Canada.
*This reminds me of an uncomfortable political situation that existed nearly eighty years ago. In 1935, just prior to Franklin Roosevelt's Social Securit...