Heading into the recent Alberta election, polls showed the NDP enjoyed more support among younger Albertans than any other party. Perhaps these younger voters had a hand in deciding the historic result.
If so, there is some irony. The NDP attracted younger voters with a platform that will substantially grow spending on retirees, while doing much less to address challenges faced by those under 45. Such generational unfairness in provincial budgeting actually worsens the pattern of the now ousted Conservative party.
Under the PCs, Alberta had the largest age gap in social spending in Canada. The bulk of Alberta’s 2015/16 spending is delivered through health care ($18.9 billion), education ($7.5 billion), postsecondary ($5.8 billion) and human services, including services for the elderly, disabled, social assistance, etc. ($4.2 billion). Of this money, approximately $17,129 was budgeted for each Albertan age 65+. Only $7,489 is spent on each Albertan under 45.
Premier Notley plans to grow this age gap. Her platform increases yearly spending per retiree to over $18,000, while leaving spending on those under 45 around $7,800. Alberta will soon spend $3,000 more per senior than Saskatchewan, the next most generous province; and $7,000 more than BC. All the while, Alberta will spend less than Saskatchewan per younger citizen, and only moderately more than BC.
When it comes to understanding how provincial spending breaks down by age, Mr. Prentice’s ungracious debate remark that “Math is hard” would have been better directed to the issue of generational fairness in government budgeting. No political party in Alberta, or elsewhere in Canada, breaks down spending by age!
As a result, Premier Notley may not yet recognize that the NDP aspiration to grow medical care spending faster than other parties without growing revenue by a corresponding amount disadvantages younger citizens in two ways.
First, 41 per cent of the NDP’s $20 billion health care budget will go to services for the 11.5 per cent of the population age 65+. Medical spending on retirees adds up to more than Ms. Notley’s entire K-12 budget; a third more than the entire post-secondary budget; and nearly double the entire human services budget.
Such health spending might be justifiable if Albertans were getting bang for the buck, because we want the best for our aging parents and grandparents. Alas, evidence shows Canadians spend more on medical care than many other rich countries, but get only middling or below average access to doctors, CT scans, MRIs and patient satisfaction. All the while, doctors get above average remuneration.
Revenue is the second problem with the NDP approach to medical care, repeating a longstanding pattern in Canadian politics. As citizens age 65+ grew from 9 per cent of Canada’s population in 1976 to 15 per cent today, provincial and federal governments added $32.5 billion in annual medical care spending for this age group. But governments did not increase revenue to pay for it.
Instead, governments held postsecondary spending relatively constant since 1976, even though twice as many young people pursue extra education to compete for jobs. Similarly, governments didn’t build a child care system, even though young Alberta women increased their labour force participation by 42 per cent.
The NDP platform continues the national tradition of making trade-offs between medical care spending for retirees and investments in services that younger Albertans need more and more. A year from now, the NDP anticipates collecting an extra $815 million in revenue. More than 80 per cent will fund their commitment to even more medical care services for retirees, leaving little left over.
Small wonder Premier Notley’s platform budgets only modest extra spending for grade school, postsecondary or child care by comparison with her health care increases.
In this, she aligns with the federal NDP. Mr. Mulcair is running for national office on a platform that would entrench the same generational inequity.
Last night proved big political change is possible – inspiring evidence for younger Canadians who deserve a better deal from political parties. To get this better deal, we need to build a lobby to influence all parties well in advance of voting day. That’s the only way we will get political alternatives that don’t grow intergenerational unfairness.
Dr. Paul Kershaw is the Founder of Generation Squeeze, and a policy professor in the University of BC School of Population Health