Alberta to reduce spending by 3 per cent, but no cuts to health, education

EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says his government will cut program spending by close to three per cent in Thursday’s provincial budget.

But Kenney, in a TV address Wednesday night, reiterated that health and education funding will not be reduced and maintaining front-line services is a priority.

“Let’s be clear: this will not be an easy budget,” said Kenney, adding the exact reduction figure is 2.8 per cent.

“But these tough decisions are necessary. In fact, they are long overdue.”

The budget is the first one by Kenney’s United Conservative government since it defeated the NDP in the spring election.

Kenney has promised the budget will be a landmark spending document that will balance the books in four years and reorient Alberta’s economy long after that.

He has pledged to get it done by getting more value for public money while reducing overall spending and ending a recent run of multibillion-dollar deficits he says threaten to cripple future generations with unsustainable debt.

“If we don’t act decisively now, we will face far worse in the future,” Kenney said.

The premier did not get into specifics, but said the impact on public service jobs will be “modest” with the overall size of government being reduced through attrition.

He said some capital projects will be delayed or scaled back and that inefficient programs will see reduced funds or be reprofiled or scrapped. There will be increased funding for mental health, addictions and some social programs aiding the most vulnerable, he added.

The former NDP government ran four years of multibillion-dollar deficits as it worked to match services with population growth while embarking on an ambitious program of repairing and building infrastructure — all as sluggish oil and gas prices squeezed the bottom line.

Alberta ran a $6.7-billion deficit in the last fiscal year that ended in March on $48.4 billion in operational spending.

The debt is currently approaching $60 billion and is on track to hit $96 billion by 2023.

After winning the April election, the UCP commissioned a panel chaired by former Saskatchewan NDP finance minister Janice MacKinnon to review Alberta’s finances.

MacKinnon’s panel reported back in August that the province is spending more per capita for public services than comparable regions and getting poorer outcomes.

The operational budgets of health and education alone represent close to 60 per cent of total program spending.

Kenney has promised to rein in spending while growing the economy by delivering incentives to the private sector to create jobs. His government has already passed legislation to cut the corporate tax to eight per cent from 12 per cent over four years.

The NDP, now in Opposition, calls it a regressive plan that rewards corporate friends, has not created jobs and is likely to reduce services and supports for those who can least afford it, including students and people relying on disability payments.

The New Democrats also expect costs of Thursday’s budget will be downloaded. A recent proposal from the province has suggested that rural municipalities pick up some or most policing costs, and the MacKinnon report has urged the government to remove a cap on tuition.

“I’ve heard from other organizations that receive grants that are bracing for 25 per cent reductions over three years,” said NDP finance critic Shannon Phillips.

“That doesn’t sound very careful or thoughtful to me. It sounds like an across-the-board program that will ensure that ordinary people get less while large corporations get a $4.5-billion tax cut.”

The government disputes that figure. It also says the number is misleading because it is a straight-line projection over four years and doesn’t factor in job growth or new revenues.

Earlier Wednesday, Finance Minister Travis Toews pulled on a pair of size 10 cowboy boots as part of a tradition among finance ministers to showcase footwear before the budget.

“This will be a thoughtful, surgical budget,” he said, adding his boots, like the budget, reflect the heritage, resilience and self-reliance of Albertans.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 23, 2019.

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

Alberta budget

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the chief medical officer of health, receive flu shot. Photo via Government of Alberta
COVID cases climb in central zone, Red Deer

The total number of active COVID-19 cases in the province reached 3,138… Continue reading

Many rural municipalities were concerned about a proposed reduction to their industrial revenues, but Alberta’s municipal affairs minister has come up with an alternative solution. (Photo contributed)
Energy industry support won’t injure municipalities

Creating new wells or pipelines would result in a three year ‘tax holiday’

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole and Premier Jason Kenney participated in a livestream on Oct. 17, 2020. (File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)
UCP members pass resolution at AGM calling for privately funded health care option

EDMONTON — Members of Alberta’s governing United Conservative Party have narrowly endorsed… Continue reading

“We weren’t sure what to expect with just doing the 50/50. We have been positively surprised with sales so far,” says Craig Fleming, co-chair of the Red Deer Kinsmen Club’s raffle. (Photo by SUSAN ZIELINSKI/Advocate staff)
Non-profits put their money on 50/50 draws

COVID impacts fundraising events

Student taking a math test. (Pixabay photo)
David Marsden: Students need more testing, not less

Testing has been central to Alberta’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s… Continue reading

Gillian Robertson celebrates her win over Sarah Frota during UFC 240, in Edmonton, Saturday, July 27, 2019. Robertson used her superior grappling skills to dominate Brazil's Poliano Botelho en route to a unanimous decision win Saturday night on a UFC Fight Night card. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Canadian Gillian (The Savage) Robertson dominates in UFC decision win in Abu Dhabi

Canadian Gillian (The Savage) Robertson dominates in UFC decision win in Abu Dhabi

Forge FC head coach Bobby Smyrniotis, right, hugs captain Kyle Bekker following their victory in the Canadian Premier League soccer final against Cavalry FC in Calgary, Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019. A month after winning the Island Games in Charlottetown, Hamilton-based Forge FC is back on the move. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
CPL champion Forge FC off to El Salvador for CONCACAF League preliminary-round match

CPL champion Forge FC off to El Salvador for CONCACAF League preliminary-round match

Course workers prepare the landing area at the ski jump venue in Whistler Olympic Park in Whistler, B.C. Friday, Feb. 5, 2010. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Next generation of Canadian ski talent sets sights on Whistler, B.C., in 2023

Next generation of Canadian ski talent sets sights on Whistler, B.C., in 2023

Mighty Heart is held by groom Siobhan Brown in his stall at trainer Josie Carroll's stable at Woodbine Racetrack, in Toronto, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. The one eyed horse, will run in the $400,000 Breeders' Stakes on October 24, attempting to become Canada's first horse to win the Triple Crown since Wando in 2003. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
Rain could present big challenge in Mighty Heart’s quest to capture Triple Crown

Rain could present big challenge in Mighty Heart’s quest to capture Triple Crown

Veteran sniper Evgenii Dadonov excited to join Senators: ‘It’s a perfect fit’

Veteran sniper Evgenii Dadonov excited to join Senators: ‘It’s a perfect fit’

Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Ronald Jones II (27) gets pushed out of bund by Green Bay Packers free safety Darnell Savage (26) during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark LoMoglio)
Packers seek to bounce back after embarrassing defeat

Packers seek to bounce back after embarrassing defeat

World junior hockey championship opens on Christmas Day for first time since 2005

World junior hockey championship opens on Christmas Day for first time since 2005

Most Read