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

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

A sign on a shop window indicates the store is closed in Ottawa, Monday March 23, 2020. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business is raising its estimate for the number of businesses that are considering the possibility of closing permanently. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Alberta entrepreneur launches project to help small business owners

Bruce Tannas is trying to bring together small businesses as the COVID-19… Continue reading

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney updates media in Edmonton on measures taken to help with COVID-19 on Friday, March 20, 2020. Political analysts say Kenney must rethink his traditional “fight back” approach and start building bridges to reconcile environmental concerns with oil and gas development. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Political scientists say Kenney must rethink pugilistic approach on oil, environment

Keystone XL pipeline expansion would have taken more oil from Alberta through the United States to refineries and ports

An incomplete secondary wall stands alongside the previous version near where the border separating Tijuana, Mexico, and San Diego meets the Pacific Ocean Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021, in Tijuana, Mexico. In the days before Joe Biden became president, construction crews worked quickly to finish Donald Trump’s wall at an iconic cross-border park overlooking the Pacific Ocean that then-first lady Pat Nixon inaugurated in 1971 as symbol of international friendship. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
Biden halts border wall building after Trump’s final surge

Pause order leaves billions of dollars of work unfinished but still under contract

Former Alberta Premier Rachel Notley shakes hands with Joel Ward, former Red Deer College President and CEO, as Notley announces that the college is on the path to grant degrees. Red Deer-South MLA Jason Stephan says university status is not a necessary condition for offering degrees. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Future of Red Deer University increasingly uncertain

MLA’s college update says RDC more like SAIT and NAIT than a university

There are two confirmed COVID-19 cases at Red Deer College. Photo by Mamta Lulla/Advocate staff
Central Albertans were promised a university

Central Albertans were promised a university

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole listens to a question from a reporter during a news conference, in Ottawa, Monday, Dec. 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
New advocacy group launches pre-election ad campaign against O’Toole, Conservatives

OTTAWA — A new third-party advocacy group is launching an ad campaign… Continue reading

Jacqueline Donahue of Hazleton, right, buys la Mega Millions lottery ticket at the Anthracite Newsstand on Public Square, Monday, Jan. 18, 2021, in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. (Mark Moran/The Citizens’ Voice via AP)
Nearly $1B Mega Millions prize due to long odds, slow sales

Only the third time a lottery jackpot has grown so large

David Shoemaker, chief executive officer of the Canadian Olympic Committee, speaks during the Olympic Partnership kick off event at the Sobey’s office in Mississauga, Ont. on Monday, October 7, 2019. Shoemaker says the IOC remains committed to staging the Summer Games in Tokyo this summer. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Tijana Martin
Canadian Olympic boss says IOC plans to go ahead with Tokyo Games this summer

IOC calls cancellation decision “categorically untrue”

FILE - In this Jan. 24, 2011 file photo, Dustin Diamond attends the SYFY premiere of “Mega Python vs. Gatoroid” at The Ziegfeld Theater in New York. Diamond is undergoing chemotherapy treatments after being diagnosed with cancer, according to his representative. Diamond, best known for playing Screech on the hit ’90s sitcom, was hospitalized earlier this month in Florida. Last week, his team disclosed he did have cancer. (AP Photo/Peter Kramer, File)
Dustin Diamond undergoing chemotherapy treatments for cancer

Diamond hospitalized earlier this month in Florida

Most Read