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‘Our reality:’ Finance minister wants review of Alberta’s volatile revenue structure

Alberta’s finance minister says he would like to see a panel formed within the next year and a half to address the province’s often volatile revenue structure.

Alberta’s finance minister says he would like to see a panel formed within the next year and a half to address the province’s often volatile revenue structure.

Travis Toews told the Calgary Chamber of Commerce on Thursday that the province has worked hard on its fiscal framework and has been reducing debt and cutting spending.

However, he said because the majority of Alberta’s revenue comes from oil and gas revenue, it creates uncertainty during times of boom and bust.

“We do have a volatile revenue structure in this province and at some point, some day, Albertans are going to have to consider what we need to do to correct that,” Toews said in his speech.

“I’ll just say it because it’s worthy of being said: That’s our reality.”

Alberta is predicting a $2.4-billion budget surplus this year, with plans to take a big bite out of its debt and help prevent deficits when oil booms go bust.

With a population of 4.4 million, the province is on track to take in $70.7 billion in revenue and spend almost $67 billion. Another $1.5 billion is being set aside for unforeseen spending emergencies.

Oilsands money remains the key driver, with bitumen royalties alone expected to bring in $12.6 billion.

Toews told reporters after his speech that the province got its spending under control after it got advice from an independent panel in 2019 chaired by former Saskatchewan finance minister Janice MacKinnon.

The panel concluded that to achieve a balanced budget by 2022-23, the provincial budget should have no increases in government spending for four years and a reduction in operating costs by at least $600 million, as well as cuts in capital spending.

“That original fiscal plan is one we delivered on over the last few years, getting our expenditures on a per-capita basis in line with other provinces,” Toews said.

“Periodically, government should take a step back and look at their revenue structure for its appropriateness and efficiency, and that day is coming. I would suggest that day is coming ideally in the next year, 18 months.”

Toews said he personally wants to see Alberta taxes remain low, but it would be his desire that nothing be off the table when a revenue committee begins its work.

“In any type of report, Albertans deserve an objective report, with objective conclusions, drawing up objective recommendations. That would be my approach with a revenue panel.”

Toews, who was elected in the constituency of Grande Prairie-Wapiti when the United Conservatives came to power in 2019, finished second to Premier Danielle Smith in the party’s leadership race.

He said he will be making an announcement in the “upcoming days” on whether he will seek re-election. The next provincial election is scheduled for May.

Also Thursday, Opposition NDP finance critic Shannon Phillips said Smith’s commitment to fiscal conservatism is selective and self-serving.

Phillips said one of Smith’s first tasks after becoming premier in October was to reorganize and expand cabinet jobs.

She said the budget shows that the ministers’ and premier’s offices in the Smith government will cost $5 million a year more than that of her predecessor, Jason Kenney, and $7.5 million a year more than when current NDP Leader Rachel Notley was premier four years ago.

“She has betrayed the basic tenets of conservatism and crossed the floor to Toryland,” said Phillips.