CALGARY — The Alberta government set about selling a budget with a multibillion-dollar deficit Wednesday to a crotchety constituency that has grown used to massive oil-fuelled surpluses.
Finance Minister Iris Evans took her message to the airwaves on the Rutherford talk show on radio station CHQR in Calgary.
Callers gave her a rough ride over the $4.7-billion shortfall and the government’s plan to still spend $23 billion over three years catching up on building projects.
“You guys are losing interest of the public in Alberta here. You better smarten up,” said a caller identified as Greg.
A woman named Sandy criticized the Tories for being forced to play catch-up after falling behind on building schools and hospitals while people flocked to the province during boom times under former premier Ralph Klein.
“We had Ralph Klein who did nothing capital-wise. We now have schools falling apart, hospitals were being shut down,” she said.
“Now you’ve got these guys that look like the barracudas going out there and blowing all our money.”
A subsequent caller identified as Roy compared Stelmach to the socialist president of Venezuela and the province to disgraced American energy company Enron.
“The accounting practices of this Hugo Chavez government or Ed Chavez government is much like Enron,” said the caller.
“I believe you’re spending our money foolishly. You haven’t saved, you haven’t prepared us for the future and you guys should be gone.”
Evans said that spending $7.2 billion this year on building projects will help protect 80,000 Alberta jobs.
“People won’t all be satisfied with this budget, but it is a budget that’s keeping Albertans working,” she said.
“It is jobs, jobs, jobs.”
Premier Ed Stelmach told the legislature Tuesday that his government chose to run a deficit rather than cut thousands of jobs.
“We either dip into our emergency savings or . . . lay off thousands of public service (workers), whether it be nurses, teachers, doctors,” said the premier.
“We’re not going to do that.”