EDMONTON — When Alberta Premier Alison Redford delivers her first budget in 2012, it won’t be balanced, but she says it also won’t be one her rivals can run on.
“I’m quite sure that over the next two or three months other political parties will use the budget and say it is somehow a wedge issue,” Redford said in a year-end interview.
“(But) I’m pretty confident Albertans will see a budget that reflects their values.
“The thing that will define our party compared to other parties is how we are prepared to manage through that (budget). Are we going to be ideological about it? Or are we going to think about how we’re investing in the future of the province?”
Redford, who staged a late-night, upset win in the Tory leadership vote in October, will have been premier for about four months when her Progressive Conservative government brings down a budget, probably in February.
A general election is probably just weeks away after that.
Under a new law passed recently by Redford’s government, a vote must be held sometime between March 1 and May 31, meaning Redford could launch the campaign as early as Feb. 2.
When she does, she will be campaigning on reform — and on readdressing many of the decisions of her predecessor.
Since taking over from Ed Stelmach, Redford has either overhauled or signalled plans to change numerous unpopular policies that gave traction to Tory opponents.
Those steps have won her praise, but also led to further criticism that she is a waffling promise-breaker.
Still, the budget remains the sticking point as Alberta heads towards a vote.
The province has run multibillion-dollar budget deficits since heady financial times crashed with the global recession of 2008. The government has used billions of dollars from its Sustainability Fund to avoid sinking deep into debt. Redford says it will do so again in 2012-13.
The political fallout is expected to be the wild card on the campaign trail.
The Tories currently hold a huge majority in the legislature and have been in power for 40 years, but the rival Wildrose party is running second in opinion polls.
Under leader Danielle Smith, the Wildrose has positioned itself to the right on a platform of financial prudence and accountability. Smith says a government on track to hit $40 billion in public spending next year has lost its ability to prioritize spending and make tough decisions.
Redford agrees a lot is on the line.
“A budget is always important for a province. It does define a leader,” she said.
“I’m not trying to be cute with the budget. I’ve been pretty clear that we’re going to have a deficit.
“These are tough economic times. The (last) budget did leave us with a deficit. We’ve got to manage through that and I’m still fully committed to balancing the budget in 2013-14.”
She said Albertans are savvy enough to see beyond the bottom line and she intends to “continue to do what I think Albertans want us to do, which is to support and to give a hand up to vulnerable people.
“Albertans are smart. They don’t want sound bites and they don’t want ideological one-liners. They want thoughtfulness (and) they want some consideration around how ideas tie together.”