Alberta throne speech promises smarter spending, more jobs

Alberta Premier Alison Redford’s government has opened its pre-election spring sitting of the legislature with a throne speech promising smarter spending.

EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Alison Redford’s government has opened its pre-election spring sitting of the legislature with a throne speech promising smarter spending.

“It’s time for foundational change,” Lt.-Gov. Don Ethell read Tuesday from the speech, which promised smarter spending through zero-based budgets and predictable funding.

“It won’t be easy, but it is the right way to better manage the annual unpredictability in the budgeting process.

“Alberta’s current fiscal framework relies too heavily on volatile energy revenue as a source of income.”

The speech from the throne outlines the plans and priorities a government has for the upcoming session and beyond.

Ethell reiterated that the government will phase in zero-based budgeting over the next three years to keep program spending on track. Deputy premier Doug Horner announced last week that proposed legislation to that effect will be introduced as Bill 1 during the sitting.

Such budgeting means politicians and their officials don’t simply add or subtract from existing line items. Rather, the entire budget from the year before is scrapped and rebuilt from the ground up to make sure all spending matches stated goals.

Fiscal conservatives such as the Wildrose party and the Alberta Liberals say zero-based budgeting is the way to go, but don’t believe Redford’s Conservatives, with their recent string of deficit budgets, are not the ones to do it.

The NDP says zero-based budgeting will be a stalking horse to slash programs and privatize jobs.

Ethell announced other initiatives to manage an economy that is growing but also putting strains on programs and services.

He announced the government will be “enhancing” post-secondary institutions to increase the number of highly skilled workers. There is to be a strategy to recruit more students from Metis and First Nations communities.

There are also plans for improvements on the health front. Multidisciplinary teams of health professionals are to help patients in family-care clinics in three pilot projects to start this spring.

“Patients in need of medical attention will be able to get it quickly and easily at publicly funded clinics close to home,” read Ethell.

Local health advisory councils are to get a greater say on front-line care in their communities.

And a new northern development strategy is to help that region’s programs and infrastructure keep pace with the rapid growth of the oilsands.

“The North is the source of much of our prosperity, so success there is critical for a successful Alberta,” said Ethell.

The government also promised renewed partnership with Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government, including work on a shared national energy plan.

Redford has said she wants to implement a national strategy so that regions and the federal government are working as one to effectively produce and market resources to customers around the globe.

“Your government will actively design initiatives to access global markets and assist Canadians and our trading partners in understanding Alberta’s energy goals.”

The current session will be the last before a general election.

The 2012-13 budget is to be presented by Finance Minister Ron Liepert on Thursday. Redford has said that once it is passed, she will drop the writ soon after. That would put the start of the 28-day campaign in mid-March with polling day in April.

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