In a time of fiscal restraint, Albertans will be on the hook for an estimated $10-million spring election.
Premier Jim Prentice called the early election on Tuesday morning and wasted no time hitting the campaign trail.
From his campaign bus heading to Grande Cache, Prentice reiterated his party’s promises for the next three to 10 years and defended the decision to send Albertans to the polls on May 5.
The mandated election date was in 2016.
Prentice said the government has brought forward a 10-year, realistic plan and Albertans deserve the opportunity to judge that plan.
“In terms of cost, the election would cost the same next year as it would cost this year,” said Prentice. “The point is it’s the same cost either way. But we are in tough circumstances and the Alberta government needs a mandate to make changes in the province.”
Prentice said Albertans deserve the opportunity to judge the plan and to judge what the opposition parties are saying.
The 2012 election came with a $13.6-million price tag, which included a Senate election on the ballot, compared to $9.9 million in 2008.
Central Albertans elected five Wildrose candidates and two Progressive Conservative candidates in the 2012 election. Prentice said he was not worried about the erosion of support in the region.
He said the PCs have a great candidates in Central Alberta.
Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer said the municipality will work with the new MLAs in Red Deer North and South and the governing parties. She said priorities for the city include securing a new location for the provincial courthouse in Red Deer.
Veer also spoke about the importance of maintaining infrastructure funding to municipalities, securing necessary grants to expand the Red Deer Airport along with Red Deer County, and working to repurpose the former Valley Park Manor site and empty Michener Centre buildings for public use.
In the future, the city will be looking for funding for the North Highway Connector.
Before the budget was released, the province reaffirmed its position on keeping Michener Centre open and announced it would repurpose the Red Deer Nursing home site to use for affordable senior housing with the Piper Creek Foundation.
Other provincial matters related to the city have been put to rest, including signing off on new ambulance and dispatch contracts.
The provincial budget also earmarked capital and operating funding for the 2019 Canada Winter Games in Red Deer.
Red Deer College president Joel Ward said the college will continue to push the agenda to become a polytechnic university with degree-granting status.
“That’s a huge issue and we will be talking to all parties about that,” he said. “It’s a priority for our board of governors. We are going to be speaking loudly and boldly with all the parties to ensure they understand the aspirations of Central Albertans as it relates to this college.”
RDC’s long-awaited Centre for Health, Wellness and Sport is also on the college’s agenda. The province allocated $20 million in capital for the project in 2015-2016.
“It will support the Canada Winter Games and provide crucial infrastructure for this college going forward,” Ward said.
Ward also hopes there will be more discussion about post-secondary education funding.
“There hasn’t been a lot by the current government,” he said. “They have been focusing on the K to 12, and building new schools and health care. We hope our students and our communities will ask good questions about their platform and portfolio and post-secondary education. I haven’t heard a lot about it but we will certainly be asking the questions.”
Brenda Corney, chairperson of the Red Deer Chapter of the Friends of Medicare, said the province is trying to get a mandate for the budget before the impact is felt.
“I think there are some very serious things that we need to watch,” said Corney. “What is going to happen to our health care? If they are talking about laying off staff … front-line nurses and staff are way over what they are able to do. They are very busy. I don’t think they can take any more at that level. So what level are the job losses going to be?”
Corney said she will be paying close attention to the issues arising from changes to health care.
“I think we have to watch and see what he is going to do to change,” said Corney. “There’s big changes coming with health care with it going to regional. Every time they change management at AHS, it costs a lot of money. … We just have to see what he does with it. He wants a mandate for it but it isn’t clear what he is going to do.”
Corney said there has to be an emphasis on the service to the people in the province while ensuring the most vulnerable are not hurt any more than they already are.
“That’s health care, education,” said Corney. “All those things. We can’t let people fall into poverty. … It’s very basic things.”
Prentice said the government intends to protect frontline services in a realistic way, including teaching positions, nurses and doctors.
The premier said the province faces immediate challenges of balancing the budget over three years, protecting jobs and eliminating waste, duplications and inefficiencies in the government.
In the long term, Prentice said the province has to focus on diversifying the economy and putting money into the Heritage Savings Trust Fund.