Taxpayers group urges province to divert $4.4B toward rebuilding

CALGARY — The Canadian Taxpayers Association says the Alberta government should take drastic action to help pay for billions of dollars in flood damage in the province this year.

CALGARY — The Canadian Taxpayers Association says the Alberta government should take drastic action to help pay for billions of dollars in flood damage in the province this year.

The association released a report Tuesday estimating that the unexpected cost of June’s flooding will push the province’s consolidated deficit up by $3 billion in 2013-14, and by an additional $2 billion in each of the following two years.

Alberta director Derek Fildebrandt says the province should divert $4.4 billion in annual spending away from pre-flood commitments and put it toward rebuilding as part of an “emergency fiscal program.”

“That would be focused primarily around corporate welfare and business subsidies and overspending on government workers,” said Fildebrandt. “That would mean bringing government workers’ salaries and pensions and benefits into line with norms for equivalent jobs in the private sector.”

Fildebrandt said government employees generally are paid six-to-10 per cent more than those in the private sector, so rolling back their compensation would yield substantial savings.

“The CTF’s plan to rebuild responsibly is built on the premise that we cannot allow a natural disaster to become a fiscal disaster,” said Fildebrandt.

“Frankly we’re going to have to make some very tough decisions and something’s got to give.”

An official with the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, which represents provincial government workers, was critical of the report.

“I really think it’s in bad taste that they would try to capitalize on a natural disaster to advance their critique of the government’s original budget,” said AUPE spokesman Mark Wells.

The federation’s report also calls for mandatory flood insurance for property owners who have made disaster relief claims, even though such insurance is not readily available in Canada.

A spokeswoman for Alberta’s Treasury Board, Jessica Jacobs-Mino, said the $4.4-billion figure being touted by the federation is unrealistic.

“Budget 2013 showed a zero increase in operating expenses, which is pretty significant considering we continue to grow,” said Jacobs-Mino.

“We’ve had an unprecedented disaster,” she added. “I don’t know how they arrived at that number, so all I can say is we are going to move forward with our plan to live within our means.”

She noted the province is to provide its first-quarter update this week.