EDMONTON — The spring sitting of the Alberta legislature picked up where the fall sitting left off, with Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith calling Premier Alison Redford’s Tories untrustworthy incompetents and Redford labelling the Wildrose ideologically blinkered extremists.
“The fall session ended three months ago with the government under a siege of scandals, ethical lapses, and spending blunders and here we are again,” Smith told the house Tuesday in her first series of questions.
She said the Tories’ “disregard for fiscal prudence” has led to deficit projections of up to $6 billion in the 2013-14 budget, to be delivered by Finance Minister Doug Horner on Thursday.
That, said Smith, is despite Redford’s campaign promise last year to put Alberta’s books back in the black.
“It’s no wonder Albertans have lost trust with this government. What big promise will they break next?” she asked.
Redford stood to answer.
“You know what else hasn’t changed (from) this last session? The tone from the opposition. Not the questions, but the tone,” she said, reminding Smith that Albertans had their say in last April’s election.
“Albertans elected a Progressive Conservative government that has built a successful economy that is leading Canada,” she said.
Smith responded with a mock apology.
“I’m awfully sorry if my tone is hurting the premier’s feelings.”
The fall sitting was marked by heated cross-aisle hostility and insults between the Wildrose and the Tories. Speaker Gene Zwozdesky repeatedly chastised both sides over decorum and on Tuesday, issued another plea.
“Honourable members, I know you’ve forgotten a few rules from before,” said Zwozdesky. “One of them is to be polite and respectful and honour the dignity of other members.”
Redford has warned Thursday’s budget will be filled with “tough choices” given that falling oil prices will reduce revenues by up to $6 billion.
Smith has called for spending cuts and she pointed to mixed messages from the premier on whether the budget problems are rooted in spending or revenue.
“How can Albertans have any confidence that the premier can provide a solution if she doesn’t even understand the problem?” said Smith.
Redford fired back, saying good government is about more than just slashing budget line items.
“As usual, what we see from the opposition is extremism and ideology that does not actually understand how to build a government that provides services to Albertans (and) continues to invest in families and communities,” said Redford.
Smith shrugged off the extremist label.
“Running balanced budgets isn’t an issue of being right wing or left wing. It’s an issue of being competent or incompetent.”
Opposition Liberal Leader Raj Sherman urged Redford to overhaul Alberta’s 10 per cent flat tax across all personal income brackets.
“Why is it OK for the government to give away billions to the wealthy few while asking everyday Albertans to foot the bill?” asked Sherman.
Redford replied that a competitive tax position is one of the key’s to the province’s economic success.
“We don’t need to change it, and we’re not going to,” she said.
NDP Leader Brian Mason accused Redford of breaking faith on election pledges to provide secure, sustainable funding for health care.
“You just can’t trust this PC government to keep its promises,” said Mason.
“But while they promised there wouldn’t be service cuts to health care, we’ve already seen layoffs and cutbacks across Alberta.”
Mason said a hospital in Stony Plain is facing a $450,000 cut to its services while a transition unit at Edmonton’s Royal Alexandra Hospital has been closed.
Redford said the system is always streamlining and adjusting services to improve overall care.
Redford’s answer was met with energetic desk thumping by her ministers and government backbenchers.
Given the sobering warnings the Tories have been making about Thursday’s budget, Mason told the house: “I think they’re just thumping past the graveyard.”