EDMONTON – Premier Jim Prentice says the upcoming provincial budget will be so radical and far-reaching, Albertans will be demanding a vote to validate or reject it.
“This will be the most significant budget in modern times in the province,” Prentice said Friday on News Talk 770 radio in Calgary.
“It will have impacts … on every single person in the province.”
While he said he hasn’t decided whether to call a spring election after the budget, he added, “It’s pretty clear in the circumstances that we’re in, that whoever is the premier had better have a mandate. He better have the authority to do what needs to be done.”
He said the budget will be introduced at some point after the legislature resumes sitting March 10, and said it will be controversial.
“I promise you it will take about 20 minutes after this budget is put on the table before people say, ‘Well, just a minute here. Did we agree to that? When did we agree to that?’
“These are challenging times and all Albertans need to be part of the solutions.”
Prentice said no specific date has been set to deliver the budget, but he said it will also include a 10-year plan to transform how the government raises and spends money to get day-to-day spending off the wild swings of oil prices.
He is forecasting a $7-billion hole in the upcoming budget given that oil prices have been cut in half from a peak of more than US$100 a barrel last summer.
In recent weeks, Prentice and members of his cabinet team have floated numerous ideas to raise revenue and cut spending, but have only committed to not hiking corporate taxes or raising oil royalties.
Prentice has said touching those two areas would hurt business and hurt Alberta’s economy.
He has mused about raising or revamping personal income taxes as well as hiking user fees and bringing back Alberta health premiums.
Prentice suggested Friday that tuition caps may need to be altered, but said “it has to be in the context of a policy, an objective, a strategy that involves accessibility and consideration of affordability.
“Not all programs are the same,” he added.
He said Advanced Education Minister Don Scott will be consulting with stakeholders over the coming year.
NDP Leader Rachel Notley said it’s unclear where Prentice stands on post-secondary education given that while in federal politics in 2003 he pushed for free tuition to build a strong, educated workforce.
“What has changed since 2003? Are we no longer in a knowledge economy? Do we no longer need a well-educated workforce to be competitive?” said Notley.
Prentice has also said that public service wages need to be reduced. He hasn’t said what he will do to make that happen but has promised to honour current collective bargaining agreements.
Liberal Leader David Swann says Prentice is unfairly vilifying public sector workers.
“In reality, it is the PCs who are to blame because of their decades of fiscal irresponsibility,” said Swann.