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Alberta Finance Minister Ron Liepert gets “frugal shoes” for budget speech

EDMONTON – Alberta Finance Minister Ron Liepert delivers his first – and last – provincial budget today, and he says he has the shoes to match the occasion.

Liepert says that, as per parliamentary tradition, he has purchased a new pair of shoes to wear when he delivers the 2012-13 spending document in the legislature.

He says his black discount loafers are nonetheless stylish and reflect the tone of the budget.

He says the budget reflects frugality while adhering to the principles of conservative spending and the tenets of progressive program delivery.

His critics say he’ll deliver neither.

The province has run up four consecutive multibillion-dollar deficits, and opponents say it’s due to putting too much money into administration and wasteful pet projects and not enough toward front-line care and innovation.

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“If we go down the path that the PCs have us on, we’re going to destroy what’s left of the Alberta advantage,” said Wildrose Party Leader Danielle Smith.

Alberta enjoyed more than a decade of multibillion-dollar surpluses, but that got wrenched into reverse when the global economy melted down in 2008. The province has run up deficits ever since, although they have been covered off by rainy-day savings.

Smith said too often the government has framed the debate as deficits to fund crucial program spending. She said that’s not the case, especially with oil at US$100 a barrel in a resource-rich province.

“It’s a problem with them not being able to manage the spending side of the equation, and I don’t think this government has the will to do that,” said Smith.

Premier Allison Redford has said previously they expect to run a fifth-consecutive deficit, but says Albertans will be pleased to see that the government has turned the corner.

Redford has promised to balance the books by 2014 and is instituting zero-based budgeting, which strips budgets to zero every year to critically re-examine every bit of spending to find savings and meet budget goals.

The government expects to run a $3.1-billion deficit this fiscal year.

Opposition NDP Leader Brian Mason said he wants to see more help for Albertans in the budget, through relief on high power bills and more long-term care beds.

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Liberal Leader Raj Sherman say he wants to see how the Tories match up with his party’s budget plan, which would hike taxes on big corporations and the wealthy to give students tuition breaks and reduce health care wait times.

This will be Liepert’s only budget. He has already announced he won’t run in the next election, expected in April.

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