Alberta’s finance minister says the United Conservative government still aims to balance the budget by 2023 but nothing is written in stone — especially with a continued uncertainty over pipelines.
“Certainly within the realm of reasonable economic outcomes we commit to balancing the budget in our first term… recognizing we do face revenue volatility in this province. That’s a fact of life,” Travis Toews said after a speech Wednesday to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce.
The Federal Court of Appeal earlier Wednesday said it would hear six challenges of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, which was approved by Ottawa for a second time in June and would increase the amount of Alberta oil moving to the west coast. The appeals focus on Indigenous consultations. The court dismissed several claims based on environmental concerns.
Toews said the province will take drastic action to ensure its financial books move into the black.
On Tuesday, the province released a report from a panel headed by former Saskatchewan Finance Minister Janice MacKinnon that said the province habitually overspends on services and needs to get tough on schools, have university students pay more and force doctors to charge less.
“We were awash in cash for some years. It led to increased spending and when the downturn came, spending wasn’t adjusted,” Toews told his audience.
“We can no longer afford to spend at that rate. We can no longer spend like we’re the rich kids on the block because, quite frankly, we’re not anymore.”
Toews said afterwards that although the report suggests the province cut its operating budget by $600 million a year, it could be even higher than that.
“The reality is we need to ensure that we’re reducing spending again to ensure that we have a cushion, that we have a contingency for our revenue volatility,” he said.
“My expectation is it’s going to have to be more than $600 million.”
The report also said that there needs to be salary restraint across government and legislation should be used to set public-sector wage levels.
Toews said nothing has been finalized, but the government would prefer to negotiate new contracts.
“We recognize that the public sector is a key partner in delivering high-quality programs and services to Albertans. We respect them and our first goal will always be to negotiate collectively.”
The UCP government plans to table a budget in October.