MLAs trade barbs on economy, budget as Alberta legislature resumes

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and NDP leader Rachel Notley.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and NDP leader Rachel Notley. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

Alberta’s fall legislature sitting began on full boil, with Premier Jason Kenney accusing the former government of trailblazing economic incompetence while NDP Leader Rachel Notley told him to stop throwing tantrums and take the wheel.

With Kenney promising spending restraint in the Oct. 24 budget, he told the house during question period that cuts his United Conservative government makes are a result of high-deficit, high-debt bungling of the NDP and its former finance minister Joe Ceci.

READ MORE: Premier Kenney on budget cuts, user fees and being Albertan

“Every single dime of spending restraint by this (UCP) government is ultimately the responsibility of that member and his gross fiscal irresponsibility,” Kenney said Tuesday while Ceci sat across from him in the chamber.

“The record of that member was the record of the worst finance minister in Alberta history. He drove down business tax revenues. His policies (and) his tax hikes killed tens of thousands of jobs.”

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Kenney and his UCP won a majority government in April’s election, defeating Notley’s NDP with a promise to slash corporate business taxes to galvanize the economy and create jobs, particularly in the oil and gas industry.

Kenney’s government has since cut the corporate tax rate to 11 per cent from 12 per cent, and will lower it to eight per cent by 2022.

READ MORE: Alberta introduces bill to slash corporate income taxes by a third to 8%

Notley, now Opposition leader, attacked the tax cut as a sweetheart deal for Kenney’s corporate pals.

Click to play video 'In Conversation with Premier Jason Kenney' In Conversation with Premier Jason Kenney
In Conversation with Premier Jason Kenney

She told the house that despite Kenney’s promise, key consumer spending and job creation numbers are flat or going backward, and that the upcoming budget will force ordinary Albertans to pay for it in higher fees and cuts to education and health care.

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READ MORE: Edmonton loses 5,400 jobs in overall 14,000 July loss for Alberta

“Albertans were promised jobs by this premier now — not 10 years from now,” said Notley.

“When will the premier admit that his plan was only ever about lining the pockets of wealthy shareholders?”

Kenney said the economic rebound is hampered by a shortage of pipelines and by new energy project approval policies by the federal Liberals that he said will make it harder to get big projects off the ground.

The premier also pointed a finger at the NDP’s tax hikes and big-ticket spending, which he said left the economy in a mess of multibillion-dollar budget deficits and ballooning debt.

“The reality is this, it’s going to take us a long time to undo the damage of the NDP,” Kenney said.

Notley said blaming others doesn’t help.

“Yelling a lot clearly doesn’t create jobs, because we’ve actually lost jobs. Things are absolutely no better in the oilfield,” she said.

She told Kenney: “When will you admit that you have a job — not somebody else who is not doing a job, but you. And then do it.”

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The NDP says cutting corporate taxes from 12 to eight per cent means $4.5 billion in foregone tax revenue by 2022, money that must be made up elsewhere.

READ MORE: Oil prices, tax income keep Alberta Q1 revenue in line with last year

Kenney’s government disputes the figure, saying it’s far less, citing research of University of Calgary economist Trevor Tombe.

Tombe, in an interview, said it’s difficult to estimate the effect of the tax cut given there are multiple factors at play, including the fact reduction would spur economic growth.

He estimates cutting the tax from 12 to eight per cent would cost the province about $500 million a year.