Alberta Premier Jason Kenney delivered a pre-budget speech on Global News Wednesday night.
In the 14-minute televised address, he talked about responding to the challenges faced by the province with “bold action” and fiscal restraint.
Those challenges include what he called “bad government policies” from the NDP that chased away investments, killed pipelines and raised taxes, and a federal government that has “actively campaigned against our province’s vital economic interests.”
“In an uncertain world where we can’t count on support from this federal government in Ottawa, we must be self-reliant,” Kenney said.
“We must put our own house in order so that we’re prepared for whatever the future may bring.”
Kenney said the province has a spending problem, not a revenue problem, adding that the NDP government raised taxes on “pretty much everything.”
“Higher taxes on incomes, on employers, on property, plus their infamous carbon tax. Did that help to reduce the deficit? No. To the contrary, the economy shrank, government revenues went down, and the debt and deficit went up after those tax rates were increased,” he said.
“If we don’t make difficult choices to balance our budget now, we will be jeopardizing the future of public services as billions and billions more go to bankers and bondholders instead of our schools and hospitals.”
2.8% spending cut
Kenney said that the budget is a bold plan for jobs and the economy, which includes reducing program spending by 2.8 per cent. He added that health and education funding won’t be cut.
“We’ve reduced spending on programs that were bloated, unnecessary or that delivered services inefficiently, and in some of the cases, we have made thoughtful reallocations to move spending to more effective programs to get better bang for your buck,” he said.
Kenney said he has taken a cut of 10 per cent to his salary and MLAs took a five per cent cut.
The premier said Albertans need to pull together to get through tough economic times, adding that it will be a challenging budget but it is necessary with long overdue decisions.
Political analyst Janet Brown said Kenney is trying to set expectations so there is very little surprise.
“I think what Kenney is trying to do here is prepare Albertans for the fact that there are some cuts coming but to assure people that they’re not going to be that extreme, and that there’s no reason to get too worked up about this,” she said.
Brown said Kenney’s televised address was smart and took her back to when Ralph Klein was premier, with his regular appearances appealing to Albertans on television.
Brown explained that it’s going to be 2.8 per cent cut on average.
“What that means is it could be much higher than that in some areas and it could be lower than that in some areas,” she said.
“So for those areas that are hard hit, I think the premier wants people to have the message that it’s an average of 2.8 per cent. Don’t get caught up in a single cut that may be a double-digit cut. Put that in perspective of the overall cuts, which he wants to remind us are only 2.8 per cent.”
Official Opposition Leader Rachel Notley responded to Kenney’s remarks in the rotunda at the Alberta legislature shortly after.
“He immediately signed off on a $4.5 billion no-jobs corporate handout that he insisted would create jobs. But let me tell you, since that giveaway was made formal, Alberta has lost 27,000 jobs and counting,” she said, citing Husky job losses in Calgary this week.
“Really, the only positive of this premier’s generous gift to corporations has been felt by shareholders, in other parts of the world, and by CEOs who are using the gift to boost dividends and pay down company debt.”
Notley referenced Kenney’s line about coming together to face challenging times.
“The premier said we all have to pull together but I guess what he meant was that’s only if you’re not a wealthy corporation because then you get a $4.5 billion handout,” she said. “And that handout has not put people back to work.”
Notley said Kenney’s plan is designed for a small number of insiders at the expense of regular people.
“What Mr. Kenney has done is he said to those Albertans who can afford to, they need to pay a whole lot less, and that Alberta’s most vulnerable are going to be the ones that carry this on their back.”
The 2019 Alberta budget will be unveiled Thursday, and will be the first tabled under the United Conservatives, after the party was elected in the spring election.