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Albertans asked to weigh in on budget in survey and telephone town halls

Click to play video 'Alberta deficit deepens to record $24.2 billion' Alberta deficit deepens to record $24.2 billion
WATCH (Aug. 27): Alberta's government has released its fiscal update, revealing a record deficit of $24.2 billion. As Heather Yourex-West explains, between falling oil prices, rising unemployment, and the pandemic, the province is bracing for a fiscal reckoning. – Aug 27, 2020

Alberta’s finance minister says he expects all provincial departments to make recommendations similar to cuts recently announced by the health ministry for next year’s budget.

Health Minister Tyler Shandro has said he will cut up to 11,000 jobs at Alberta Health Services to save money — a move the Opposition NDP says is cruel and will create chaos in the health-care system.

Click to play video 'Alberta government to cut up to 11,000 health care jobs' Alberta government to cut up to 11,000 health care jobs
Alberta government to cut up to 11,000 health care jobs – Oct 13, 2020

Finance Minister Travis Toews says Shandro is “carefully and thoughtfully” making a number of changes that were recommended in a recent AHS review.

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Read more: Thousands of Alberta Health Services jobs to be cut in effort to save $600M annually

Toews says a similar approach needs to be applied to every ministry as the United Conservative government looks for efficiencies in delivering services.

Toews says the province is confronted with an extreme fiscal challenge.

“Alberta has been hit with a serious triple black swan event,” he said during a news conference Wednesday.

“The global economy experienced the largest contraction since the Great Depression.

“Demand destruction and the oil price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia led to a total collapse in energy prices and, at the same time, we are dealing with the pandemic in our own province.

“The impacts to Alberta’s finances were severe and immediate.”

Read more: Highlights from Alberta budget 2020

In a news release Wednesday, the government said a lot has changed since the last provincial budget in February and that Alberta “now faces a very different set of circumstances and unique challenges.”

The province is asking Albertans to share their views and priorities for the upcoming budget.

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An online survey will be open until Dec. 4 and telephone town halls are scheduled for Nov. 30, Dec. 2 and Dec. 3.

When it was released in February, Alberta’s deficit was forecast to be $6.8 billion. But in August, the double blow of collapsing oil prices and the COVID-19  crisis pushed Alberta into a historic deficit of $24.2 billion.

“There will be some very difficult days ahead and the road to recovery will be slow,” Finance Minister Travis Toews said Aug. 27.

Since then, Premier Jason Kenney has been very vocal about the extreme fiscal challenges Alberta is facing after being hit by the “triple threat” of a global health crisis, worldwide economic depression and the collapse in oil prices.

Read more: COVID-19 pandemic, low energy prices leave Alberta with $24.2B deficit

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In addition to finding out what people’s priorities are, the government hopes Albertans will share ideas about where savings might be found.

“I’m looking forward to working with Albertans as we develop a fiscal plan that enables the sustainable delivery of services to Albertans now and into the future,” Toews said.

“The province’s deficit and growing debt clearly show that fiscal responsibility and accountability to Alberta taxpayers is more important than ever. I encourage all Albertans to provide their input and help shape the future of our province.”

The Opposition NDP issued a statement saying the United Conservatives aren’t making decisions based on Albertans’ values.

“Albertans from all walks of life, across all industries and regions, have good ideas for growing our economy and solving our fiscal challenges.

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“The UCP is listening to none of them,” NDP Finance Critic Shannon Phillips said.

“Instead, Jason Kenney is pursuing his own ideological agenda of firing thousands of front-line health workers, ripping benefits away from Albertans with disabilities, closing parks, hiking car insurance and cutting funding to kids in school just to pay for his failed $4.7-billion corporate handout.”

Click here to take the government of Alberta’s budget survey.

Toews also plans to tour Alberta communities and the province will be launching a digital “build a budget” tool in November that will ask people to make choices about spending, cuts and revenue.