By Cole Parkinson
Alberta Newspaper Group
Alberta’s United Conservatives hope their first budget, as the provincial government, is the first stepping stone to getting the province back on track financially.
As part of the UCP treasury board, Associate Minister of Red Tape Reduction and Taber-Warner MLA Grant Hunter was part of budget discussions and he is confident it will bring financial stability back to the province.
“I was excited to be able to work on this budget, as I was on the treasury board. What we did was, we struck the MacKinnon panel, so we could have an independent third party take a look and validate what we were doing in the treasury board. We worked independently, but came up with pretty much the same information – we spend more than we make. That is something we have to rectify and we’re working hard to do that,” said Hunter.
As the head of the red tape reduction movement in the province, Hunter has been knee-deep in working on slashing any barriers present.
In reviewing other provinces’ work on the matter, Hunter is confident they are on the right track.
“Obviously this is full-time work for me and a passion of mine. As we have looked at other jurisdictions that have gone after red tape reduction initiatives, they have been able to see an increase in GDP (Gross Domestic Product) by anywhere between 0.8 per cent to 2.3 per cent. Just to put that into perspective, this year in Alberta we are expected to have a 0.6 per cent increase in GDP, so you can see there is a material effect on jobs and the economy in Alberta.”
While the deficit is expected to rise over the next few years, the UCP is projecting a surplus of around $584 million by 2023. The UCP see this happening based on several factors including the public sector being reduced by nearly eight per cent over four years mainly through attrition, program spending dropping 2.8 per cent over four years and the end of the crude-by-rail shipment plan.
While the budget has only been out for several days, reactions have continued to pour in throughout southern Alberta.
As far as the Taber-Warner riding is concerned, Hunter said he is mostly seeing excitement.
“What we are seeing so far is our constituents are really excited about what they are seeing. I’m sure there is going to be people in my riding that say we didn’t go far enough and some will say we have gone too far. With this budget, really what we have been able to do is reduce expenses by about 0.7 per cent over each year, over the next four years. That is quite reasonable and I think with all the talk we heard from the NDP and some other groups, they felt we were going to be doing a lot more, but I think that is a reasonable approach and something we needed to do. Short of a global recession, and Prime Minister Trudeau messing around with us getting to coast water and pipelines, we will be able to balance the budget and get Alberta back on track financially.”
A concern for local municipalities is the cut to the Municipal Sustainability Initiative.
In 2020/2021 it will see a decrease by $94 million, while 2021/2022 will be further down by $142 million.
Hunter though sees it as bringing the MSI funding back to a more sustainable level in-line with comparable provinces.
“The MacKinnon report said we were 20 per cent higher than the other comparable provinces like Ontario, BC and Quebec, so we have a decrease of over nine per cent over the four years. We felt it was very reasonable. We created the budget on the ability to fulfill a campaign promise – which is to get Alberta back on track and not to spend more than we have, which we can do as long as we are careful and thoughtful.”
One of the bigger hit areas is post-secondary education – which is seeing the five-year tuition freeze lifted as of Jan. 1, 2020.
On that date, Alberta post-secondary schools will be allowed to raise tuition by seven per cent and up to 10 per cent in individual programs over the next three years.
Post-secondary spending is also seeing a cut by 12.5 per cent – which is around $4.8 billion over the next four years.
“The things students are really looking for is a job for after they get out of school. So the best thing we can do for them is to make sure the economy is firing on all cylinders and that is why our Job Creation Tax Cut was so important to make sure the investors come back to Alberta. We have dropped billions of dollars in the last four years and the investors have fled this province. We have to get them back to help create jobs and businesses in this province and that will result in more jobs for these people coming out of school.”