This past week we had the opportunity to participate in public (by invite-only) pre-budget consultations.
The consultation was hosted by President of the Treasury and Minister of Finance, Joe Ceci along with Red Deer North and South MLAs, Kim Schreiner and Barb Miller. Along with ourselves, the meeting was attended by a variety of community stakeholders including representatives from the Public and Catholic School Boards, Red Deer College, Hospice Society, Food Bank, Canada Winter Games, Women’s Outreach, the Airport, Safe Harbour, and several others.
From our point of view, the context of the meeting was as follows: The Alberta economy is in a fragile state, at the mercy of fluctuating commodity prices, global demand, and government policy. Our government is running a deficit of nearly $11 billion dollars to ‘keep the lights on’ and a balanced budget is not within the horizon. Ten years ago Alberta had around $40 billion ‘in the bank.’ This year our debt will climb to over $20 billion, with the estimated interest cost to be $1 billion per year.
Per capita Alberta has among the highest program expenses, yet some outcomes and service levels remain mediocre and even poor.
In the past 19 months, many Albertans have seen higher costs from increases to personal and corporate tax rates, the minimum wage increase, and almost everything else thanks to the implementation of the Climate Leadership Plan.
It is important to keep in mind that these changes were made amid the worst recession to hit Alberta in our modern history.
The government has rolled out several programs meant to spur growth and diversify our economy. Unfortunately, these plans to not consider the varying nature of regional economies across the province. Red Deer is not a mini-Calgary or mini-Edmonton. The basis of our economy is very different. If the government is going to implement plans meant to stimulate or diversify our economy, they must consider our core strengths and capabilities.
So with that context in mind our advice to the Minister was:
1. To not only reign in government spending, but make cuts and force government to find new efficiencies and eliminate waste.
2. Stimulate economic growth by reducing costs on business and increasing our competitiveness.
3. Consider the varying and regional nature of Alberta’s economy allowing us to build on our strengths.
Of course all the power to determine next year’s budget lies with the NDP government. My best guess is they will not make any meaningful reductions in spending, but next year’s deficit will be slightly lower thanks to an improving economy and more royalty revenue.
Still, there is no harm in trying.
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