These are interesting days in the Alberta political scene. More importantly, these are immensely important days as we choose a responsible path forward for this great province.
I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with hundreds, maybe thousands of you over the last few months. I’ve made every effort to contact as many people as possible to get your input and ideas as to what is working, and what government needs to do differently.
Here’s one thing I am certain we all agree on. Alberta has to get off the roller coaster ride of oil revenues. We can’t watch an OPEC meeting on TV to determine whether we can build schools for our kids.
So, how do we do this?
We could slash and burn, cut crucial programs and lay off thousands of people. This is what some in opposition, including my former colleagues are proposing.
We could increase corporate taxes, affectively putting the burden on our businesses during a period which many are already struggling and laying off staff.
Or, we could take a balanced, measured approach and protect front line services and vulnerable Albertans while bringing the cost of our public services in line with the national average.
I like the last option.
The reality is, the price of oil is less than half of what it was last year, which has eviscerated seven billion dollars from our provincial budget.
The first thing we are doing is to reduce and restrain government spending.
It’s no secret that we spend a lot of money on the health system. In fact our per capital health spending is the highest in the country. I’ve always felt this was unsustainable, and it is. Well over 300 million dollars has been cut from the budget, and close to 3000 jobs are being eliminated. In addition, AHS will be absorbing one billion dollars in annual growth pressures. Administration and excess spending is being cut and we will get back toward spending levels more in line with the rest of Canada. This is the responsible thing to do.
On the revenue side, a health levy has been introduced. This will not be a bureaucratic monstrosity, and it will not be hard on those who can’t afford to pay like the last one. If your income after taxes is greater than $50,000, you’ll be asked to contribute. The amount starts at $200.00 and rises to $1000.00 for those making in excess of $130,000 a year.
The provincial gas tax went up 4 cents a litre also. It should be noted that this has not been raised in 25 years and Albertans still pay the lowest amount of provincial gas tax in the country.
The third lever that government used to address this difficult time is drawing from our contingency fund. The point of having a rainy day fund is to use it when it is raining. Well, it’s raining.
There are other increases and changes coming as well.
There is some extra cushion coming for low income working families. A new refundable tax credit knows as the Alberta working family supplement kicks in July 1st. The current Alberta Family Employment Tax Credit is also being enhanced as we do all we can to help families through this period.
We have also made the decision to continue building primary infrastructure even if it means taking on debt. The fact of the matter is, we need schools and roads and highways. To not build them would be irresponsible.
The good news is there is light at the end of the tunnel. In three years we will be back to a place where we contribute 25% of our oil and gas revenue into the Heritage Savings Trust Fund. The goal is to bring that to 50%, just as Premier Peter Lougheed intended.
By taking a balanced approach we will be able to protect Albertans, build the infrastructure we need, and get off of our dependency on oil and gas revenue.
We all know change was needed. It is not business as usual with $50.00 oil.
My hope is that this plan strikes the right balance for us.
I intend to continue reaching out to you in the days ahead. I always look forward to conversations with real people as we work together to find solutions to our challenges.
I hope to see you on your doorstep if and when a provincial election is called. Please do not hesitate to contact me at my office if there’s anything I can help you with or you wish to discuss.