If Tuesday’s Throne Speech did one thing, it provided a brilliant foreshadow of what the 2020 Alberta budget would look like.
Finance Minister and President of Treasury Board, Travis Toews delivered the 2020 budget, with the title of “A Plan for Jobs and the Economy” to the Legislature today. If it sounds like an accidental cut and paste from October, it’s not. The document bears the same name as budget 2019. The focus was on the UCP plan for getting Albertans back to work and strengthening our economy.
The four priorities of the second UCP budget are:
+ Getting services to people who need them
+ Getting Alberta back to work
+ Getting spending under control
+ Getting a fair deal
The government has added the priority of “getting spending under control.” While this has always been a line uttered in Conservative circles, it became a direct call-out today. In a largely predictable budget, Toews calls out to public sector employees, specifically doctors, nurses, and teachers. If we had a crystal ball, those two things might lead us to surmise 2020 might be the year of the fight with the unions.
Staying the course comes through loud and clear as not just the theme of Budget 2020 until the Alberta economic storm has passed. The MacKinnon Report from the fall continues to underpin all things budgetary in Alberta. In a side-by-side comparison, Budget 2019 key fiscal measures mirrored the suggested fiscal measures in the MacKinnon report. Budget 2020 does the very same.
Talk all we want about the Blueprint for Jobs; the MacKinnon Report is the Blueprint for the Minister of Finance getting the fiscal house in order. Cutting around the edges isn’t going to work; full-scale change needs to happen to avoid “far fewer options for Alberta in the future,” as Dr. MacKinnon said in her report. This government is getting into every nook and cranny of the departments to find efficiencies. While that can create uncertainty, it’s completely necessary for sound fiscal management.
Toews also tabled Bill 4 today, implementing a fixed budget period. Per the budget document, “this provision is an amendment to the Fiscal Planning and Transparency Act and aligns with a recommendation from the MacKinnon Panel”. Regular budget cycles, released in February annually, will help organizations that provide services for Albertans to best plan their own budgets.
What Does This Mean?
Between Tuesday’s Throne Speech indications and Toews sporting the same cowboy boots he wore for Budget 2019, one doesn’t need to be a rocket scientist to spot the strategy; continuity, stability, certainty in an economic storm.
With a few wins under their belts, the Alberta Court of Appeal decision on the carbon tax, and measures to restore investor confidence and cut red tape, this UCP government shows measured confidence in their plan. This budget, while unexciting to some, has no hidden agenda and does what the UCP government has promised to do.
We said it in budget 2019, we’ll say it again – if the left is mad, and the right is mad, you’ve probably got it right. Or at very least, close.
The Big Picture
+ Deficit is $1.2 billion lower than projected in Budget 2019
+ Stable funding for health, education and core social services
+ GDP growth of 2.5 per cent
+ WTI forecast for 2020-21: $58 a barrel
+ Revenue is forecast to remain flat at $50 billion
+ Deficit at $6.9 billion
+ $6.9 billion capital plan
+ Support further economic diversification, innovation, business attraction and investment in key sectors. These include: energy, tourism, finance/fintech, forestry, tech, agriculture, and aviation.
+ Increase in loan to Orphan Well Program
+ $1.1 billion commitment to Petrochemical Diversification Fund
+ Advance a modern, market-based electricity system in Alberta that attracts investment
+ $39.8 million is allocated to Caribou recovery planning
+ $100 million for mental health and addiction strategy
+ $40 million for an opioid responses
+ $20 million for palliative care
+ $500 million for the Surgical Wait Times Initiative
+ $3.7 billion over three years for capital projects
+ $8.3 billion for education, an increase of $100 million as school jurisdictions transition to a new funding model
+ $1.5 billion for new schools over three years
+ Holding the line on public sector union contracts
+ Reducing departmental staff by 2.1 per cent over three years
+ $3.9 billion for community and social services with a focus on more sustainable outcomes.
+ $637 million for seniors benefits and housing services.
+ $1.6 billion for children’s services
+ Develop and implement a strategy to attract $1.4 billion in investments over the next four years