With spending restraint totaling a 2.8 per cent reduction over four years, what was expected to be a dropped bomb, ended up a mere tremor.
The very name of the budget document A Plan for Jobs and the Economy hides nothing when it comes to where the priorities of this government lie. As advertised from the start, the three priorities of the first UCP budget are:
- Getting Albertans back to work.
- Making life better for Albertans.
- Standing up for Alberta.
The UCP election platform was based on clear commitments to balance the budget. Subsequently, the release of the MacKinnon Report pointed flashing arrows at Alberta’s “spending problem.” Dogmatic in their campaign follow-through, cuts have loomed for months. The only question; how deep would they go? Premier Jason Kenney took to the airwaves for 15-minutes last night, giving Albertans fair warning of what’s to come, but assuring Albertans, it will not be at the expense of their jobs. Depending on who you ask, Kenney either came across as measured and moderate, or monstrous and malevolent. Regardless of opinion, we know the theme of restraint in Alberta’s 2019 budget has dominated the headlines and conversations around kitchen tables and boardrooms alike.
President of Treasury Board & Finance Minister Travis Toews has the lofty mandate of balancing the books in the UCP’s first term. Despite the four-year objective, it is clear Premier Kenney, and the UCP focused on the long game while putting together Budget 2019. The MacKinnon Report and its 26 recommendations gave Albertans a sneak-preview of what to expect in education, health, capital spending, and the public service budget line items over four years. The reality of today’s budget release is that this is year one of a four-year budget, with the MacKinnon report serving as the playbook.
Since April 2019, visions of Klein-era, Mike Harris style slash and burn has played out on social and conventional media. Today proved that isn’t the case with this UCP government.
What does this mean?
The media rhetoric surrounding the possibility of Kenney’s “draconian cuts” started long before the UCP won the 2019 election. The doom and gloom around imploding hospitals and overcrowded classrooms was a central message delivered by many outlets.
Detractors of Kenney’s have stood on any platform available to them, taking a tone of fear and anger. Recognizing the mandate the UCP was given to govern, the direction Albertans voted in Monday’s federal election, and sentiment widely shared around the province, those kicking up the most dust aren’t kicking it on behalf of every-day Albertans.
In the initial weeks and months, the moderate approach Kenney’s government took to implementing cuts quieted the noise, but in recent weeks that message had been amplified once again. Pre-budget news out of many key ministries pointed to where cuts may be imminent, sending subtle feelers out into the public. We know that Kenney and his cabinet have delivered on the promise of no cuts to services in Education and Health Care. What we don’t know is the statute of limitations on that promise.
The relatively moderate actions reflect the confidence of the UCP in their plan. Dr. MacKinnon said it in her report, Toews reiterated it in the townhalls and again today:
Alberta still has options, but you must take action now to restrain spending – do not delay. If you don’t take action now, there will be far fewer options for Alberta in the future.
And, the tones and actions will quiet the fears of some Albertans about Premier Jason Kenney as a strategic leader taking the long-term view versus the budgetary diehard committed to cutting and slashing public spending in all its forms.
Not to be dismissed, Toews put those in the healthcare and education sector on notice. If spending is not reigned in, further action will need to be taken.
The UCP government undoubtedly presented a budget that looks to ensure continued upward movement in the economy. Where hours ago, the assumption was an epic fight with unions would be inevitable; it is now much more difficult for critics to mobilize the masses. Premier Kenney has delivered on his promises and –as evidenced by the provincial and federal vote –on the desires of most Albertans.
Budget 2019 lightened the role of government, amplifying the role of the private sector, while the newly elected Trudeau Liberals platform boasts exactly the opposite. The highly politicized nature of this budget is exemplified in dollars invested in the Canadian Energy Centre, the court challenges on the carbon tax, and the potential of a referendum on equalization. Given the contrast of today’s budget to the platform of the Trudeau Liberals, it’s clear the only war this budget anticipates is on Ottawa.
Budget 2019 may look different from the fringes. Those on the far left will cry foul at what they believe to be drastic cuts. Those on the far right will suggest the cuts don’t go deep enough.
As the old political adage goes, if the left is mad, and the right is mad, you’ve probably got it right.
The Big Picture
- Operational spending reduced by 2.8 per cent ($1.8 billion) over four years
- Alberta’s budget to be balanced in four years
- Alberta’s debt ($62.7 billion) remains to be tackled
- Interest payments approach $2 billion –more than the spending of 17 government ministries
- Total salary spending to be reduced by 2.1 per cent by 2023
- Total number of jobs to be reduced by 7.7 per cent by 2023
- Wage freeze for three years
- Job reductions to be achieved through attrition
- Commitment to end crude-by-rail
- $30 million to Canadian Energy Centre
- $2.5 million to public inquiry into foreign funding of anti-energy campaigns.
- Introduction and implementation of TIER
- Funding increased by $200 million
- But, put on notice, that spending is to be stabilized
- Target is to approximate funding levels in BC, Ontario and Quebec
- Funding is maintained
- Delivers dollars promised for school nutrition program and new capital funding for schools, classrooms and playgrounds
- Government commits to act on MacKinnon recommendation to review education funding formula
- End the five-year tuition freeze
- Budget reduction of 12 per cent by 2022-23
- New funding model to be implemented.
- Direct municipal support to be reduced
- As recommended by MacKinnon, municipalities to pay greater share for major projects
- Budget reduction of 15.5 per cent by 2022-23
- “Big city charters” for Calgary and Edmonton to be repealed
Seniors and AISH
- The indexation of benefits to inflation is paused.
- Indexation of tax brackets and credits to inflation is paused.
Authored by: Tim Moro, Natalie Sigalet, Jessica Conlin