POLITICS

Opponents to focus legislature spring sitting on Alberta premier blaming others

03/09/2015 04:49 EDT | Updated 05/09/2015 05:59 EDT
EDMONTON - Alberta's opposition leaders say they will use the spring sitting of the legislature to hold to account a premier they say believes leadership is all about blaming others.

The NDP's Rachel Notley, David Swann of the Liberals and Heather Forsyth of the Wildrose party said Monday that Premier Jim Prentice needs to take responsibility for Alberta's fiscal troubles.

"This session I think will be one that is about leadership," Notley told a news conference prior to Tuesday's first day of the sitting.

"It will be a session that's about whether we can count on our leaders to take responsibility for their record and whether we can count on our leadership to act in the interests of Albertans."

A plunge in oil prices has left the province with what Prentice estimates will be a $7-billion hole in the treasury for the next fiscal year.

The premier has said the spring sitting will focus on a budget and a 10-year plan to insulate the economy from swings in oil prices.

He has pointed to the current government for signing wage deals with unions that he calls unsustainable and blamed past Progressive Conservatives for not saving enough money in the Heritage Savings and Trust Fund.

Last week, he was heavily criticized for suggesting Albertans "look in the mirror" if they want to see who's to blame for the province's economic challenges. Prentice later said he didn't mean to blame Albertans and that the remarks were taken out of context.

Prentice spokeswoman Emily Woods, in an statement, added that Prentice "is not taking the government off the hook — indeed, he has often been one of the biggest critics of the fact that we have not, as a government, managed the boom and bust impacts in a way that created real solutions."

Forsyth said his actions reflect a premier out of touch with priorities.

"He blames Albertans for his government's legacy of waste and mismanagement, while he puts the finishing touches on the MLA palace just outside of these doors," said Forsyth, referring to the renovated $403-million Federal Building.

Swann and Liberal house leader Laurie Blakeman said students, for example, are not responsible for the government's failure in recent years to fulfil a promise to build schools.

"It's time for the government to step up and recognize, acknowledge, (and) apologize to Albertans for the financial mess we're in today," said Swann.

The budget and 10-year plan are to be announced in the legislature March 26.

Prentice and Finance Minister Robin Campbell have said everyone must share in the burden of a struggling economy, but have promised not to increase corporate taxes or oil royalties.

Government House Leader Jonathan Denis said amendments will be made to a controversial bill on allowing students to set up gay-straight alliances.

The bill was put on hold in December after critics suggested it could lead to segregation of gay youth.

There will also be a bill to regulate tanning beds to protect young people from skin cancer.

Prentice is expected to call an election as early as the end of March.