ALBERTA

Jim Prentice Challenges Wildrose Party To Name Specific Budget Cuts

04/10/2015 05:41 EDT | Updated 06/11/2015 05:59 EDT
Alberta Premier Jim Prentice is challenging the Wildrose party to specify which jobs it would cut and which construction projects it would mothball under its proposed budget plan.

"Show us the details," Prentice said at an event in Calgary Friday.

"Which public projects in this province are they proposing to cut? Which communities are they proposing to cut those projects in, and who is it that they're talking about cutting in terms of front-line services?"

Prentice said his budget is a realistic blueprint to get the province through the rocky financial waters brought on by the recent plunge in oil prices.

The budget, introduced on March 26 but not yet passed by the legislature, includes sweeping hikes in fees and taxes along with cuts to services, but no tax increase for corporations.

Even with these measures, the province will still have a $5-billion deficit this year and $30 billion in debt by 2020 to pay for infrastructure.

Prentice has called it a difficult budget for Albertans, but said even harsher measures would put the economy into a tailspin.

"We know we can't get through this other than taking a balanced approach," he said.

Prentice called the election this week to get a mandate to implement the budget, which he has described as game-changing in terms of how the province saves and spends.

The budget comes with a 10-year-plan that Prentice said would see increasing amounts of oil revenue diverted from day-to-day spending into long-term savings accounts and to pay down debt.

He said it's necessary so that future programs and day-to-day spending don't rise and fall as the volatile price of oil changes.

Wildrose Leader Brian Jean announced his party's budget plan Thursday.

He said the tax hikes are unnecessary and counterproductive given what he termed the waste in government management ranks that Prentice refuses to address.

The Wildrose plans to cut a third of the manager jobs in the government and half the management positions in Alberta Health Services.

It would be a total of 3,200 jobs cut over three years, most through attrition.

Jean said they would also slash consultant contracts, travel, conference and advertising budgets and roll back politician pay.

The changes would save more than $2 billion a year in the first year alone, he said.

He also said his government would continue infrastructure building, but would defer projects not directly related to quality of life, such as roads, hospitals and schools.

He declined to be more specific on what would be deferred.

NDP Leader Rachel Notley also spoke on the economy Friday.

Notley told reporters in Edmonton that an NDP government would create a commission to deliver incentives to have more oil refined in Alberta rather than shipped abroad for processing.

Notley said more upgrading could deliver 16,000 direct and spin-off jobs and add $400 million a year in corporate income tax.

"We'll make sure Albertans, the owners of our natural resources, get better value," said Notley.

The Alberta Green Party said the focus should be on creating jobs that move the province away from its current heavy dependency on hydrocarbons.

"Public money should only be spent to further the public interest and ever more dependency on oil, gas and coal is exactly the wrong way to go," said Green Leader Janet Keeping. "So creating jobs in the renewable energy sectors — solar, wind and geothermal, for example — and other sustainable industries is the way to go."

She said her party advocates adoption of a real carbon tax, one modelled on the carbon tax implemented by British Columbia, saying the Greens would use the proceeds of that tax to support development of green companies and the creation of green jobs.

Jean, campaigning in Fort McMurray, promised to deliver more seniors-care spaces.

In Calgary, Liberal Leader David Swann urged Prentice to rethink a budget measure that rolls back the tax credit for charitable donations to 12.75 per cent from 21 per cent for donations over $200.

Swann said the benefits to the needy far outweigh the estimated $90 million a year in savings.

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