EDMONTON — The NDP government's plan to get Alberta out of the low-oil debt spiral is only going to make things worse, Wildrose Leader Brian Jean said Tuesday in a televised, provincewide address.
Jean said the province can't spend and borrow its way out of the current fiscal crisis.
"Interest payments will soon be the largest expense in government after health, education and social services,'' said Jean in the short speech, which served as a rebuttal to last week's kitchen-table TV address by Premier Rachel Notley.
"Credit rating agencies are taking notice. Large deficits have become the norm over the last decade and it's just not sustainable.''
Alberta budget will be unveiled Thursday
Jean's comments come just days before Finance Minister Joe Ceci unveils the 2016-17 budget.
Ceci has already said it will contain a $10-billion deficit, and government spending has the province on track to rack up $50 billion in debt by the end of the decade.
Jean said there are solutions available, such as reducing the small business tax and halting the government's looming carbon tax.
"Interest payments will soon be the largest expense in government."
He suggested the government should take a page from the book of former premier Ralph Klein, who reined in spending when low oil prices hammered the province's economy in the early 1990s.
"We need from the government a firm timeline to get back to balanced budgets,'' said the Opposition leader.
"We need to actually hold the line on spending and look for ways to find just a few pennies of savings for every dollar spent. We can get back to balanced budgets without any cuts to the nurses and teachers that Albertans rely on.''
'Ideas from the past'
Deputy Premier Sarah Hoffman, responding to the speech, said it sounded "like a presentation of ideas from the past'' in referencing cuts of the 1990s.
Hoffman said former Tory premier Jim Prentice proposed similar cuts in last year's election campaign, only to lose the election to the NDP.
"The opposition wants to recycle failed experiments from the past but we're certainly moving forward,'' said Hoffman.
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EDMONTON — Alberta's NDP government tabled its first budget Tuesday. A look at some of the winners and losers: Files from The Canadian Press
Winners — Low-income families: New Alberta Child Benefit to assist families earning less than $41,220. Parents to get up to $1,100 for one child and as much as $550 each for three additional children. Family Tax Credit to be enhanced so more lower- and middle-class families can get access to it and draw from it for longer periods. Files from The Canadian Press
Winners — Employers and people looking for work: A two-year job incentive program is to give companies of all sizes, as well as non-profits, $5,000 for each new job they create. Meant to support 27,000 new jobs each year. New measures to improve access to capital for small- and medium-sized businesses. Files from The Canadian Press
Losers — Drinkers and smokers: The cost of cigarettes goes up by $5 a carton. A case of 12 beers goes up 24 cents and a bottle of wine is increased by 18 cents. Files from The Canadian Press
Losers — The insured: There is an insurance premium tax hike of one per cent. Files from The Canadian Press
Losers — Politicians: Cabinet ministers, political staff and members of the legislature are to be under a salary freeze for the remainder of the current four-year legislature term. Files from The Canadian Press
Winners — The sick and those in need: More money for services to help children and families in need, including $15 million to support women's shelters. Operational funding for health is to increase to almost $21 billion by 2018. Files from The Canadian Press
Winners — Construction workers: The province plans to spend $34 billion over the next five years to ramp up construction for roads, schools, hospitals and other facilities. Files from The Canadian Press
Winners — Students: There is a two-year tuition freeze for post-secondary students. An additional 380 teachers, plus 150 support staffers, to be hired for grade schools. Files from The Canadian Press
Losers — Future taxpayers: Starting next year, the province plans to begin borrowing for the first time in 20 years to manage its day-to-day spending. Debt for capital is expected to hit $36.6 billion by 2018. Files from The Canadian Press