EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Rachel Notley is urging patience as her government grapples with a budget deficit projected to hit almost $11 billion this year
While the situation is bad, it would have been far worse if her NDP party had lost the last election to the Progressive Conservatives, Notley said in a spirited speech to Unifor union members at their convention in Ottawa on Wednesday.
"Our province, we know, cannot run deficits indefinitely,'' Notley said. "We know that. We're very conscious of that.
"But we can manage our fiscal challenges patiently and wisely and carefully,'' she said. "We can set a course to return to fiscal balance as our economy recovers.''
"We can set a course to return to fiscal balance as our economy recovers.'' —Rachel Notley
She said Albertans are on side with her plan.
"As more and more Canadians are learning every day, austerity just makes things worse.''
Alberta is racking up multibillion-dollar deficits as it wrestles with persistent low oil prices that have taken great bites out of the bottom line of the resource-rich province.
Notley's NDP, elected in 2015, has chosen not to respond with deep cuts to staff or services. Instead, it has ramped up capital spending on roads, hospitals and schools to try to spur the economy and close the gap on its infrastructure needs.
The government is also freeing up loans and other incentives in an attempt to diversify the economy and unharness it from dependence on oil and gas.
The downside has been multiple credit downgrades, a debt that will surpass $30 billion this year and is forecast to reach $58 billion before the end of the decade. Debt-servicing costs this year will surpass $1 billion.
Notley's government has been criticized for making a bad economic situation worse by increasing corporate taxes, winding down coal-fired electricity, bumping up the minimum wage and bringing in a carbon tax next year that will increase gasoline prices and home heating bills.
There will be rebates for lower- and middle-income households on the carbon tax.
"We got rid of a backward-looking, climate-change-denying, deficit-offloading, austerity-loving, failed Alberta Conservative government." —Rachel Notley
Notley said her government is doing what it promised to do and reiterated that if the Tories had won, things would be very different.
"Their idea was that if you fire thousands of teachers, teachers aides, school support workers, nurses, nurses aides and people that work in the hospitals that somehow the price of oil would go back up,'' she said.
"We got rid of a backward-looking, climate-change-denying, deficit-offloading, austerity-loving, failed Alberta Conservative government.
"We're not just going to cross our fingers and hope that cutting taxes for rich people will magically turn the economy around. That's what Conservatives do.''
Ric McIver disagrees with how the NDP have handled the economic downturn. (Photo: CP)
The PCs have said they have never advocated gutting front-line services, and the New Democrats need to do a better job streamlining and finding efficiencies.
PC Leader Ric McIver said Notley's fiery rhetoric suggests her government is rightly feeling the heat for failed policies.
"They've actually killed more jobs than they have created,'' McIver said in an interview.
"The premier went all the way to Ottawa and in front of a friendly crowd sounded defensive and desperate. I think that's telling.''
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Here are some of the highlights of the Alberta 2016-17 budget. Story here: http://huff.to/1Nr7xhN
Revenue is pegged at $41.4 billion against $51.1 billion in spending. Projected revenue is down, as benchmark West Texas Intermediate oil is expected to average US$42 a barrel. If oil prices drop to $30 a barrel, the government plans to add a $700-million buffer.
Province is amalgamating 26 agencies, boards and commissions to save $33 million. Salaries and supplies for government will be cut by 2 per cent.
The only new tax is a carbon tax, that will cost households earning more than $100,00 a year about $500 annually. The new tax is part of the province's new climate change plan.
The province has created two new tax credits to encourage investment in small- and medium-sized businesses. Small-business tax will be cut to two per cent.
The government says its spending on employment incentives and capital will create about 100,000 jobs in Alberta over the next three years.