EDMONTON - Alberta's opposition parties, challenged by Premier Jim Prentice to provide their own plans to fix the province's embattled economy, fired back Thursday.
Wildrose Leader Brian Jean, in Edmonton, unveiled a blueprint to slash management jobs in government and health care, while deferring some capital projects and avoiding tax hikes.
NDP Leader Rachel Notley told an audience in Lethbridge that her team would create an estimated 27,000 new jobs by launching a tax credit to create jobs.
Albertans go to the polls May 5 in an election Prentice called to give him a mandate to implement what he says is a budget that fundamentally restructures government finances.
The budget hikes taxes and fees virtually across the board except for corporations, cuts most departmental budgets, racks up a $5-billion deficit this year and an estimated $30 billion in debt by the end of the decade.
Prentice has said these are difficult but necessary measures to ensure that day-to-day spending on people and programs isn't cut every time the price of oil falls.
Oil prices have been halved over the last nine months, leaving Alberta's treasury billions of dollars short.
But Jean, on Thursday, said Prentice has failed to attack waste and excess in government ranks and has instead chosen to "punish" Alberta families with tax hikes.
"Our government is bloated because after 40 years (of PC government), too many executive offices and agencies are filled with PC cronies," said Jean.
He said the Wildrose would cut 1/3 of government managers and half the managers in Alberta Health Services, mostly through attrition.
The party would also slash government travel and advertising budgets, limit the use of consultants and roll back pay for politicians.
Jean said that would save more than $2 billion in this budget year alone and help balance the budget by 2017.
He said his government would also keep building critical infrastructure but would defer lower-priority projects for a year.
When pushed by reporters to say what projects may be on the block, Jean would only say that they would keep roads, schools, hospital, and sewer projects going.
"Things that actually affect people's quality of life (are priorities)," he said.
"Some things are not necessary to build right away. And we will defer those projects."
In Lethbridge, Notley said the NDP's Job Creation Tax Credit would encourage new hiring by refunding 10 per cent of each new employee's salary to a maximum salary of $50,000.
"When the economy slows down, the government has a role to play," said Notley.
"People are worried about jobs and they're worried about the security of their families and their ability to pay the bills."
The plan is estimated to cost $89 million and support up to 100 new hires at each business that participates.
Notley said that while Prentice is focused on not losing jobs due to low oil, his budget fails to provide any support to create new opportunities.
Prentice, speaking in Innisfail, reiterated that he won't raise Alberta's 10 per cent corporate income tax rate, currently the lowest in Canada.
"In a fragile economy such as ours, increasing taxes on Alberta businesses will kill jobs, drive away investment and it will destroy the Alberta Advantage," he said.
Liberal Leader David Swann was to take time off from the campaign trail Thursday night to attend the Calgary Peace Prize Awards to honour former Lt.-Gen. Romeo Dallaire.