09/03/2019 15:28 EDT

Alberta Must Cut Education, Health Care To Balance Budget: Panel

Alberta’s debt is on track to hit $100 billion in four years.

Jeff McIntosh/CP
Janice MacKinnon, chair of the Blue Ribbon Panel on Alberta’s Finances, looks on as Travis Toews, Minister of Finance, speaks to the media about the MacKinnon Panel report on Alberta’s Finances.

CALGARY — A panel looking into Alberta’s finances says the province habitually overspends on its services and needs to get tough on schools, have university students pay more and force doctors to charge less.

The panel, chaired by former Saskatchewan finance minister Janice MacKinnon, says in a report that Alberta’s annual expenditures would be $10.4 billion less if the province were to spend the same per person as do British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec.

It says that if Alberta matched the other provinces, it would have a $3.7-billion surplus this year instead of a $6.7-billion deficit.

Alberta’s spending per capita is the highest in Canada, the report adds. And its debt is on track to reach $100 billion in four years.

To balance the budget by 2022-23, as the United Conservative government has promised, the panel suggests there be no increases in government spending for four years and a reduction in operating costs by at least $600 million, as well as cuts in capital spending.

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“The seriousness of the financial challenge is undeniable,” says the report released Tuesday.

“This is a significant challenge and will require the government to rethink how and what services are delivered.”

Premier Jason Kenney ordered the report shortly after his United Conservatives were elected in April.

Among its 26 recommendations are sweeping reviews of health care and education.

The report recommends making greater use of private or not-for-profit clinics to deliver health services that don’t need to be done in hospitals. It suggests limiting the costs doctors charge for services and using legislation if new fees can’t be negotiated.

The report calls for cuts to administration and governance costs in education and funding incentives for school boards based on better educational outcomes

It recommends ending a tuition freeze for post-secondary students and suggests “the government should move quickly to address the future of those post-secondary institutions that do not appear to be viable in future funding scenarios.”

When it comes to public-sector bargaining, the report says there needs to be salary restraint across government and legislation should be used to set wage levels.

Finance Minister Travis Towes said he will use the report as he prepares to table the UCP’s first budget in October.

“We must act now,” Towes said. “Future generations and Albertans today are counting on us to make the decisions that will put us back on a solid fiscal path.”