Posted on Apr 11, 2017
Three weeks ago, the government released its budget for 2017/18. This is a budget that I am happy to support. It is making life more affordable for Albertans while maintaining the high quality social services they rely on. It is investing in diversification, job growth and infrastructure for our future. The budget does these things while maintaining one of the best balance sheets and lowest tax regimes in the country. We are investing in Alberta- to make life better for everyone who lives here.
It is true that we are running a deficit. It is also true that just about all of that deficit can be accounted for by the difference in the price of a barrel of oil between 2014 and now. In Alberta, we lose 148 million dollars in revenue for every 1 dollar drop in the price of oil. Over the course of the last 44 years, PC governments consistently chose to ride the resource rollercoaster, instead of setting up reliable revenue streams, saving prudently, and diversifying our economy. This leaves us in a situation where we have two choices.
The first choice, given such reduced resource revenue, is to cut 9 billion dollars out of the budget, in order to keep the budget balanced. If this was an easy thing to do, it would have been done already. However, the truth is, to cut this amount would absolutely impact front line services. It would probably also mean extra service charges, such as health care premiums as were being proposed by the PCs. This approach, during a recession, has been proven not to work. Putting public service workers out of a job, not spending on infrastructure, and allowing public resources to crumble does not create a stable environment for investment, and would negatively affect the lives of everyday Albertans on top of the already difficult effects of the economic downturn.
The second choice is what we are doing. We are choosing to take on debt to ensure our social services remain strong, and investing in needed infrastructure for the future, while creating valuable construction jobs for today. If you look at the 2008 recession- many global leaders chose stimulus spending and deficits- Obama in the U.S, and Harper here in Canada among them. Largely, this enabled countries to be spared from the worst effects of the recession, and that is what we are choosing to do here in Alberta. This approach will enable us to come out of this recession stronger, and with a more diversified economy.
One of the reasons that I ran for government was that as a teacher, I did not see the former PC government putting the focus that I felt necessary on education. They made the choice to not fund for enrollment growth, and that meant that I saw less supports in my classroom, larger class sizes, and friends who did not get their contracts renewed. We chose from the moment that we were elected that we would not let a low oil price affect the performance of our education and health systems. That there would be a teacher for every student, nurses in every hospital. This budget continues to support enrollment growth, at the same time as it found efficiencies that enabled us to cut school fees for parents by 25%. This means that sending your kids to public school will cost less, while at the same time ensuring that class sizes remain manageable, kids who need extra support get it, and teachers won’t get burned out. Contrast this to the recent Saskatchewan budget, which cut operational spending to education by 67 million dollars. Placing a high value on education means that Alberta will be served well by our citizens long into the future.
These are not easy decisions. Taking on debt is a difficult choice, but we have done so with the help of expert advice, and knowing that even as we do so we maintain an enviable fiscal position in Canada. We will still have the lowest debt to GDP ratio in Canada, and still enjoy a 7.5 billion dollar tax advantage over the next lowest taxed jurisdiction. I am proud to be part of a government that has chosen to have the backs of Albertans through this recession, and am confident that our choices are the right ones.