Premier Notley, cabinet fan out to begin selling controversial, landmark budget

EDMONTON – Premier Rachel Notley and her cabinet are fanning out today to sell the public on a controversial, landmark budget that ramps up construction but sends debt spiralling to unprecedented heights.

Notley will be in Calgary to discuss construction of a new cancer centre.

In Edmonton, Infrastructure Minister Brian Mason and Health Minister Sarah Hoffman will discuss a raft of new health projects in the capital city.

Notley’s government tabled a budget Tuesday that keeps core spending in health and education intact and pledges $34 billion for infrastructure spending over the next five years.

But with oil prices still low, the cost will be a budget deficit of $6.1 billion this year and an expected $47 billion in debt by the end of the decade.

Finance Minister Joe Ceci says it’s the prudent route to go, given Alberta is caught in the vise of a growing population and a declining economy.

“In tough times, Albertans rely on their government to protect their families and invest appropriately to restore prosperity to our province,” says Ceci.

“We can and we will get through these tough economic times and we’ll do it the Alberta way.”

However opposition members say it’s a budget that ignored long-term economic realities, and that Albertans will pay the price.

“Everyone from Albertans to businesses to even beer drinkers should be readying for an impact on their pocketbook,” says Wildrose finance critic Derek Fildebrandt.

Fildebrandt notes that the government, starting next year, will be taking out debt just to pay for day-to-day operations.

Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark and Progressive Conservative Leader Ric McIver say the government has a plan to borrow billions but has no plan to pay it back.

Clark notes the province plans to still be running a deficit of at least $4.4 billion two years from now, yet plans to be in surplus two years after that.

“You can’t go from $4 billion to zero in two years,” says Clark.

“They needed to make some hard choices in this budget and they didn’t do it.”

Liberal Leader David Swann says he wanted to see a pay-down plan as well, but applauds the NDP for not sacrificing front-line services in health and education.