Real action is needed urgently to get Alberta’s out-of-control finances back on track.
With interest payments soon to be the most expensive branch of government outside health, education and social services, it’s critical that we take reasonable and moderate steps today to ensure the cost of government remains sustainable.
If we don’t, it means over the long term Alberta will have less for new hospitals, schools, teachers and nurses and punish families with higher taxes.
Alberta has now run eight consecutive deficits under four PC premiers and one NDP premier. Despite record or near record revenues in those years, we have gone from having $17 billion in savings to an $18 billion debt that is headed to $50 billion by the next election.
Both PC and NDP governments have proven unwilling to reduce bloated spending. Only Wildrose has consistently stood for getting spending under control while protecting the Alberta Advantage that made us the economic beacon of North America.
A government should spend within its means. This restraint should have been put in place long ago, but as we stare down a staggering $10 billion dollar deficit this year, we cannot pretend the status quo is responsible. Our neighbours in British Columbia deliver government services equal to ours, but spend $8 billion less when you adjust for population – that’s 20 percent. We can cut costs, while protecting front line services.
For that reason, the Wildrose has released a $2 billion, ten-point plan to reduce operational spending this year and get our finances moving in the right direction. This $2 billion reduction is the equivalent of asking the government to save about 4 cents on every dollar spent. Any family or business could find 4% savings if it needed to.
Given how much we overspend, this $2 billion in specific savings this year is just a starting point, but an important one. If politicians aren’t taking serious steps towards a balanced budget, they aren’t doing their jobs.
Albertans are losing jobs by the thousands and wages are dropping across the board. It’s only reasonable that those working for the government should show restraint. Restraint now means that the front line services Albertans need will be sustainable for the long run.
Wildrose is calling for a hiring freeze in the bureaucracy, which would save $200 million this year alone. Our bureaucracy is overstaffed, but in this climate Wildrose believes attrition, not layoffs, is the best approach to reducing costs.
To ensure that the government can afford to deliver essential services and to hire new teachers to fill growing classrooms, the government should negotiate an across-the-board wage freeze, including renegotiating existing contracts.
The government should also make clear what it is doing with the 120 money-saving recommendations from the Results-Based Budgeting process completed last fall.
Right now, Alberta is the only province in Canada that does not measure red tape and have a process to reduce it. A concerted effort to reduce red tape would not only make life easier for Albertans, but save taxpayers up to $300 million a year by making the jobs of public servants more efficient.
Other spending reductions we have put forward include reducing government travel, conducting value-for-money audits, and several other smaller items which would save $84 million.
Finally, Alberta’s government has not stopped to ask itself “Is everything the government is doing efficient, necessary, or best done by government?” in nearly 20 years. That is why the Wildrose is calling for a thorough program review to generate $600 million in savings.
Since we are now borrowing for the day-to-day operations of government, these reductions in spending would also mean less debt taken on, reducing annual interest payments by $60 million.
We cannot afford to continue delaying action on getting our finances under control if we are to avoid placing an enormous debt burden on future generations and forcing them to decide between even higher taxes or even deeper spending cuts.
These reasonable and modest steps can be done now in order to protect the viability of our finances and the services that rely upon their soundness.
The Wildrose Official Opposition believes that these are reasonable suggestions for the NDP to implement.
All it takes is determination.
— Derek Fildebrandt is the Wildrose Shadow Minister of Finance and the MLA for Strathmore-Brooks