Alberta in for some tough times: Campbell


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January 27, 2015 9:03 AM

Minister of Finance Robin Campbell was in Lloydminster last week. During his stop he spoke at the Lloydminster Chamber of Commerce luncheon, where he said Alberta has three challenges heading into the budgetary process. - Christopher W. Brown Photo

“Only if 100 per cent of Albertans were in favour of it,” Alberta Finance Minister Robin Campbell told a packed house at the Servus Sports Centre in Lloydminster last week when talking about a potential PST in the province.

Campbell came to the Border City to speak at the Lloydminster Chamber of Commerce luncheon. In his speech, he spoke about the challenges the province must face when presenting its budget in the spring, and what measures would be needed to tackle to the potential $7-billion budget shortfall because of falling oil prices.

“We have some challenges ahead of us in the short term,” Campbell said. “I think that it’s important that we put in place a fiscal framework over the next 10 years that would get us off the dependence on volatile oil prices.”

He went on to say that the province needs to position itself to handle the highs and the lows on the fluctuation of the oil prices.

Campbell said that the PST would not be introduced as a potential revenue source for the province.

“We currently have focus groups that are being attended by different people across the province, and the feedback that we are getting from those groups are that they are not in favour of the PST,” he said. “And we have had a number of calls to our offices and I can say to you that overwhelmingly, probably about 75 per cent of those calls, are saying, ‘no, don’t go forward with a PST.’”

What is on the chopping block is government spending in the province though, the finance minister told reporters after his speech.

“We have to make sure that we are spending our dollars in the most prudent ways that we can,” Campbell said. “Whether it’s federal, provincial or municipal, at the end of the day there is only one taxpayer, and it all comes out of the same pocket.”

And as to what will be on the chopping block, Campbell said it’s up to each department to outline what their needs and wants are moving into budget talks.

“The premier has made it clear that the (province will keep its) core services in health care and education, and seniors and to those less vulnerable.”

Campbell, who became finance minister when Premier Jim Prentice announced his cabinet in October, said that the premier understands the importance of getting Alberta’s crude oil to market in a timely fashion.

He went as far as to say that when Prentice is in Washington, D.C., next month with meetings on the hill, he would be looking to find enough support to override a veto if President Barack Obama vetoes the Keystone XL pipeline project that has passed the House of Representatives and the Senate earlier this month.

“We will continue to lobby congress to get enough votes so it doesn’t matter what the president wants to do,” Campbell said. “We will continue to lobby and continue to get our message out.”

He added that the province of Alberta has lots of allies in governors, senators and congressmen in the U.S. right now who want to see the pipeline move forward.

“We will continue to do what we do and not take our foot off the pedal at any means.”

Campbell called out Saudi Arabia and the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) for throwing countries like Canada under the bus when they continuously lower oil prices.

“You see OPEC and the Saudis having their battles right now, and they have both said that they are in it for the long haul with low prices.” Campbell said. “The States have also come on a lot sooner than a lot of people thought they would ... and the Saudis want to hold the market share, and they are going to do what they have to do, and if they have to put other oil producing countries under the bus it appears that they are willing to do that.”

While crossing the province, Campbell has been listening to people discuss different revenue streams to offset the loss of revenue from falling oil prices.

Asked if he would be in favour of re-introducing health premiums, Campbell said that he hasn’t heard anything about it and wouldn’t take it off the table.

“If (a health premium) is something that Albertans want, then for sure we would,” Campbell said.

“I have had no comment against the (re-introduction) of a health-care premium, but Albertans understand that, especially from a health care cost, we are spending seven per cent increases in budget each year, but people are still complaining about the health-care system.

“People have to know that nothing is free, and if we were to introduce a health-care premium then we would also introduce a statement that people would be able to see what (Albertans) are costing the system.”

When asked when we would see the tabling of the provincial budget, Campbell said that sometime in the spring, and he would be sitting down with Prentice soon to discuss the tabling of the budget.

As if it would be after Finance Minister Joe Oliver tables the federal budget, Campbell only said that he wouldn’t wait, as Oliver has to look after provinces, and three territories, while he and the premier had to look over just Alberta.

“We are not going to base our budget on what the federal government does, as they are not going to base their budget on what we do here in Alberta.”

Campbell has been crossing the province, meeting with chambers and other stakeholders in the run up to a provincial budget.

He said that there are three challenges that this budget has to deal with, “Falling oil prices, infrastructure deficit that we have to fix and build for the future, and we also have to make sure that we keep consumer confidence at a level where people have faith in the economy and the province.”

The minister added that if those aren’t met, then small businesses in the province could see layoffs.

“We don’t want to see (that) tip, where people start talking recession, and sitting on their money, that is not good for the province, and it’s not good for the economy,” he said.

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