During a meeting at the Alberta legislature last week, Robin Campbell, president of the Treasury Board and minister of finance, talked to media about reaching out to Albertans for input on the province’s 2015 budget.
Because of the large deficit caused by low oil prices, the government is looking to engage the public and keep them in the conversation regarding provincial spending and which measures to take in terms of fiscal policies.
“As you know, Alberta is facing a really tough fiscal challenge that requires leadership and tough decision-making. And the sharp decline in energy prices creates a potential for a $7 billion deficit in Alberta,” Campbell said.
“The potential will most certainly become a reality if our government does not take action to change the province’s situation.”
Campbell said Alberta is facing a 15 per cent loss in revenues, equal to the province’s entire education budget for one year. He said the public expects government to find savings and “tighten its own belt” before looking into other options and insists that’s what they’re doing.
He pointed out that the premier and cabinet are taking a five per cent pay decrease and members of his committee voted that MLAs do the same.
“However, this fiscal challenge cannot be solved solely through these measures. We have a team working to develop a plan to address our immediate fiscal challenge, as well as a more long-term plan that will help Alberta get off of the roller coaster of energy prices,” he said.
The fact that this isn’t a short-term problem and that energy prices are expected to remain low for the foreseeable future means some of the options that may be explored will have an impact on the province for a while to come.
“The fact is, we’re going to be making decisions that are tough on all Albertans and as we discuss our options, we want Albertans to join the conversation,” said Campbell, adding that they have received letters, emails and phone calls from citizens sharing ideas and comments and said many of the messages were constructive and will be taken into consideration. Campbell and his cabinet had also traveled throughout province, visiting over 14 communities, listening to what the public has to say. The general consensus, it seems, is that people want to get off the “roller coaster” of oil prices, having heard citizens voice this opinion in nearly every community he went to.
“Albertans said they want consistency in the programs and services we provide. They are tired of us cutting when oil prices are low and spending when times are good,” said Campbell. “Market access and the diversification of the economy are subjects that I hear about consistently as I travel the province.
We’ve done work in these areas but there’s still much more to be done.
We’ve heard from Albertans on everything from public sector salaries to taxes to infrastructure.”
Roughly 80 per cent of people he talked to were against a sales tax, preferring hikes in fuel, sin and income taxes instead. They also want government to reduce cost and look for efficiencies in programs and services.
Because Alberta is such a large province, Campbell acknowledged that it would be impossible to talk to everybody in person, so they’re hosting an online survey to get public feedback on what Albertans would like to see. People who want to give their input are asked to visit www.budget.alberta.ca