Alberta’s UCP government is set to table its 2020 budget Thursday afternoon with job creation and reduced spending as its prime objective.
Premier Kenney has been clear this budget will be tough, but "fiscally responsible," echoing similarities to the last budget tabled just five months prior.
The province has been clear for some time that belt tightening is expected, but critics remain concerned over ongoing cuts and program reductions.
Wearing the same cowboy boots he wore during last October’s fiscal plan, Finance Minister Travis Toews said the government will stay on track with Budget 2020.
"I’m wearing these boots again because the work continues," said Toews. "There continues to be heavy lifting in front of us as a province."
Since last summer, the province has lost about 50,000 jobs. Unemployment has also risen 0.7 per cent from when the UCP took office in the Spring of 2019 and is up 0.5 per cent from the party’s first budget.
Since October, Edmonton has had the fourth, second, first and second highest monthly unemployment rates of any major Canadian City. Calgary has ranked third, fourth, fifth and sixth in monthly rates over the same time.
On top of that, the UCP's 2019 budget revenue calculations assumed a West Texas Intermediate (WTI) oil price of $57 a barrel, rising to $63 a barrel in the following years. Certainly there has been difficulty with WTI oil prices dropping from about $53 a barrel in October to $47 a barrel at open on Thursday.
Global conditions and reduced demand from China due to the novel coronavirus is being blamed for WTI hovering around the $50 mark, which is well below what the government was hoping for.
Project delays on the Trans Mountain Pipeline, recent rail blockades, and Teck Resources’ withdrawal from the Frontier Mine have also challenged the UCP government.
BALANCING THE BOOKS
In the 2019 budget, the UCP projected deficits of $8.7 billion in 2020, while projecting a $5.9 billion deficit for 2020-21.
The goal is to balance the books within the next three years.
Toews says he plans to reinvigorate the economy with a real focus on job creation and boosting infrastructure by pledging $6.4 billion toward its 2020 capital plan.
Last October, the UCP also introduced an annual one per cent reduction in corporate income tax , from 12 to 8 per cent through 2022.
"We believe and know that real work creation, sustainable job creation, comes from the private sector and to achieve that we have to attract investment back into this province," said Toews.
NDP Finance Critic Shannon Phillips strongly disagrees with that approach saying it will only help big businesses, not every day Albertans.
"The knock-on effect of making municipalities pay for a portion of that $4.7 billion dollar giveaway is that our property taxes and our fees will go up, while we are less service from that order of government," said Phillips
The Finance Minister has hinted there would be more public sector cuts in Budget 2020, but asserted the UCP has been very transparent about that.
"We were very clear in Budget 2019 that there would be a reduction in the size of the budget service... so again, we will continue with the general premise and plan," said Toews.
Other key items that are expected to be tackled in Budget 2020 include direct investment in the energy industry, education funding, health care funding, the introduction of a short-term rental tourism levy and a potential vaping tax.
CTV News Calgary will have full coverage of Alberta Budget 2020 from the legislature.