No fis­cal cri­sis in Al­berta, ex­pert says

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There’s no ev­i­dence Al­berta is deal­ing with a fis­cal cri­sis, says po­lit­i­cal strate­gist Brian Topp.“We do not face an im­me­di­ate catas­tro­phe … but we do need to make some smart de­ci­sions,” he said in an in­ter­view. “We don’t need to do cat­a­strophic cuts to our health care and ed­u­ca­tion.“The prov­ince has the low­est taxes of any ju­ris­dic­tion in Canada … and the high­est GDP growth.”Topp, a vet­eran NDP strate­gist and for­mer chief of staff to Premier Rachel Not­ley, was among the panel­lists at a Univer­sity of Calgary School of Pub­lic Pol­icy event in Ed­mon­ton Thurs­day.Ex­perts were tasked with dig­ging into the prov­ince’s fis­cal sit­u­a­tion, which has re­mained a main point of de­bate be­tween the NDP and UCP ahead of the spring elec­tion.Not­ley’s govern­ment de­scribes an im­prov­ing pro­vin­cial econ­omy that’s on the path to a bal­anced bud­get by 2023. The sec­ond-quar­ter fi­nan­cials re­leased in Novem­ber pro­jected a $1.3-bil­lion re­duc­tion in the pro­vin­cial deficit, to­talling $7.5 bil­lion for 2018-19.The UCP mean­while has re­peat­edly painted a bleak pic­ture, call­ing the pro­vin­cial purse a fis­cal dis­as­ter.The 2018 bud­get fore­casted that debt would swell to $77 bil­lion by 2021 from $54 bil­lion, and climb even fur­ther to $96 bil­lion in the fol­low­ing two years.Topp, who was ap­pointed as a short-term spe­cial en­voy by Not­ley in Novem­ber to ad­dress a bal­loon­ing oil dif­fer­en­tial, noted Thurs­day he was at the pol­icy event as a pri­vate cit­i­zen.“We’re not at the end of the world here,” he told the au­di­ence at the Ho­tel Mac­don­ald. “There are se­ri­ous is­sues, no doubt about it.”Mean­while Ken Boessenkool, a con­ser­va­tive strate­gist and for­mer ad­viser to Stephen Harper, ar­gued Al­berta’s spend­ing is out of line with other prov­inces.Topp and Boessenkool are also both part­ners at KTG Pub­lic Affairs.“My ad­vice to Ja­son (Ken­ney) would be to put some marker down about what it is you specif­i­cally in­tend to do, say that we’re over­spend­ing, talk about sus­tain­abil­ity,” he told the au­di­ence.For­mer au­di­tor gen­eral Mer­wan Sa­her, who retired in April, said who­ever is elected to govern­ment needs to start per­form­ing longterm fis­cal pro­jec­tions.“Al­ber­tans will have to un­der­stand that we face a very un­cer­tain fu­ture,” he said.

Brian Topp

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