No fiscal crisis in Alberta, expert says
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.
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