It would appear as though we have come to an economic impasse in Alberta. Without significant adjustment, our province is on track to reach $100+ billion in debt in just a few short years. While the private sector has been battling ruinous economic realities for the last five years it is now the turn of the Government of Alberta and its public sector bodies to come face to face with those same economic realities.
Unfortunately, every pay raise at the public level incurs cost to the taxpayer. Alberta’s economic prosperity and therefore its capacity to remunerate fairly the public sector bodies will be dependent upon two things:
1. Growing the economy
2. Controlling government spending.
A strong public sector is dependent on a vibrant private sector, which is why the government is focused on bringing back job creating investment. It is imperative that our tax and regulatory regime attract capital investment into the province rather than driving it away. Growing the economy and attracting investment is never easy and it will continue to be difficult as we address the negative pressures on the economy like a lack of access to tidewater and a federal government which continues to support policies like Bill C 69.
Albertans voted for a plan to get spending under control while delivering public services more efficiently. For example, Albertans currently pay for one of the most expensive provincial healthcare systems in Canada per capita. We are going to have to do government differently. We must bring our spending and outcomes in line with other provinces. In order to do this the government has pledged to reduce our spending by approximately 3 cents for every dollar the government spends. Over the next 4 years, this will save Albertans an estimated equivalent of $1.3 billion in savings from the provincial budget.
On Friday, November 29, public sector unions were provided with letters of notice; part of the legal requirements of the government as it enters into negotiations with public sector workers. You may have read in the press that these notices included potential lay-offs over the next three years. Individual layoff notices have not been delivered and any future changes in public sector employment will come down to the negotiated settlements between the government and public sector unions. As much as possible any job losses will be the result of attrition as public sector workers retire and will not focus on front line workers as much as possible.
The other day I had a conversation with a young lady who was discouraged that the government had allowed university tuitions to rise and was concerned over cuts to government spending. Yet, she also understood that every time the government borrows money to pay for any particular service it comes at a price and that it was her generation that was going to eventually have to pay the bills for present day borrowing and spending. She understood the answers moving forward are not going to easy to find.
These are never easy conversations to have but Albertans have always been willing to have the hard conversations. While we may not always have unanimous agreement on the pathway forward we have always be willing to make responsible decisions that will ensure a fiscally sustainable government that will meet the needs of all Albertans, if not all of our desires moving into the future.
Mark Smith is MLA for the Drayton Valley-Devon constituency and writes a regular column for The Pipestone Flyer.