Jim Prentice says debt for Alberta infrastructure a viable option
'There is an incredible infrastructure deficit. We need to deal with that,' says PC leadership candidate
Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Jim Prentice outlined his platform for a Calgary business crowd in a breakfast speech Friday morning.
The former federal cabinet minister told the audience of about 300 at the Calgary Chamber of Commerce that he grew up in a household of hand-me-downs.
His parents lived within their means and never took on debt, he said.
Prentice said under his leadership, the Alberta government would do the same — a line that drew enthusiastic applause at the sold-out venue.
However, later in his speech Prentice said his government would access capital markets to build new schools in the province.
He compared it to taking on a mortgage — manageable borrowing to be repaid in a defined term.
"There is an incredible infrastructure deficit. We need to deal with that,” he said.
Finance Minister Doug Horner made a similar argumentearlier this year when he said the province would borrow $5.1 billion this year for schools, health facilities and roads in the 2014 budget — pushing the government’s total debt to $14.5 billion.
Borrowing money for necessary capital projects makes sense because interest rates are the lowest they have been in 50 years, he said in March.
Prentice said his approach, however, will be to pay the money back faster — in 15 or 20 years instead of 30.
"We need these assets. They should be built in a responsible way,” he said.
Prentice outlined a plan to earmark 50 per cent of all future surpluses for a debt retirement fund, with the other half to be invested in the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund.
Prentice also reiterated his promises to maximize the value of Alberta’s natural resources, to limit the controversial fleet of government aircraft and to bring an end to what he called an era of entitlement within government.
Crowd stingy with applause
Political analyst Janet Brown said she was surprised Prentice didn’t get a warmer reception.
"To me I thought it was an audience that was being very stingy with its applause and I think they were waiting for something concrete and they weren't hearing it,” she said.
“They were hearing the same kind of platitudes and lines that they had heard from Redford, that they have heard from other politicians and the crowd was being polite, but they were not being enthusiastic."
Prentice said he thought he was well received, given how early in the morning it was.