Alberta UCP eyeing 'risky and extreme' policies, says finance minister

Alberta Finance Minister Joe Ceci says a series of draft policies in a United Conservative Party document are "risky and extreme" for the province and the tax changes alone could cost billions.

Proposed tax changes, including a flat tax, could cost in the billions, says Joe Ceci

Finance Minister Joe Ceci says Albertans would be forced to endure cuts to health and education to pay for UCP plan. (CBC)

Alberta Finance Minister Joe Ceci says a series of draft policies in a United Conservative Party document are "risky and extreme" for the province and the tax changes alone could cost billions.

Ceci made himself available to reporters Thursday to discuss a UCP committee's proposed policies, which have yet to be approved but include a return to a flat income tax and various arguments for providing publicly-funded private health services. 

Ceci said that adopting the flat tax would mainly benefit wealthier Albertans while resulting in about a "$700-million hole" in the provincial budget.

"This is risky and extreme, and it's not in the interest of Alberta," said Ceci, who estimated all the tax changes proposed by the UCP could end up costing billions of dollars.

"You know, I only got to page two of this document," Ceci told reporters at the Alberta legislature.

"I'm sure if I got to page three, four, five, six he'll talk about blowing up hospitals and saving money that way," Ceci added, referring to UCP leader Jason Kenney.

Draft policies distributed to UCP members

Last week, the UCP distributed a 21 page "member policy declaration" paper to party members to promote discussion before the party's founding convention in May, said party executive director Janice Harrington. 

• UCP leadership candidate pressed for details on proposed government cuts

• UCP leadership candidates vow to 'take Alberta back'

The document covers a broad range of policy areas, including health, energy, education, arts and culture and finance.

Among other suggestions, it calls for the elimination of Alberta's two per cent small business tax, and a return to a 10 percent flat tax.

A 10.5 percent flat tax rate was adopted in 2000 under the Progressive Conservative government of former premier Ralph Klein, but dropped by the new NDP government in 2015.

The PC government under former premier Jim Prentice had indicated it was ready to eliminate the flat tax rate before the PC government was defeated in the 2015 election.

UCP members will be consulted and surveyed before the party decides which policies to adopt at its founding convention in May. (CBC)

On the topic of heath, the UCP document says the United Conservative Party believes the government of Alberta should allow for "publicly-funded, privately-delivered health services to improve delivery efficiency and lower costs." That could "address excessive wait- imes" and "improve delivery efficiency and lower costs."

It also says the province's budget should be balanced by the end of the first term of a new UCP government, which would be in 2023, four years after the scheduled 2019 election.

"I don't get that," said Cecii, who noted his government has talked about a "path to balance" of the budget by 2023-2024, but without "the reckless and extreme approaches being talked about by" Kenney and the UCP.

Ceci said the government's plan for balancing the books will be included in the spring budget.

Consultation and surveys

Harrington said the final UCP policy paper may change after a full consultation, including two surveys, are done with UCP members and the issues are presented and discussed at the May convention. 

"What it's going to look like may be completely different  from what's being proposed right now," said Harrington.

Policies can be added for consideration by constituency associations or groups of at least 10 people.

The UCP policy document was developed by members of the UCP policy committee, formed under an agreement in principle that was part of the merger of the former Wildrose and PC parties, said Harrington.

'Those members just took a look at what had been historical policies for both legacy parties, then also their own ideas about some timely and topical issues, as well as some things they thought members would be interested in discussing," Harrington explained.

Despite the fact the paper has not been officially adopted as a campaign platform by the UCP, Ceci characterized it as a "glimpse of what the future Alberta will look like under Jason Kenney." 

"A life under Jason Kenney and gang," said Ceci, "would be back to the bad old days when they cut, cut cut cut."