United Conservative Party (UCP) leadership candidate Jason Kenney says if he wins the next election, he can balance the budget in three years.
During a question and answer session on Facebook Tuesday, Kenney said his formula is based on reigning in operating spending and cutting the amount of money spent on each Albertan to match levels in British Columbia.
"We would have to exercise a period of sustained restraint in spending in order to get us down more or less to British Columbia per-capita spending over time," said Kenney in response to a viewer question.
"B.C. spends about 20 per cent less than Alberta per capita," he said.
According to the most recent figures from Alberta Treasury Board and Finance, the Alberta government spends $12,517 on every man, woman and child in the province, nearly $2,500 more per capita compared to British Columbia. That's according to the latest budget estimates from each province and the most recent federal census data.
"I believe we would be able to get to a balanced budget by the third year of our mandate," which could be by 2022 or 2023, if the next provincial election is held in 2019, Kenney said.
'Heartless, reckless, and mean-spirited'
But Premier Rachel Notley cautioned that Kenney's plan comes with drastic consequences.
Speaking at a media event Wednesday at NAIT, Notley called Kenney's plan "heartless, reckless and mean-spirited."
"It would cause nothing but chaos and instability," said Notley. "And it would absolutely stop dead in its tracks the economic recovery that our government is proud to be leading right now."
Alberta is staring down a deficit of more than $10 billion. According to the most recent fiscal update in August, Alberta is seeing improvements in the economy but is plagued by low oil prices, reducing expectations of higher resource revenues.
Notley said the Alberta economy requires a "careful and strategic" approach.
"For sure, going forward we need to engage in careful restraint," said Notley, adding that her government has had a lower level of cost increases than previous PC governments.
Early in the UCP leadership race, Kenney said he would stay clear of making policy announcements in favour of letting grassroots members of the party decide direction.
Kenney's main leadership opponent, Brian Jean, said he released a similar plan showing how he would achieve a balanced budget more than a month ago.
"I'm flattered to hear that Jason is parroting my plan to restore the 'Alberta Advantage,' " wrote Jean in an email. "But it's disappointing that he hasn't done any of the homework himself."
Jean said if Kenney has changed his mind and "now wants to talk policy," he owes an explanation to party members and to all Albertans to lay out exactly how he intends to deliver on his promises.