'A roll of the dice': Political observers dig into Alberta budget

The Alberta 2018-19 budget announced Thursday, with a staggering $96 billion debt, is a big risk for the NDP government, and the next budget ahead of the provincial election will have to be a real crowd-pleaser, say some political observers.

Is the NDP saving the best for last?

Alberta Finance Minister Joe Ceci discusses the provincial budget. (CBC)

The Alberta 2018-19 budget announced Thursday — with a staggering $96 billion debt — is a big risk for the NDP government, and the next budget ahead of the provincial election will have to be a real crowd-pleaser, say some political observers.

"These budgets are supposed to be stories that they are telling," political strategist Zain Velji told CBC's Rob Brown Thursday.

"They mention the pipelines as part of future revenue because they want to signal to Albertans that they are the government that are going to get pipelines built. It is a massive 'if.' It banks on the fact that next year they can show significant movement on that front, so it's certainly a roll of the dice," Velji said.

Zain Velji is a political strategist based in Calgary. (CBC)

Calgary pollster Janet Brown says the budget may not resonate with some Albertans.

"It felt a little tone deaf to me," Brown said.

"I think they are running a risk here of looking like they are out of touch and looking like they are ready to move on from the recession, they are ready to move on from making sure this pipeline gets built, but I don't know that the average Albertan is."

Janet Brown is a Calgary-based pollster. (CBC)

Edmonton Journal political affairs columnist Graham Thomson said there was a number missing from the document.

"We were in this lockup and we said to them, 'What is the debt going to be in five years?' It's not actually in the budget. It's $96 billion. We had to figure it out for ourselves," Thomson said.

Graham Thomson is an Edmonton Journal political affairs columnist. (CBC)

Velji said Alberta has more than just debt problems.

"The royalty revenue is down significantly," he said.

"If we were on a different structure on royalty revenue, we would have significant amounts of revenue to make up for it. They have run out of time between now and the next cycle to introduce anything on that front."

One sign of hope for the government, Velji says, is the tepid support from the mayors of the province's two largest cities.

"The NDP know that that is going to be something they need in terms of support and enhanced positivity leading into the next election in the urban centres. This is going to be won or lost, in many ways, right here in Calgary."

A real political risk

Brown says it could be a matter of saving the best for last.

"My best guess is maybe they are saving the really good news for their pre-election budget," she said, adding it's a gamble.

"For them to wait another year before they give Albertans a really good sense they have got a handle on things, is a real political risk."

But Thomson said that pre-election budget will have to be a doozy.

"They really need to get us some good news this year," he said.

"Get the pipeline under construction, the price of oil to go up. They have to tell Albertans that our plans for the economy are actually paying dividends here."

Next one going to be better

And Velji adds, that's not a challenge unique to the Alberta NDP.

"Every party does this. The best budget is the last one. They have got this calculation in mind. The next one is going to be better."

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With files from CBC Calgary News at Six


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