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'A challenging budget': Alberta awaits UCP government's 1st financial plan

Alberta Finance Minister Travis Toews says the UCP’s first budget on Thursday will be a “thoughtful, surgical budget.”

'This isn't going to be a budget with across-the-board cuts,' finance minister says

Travis Toews, Minister of Finance, will reveal the United Conservative Party's first budget at the Alberta legislature Thursday. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

Alberta Finance Minister Travis Toews says Thursday's budget, the first for the United Conservative Party government, will be a "thoughtful, surgical budget."

"This isn't going to be a budget with across-the-board cuts," Toews said Wednesday.

In a speech on Global News Wednesday evening, Premier Jason Kenney said the province will reduce "overall program spending by 2.8 per cent."

He said the impact to public service jobs will be "modest" and that health and education funding will be "protected and will not be cut."

The budget will be tabled around 3:15 p.m. MT. CBC News will livestream the announcement.

"This will be a challenging budget. It will not be easy. Some programs will be asked to do more with less," Kenney said in the provincewide address Wednesday evening. 

"Some ineffective programs will be eliminated altogether. Some infrastructure projects will be delayed or scaled back. Not because we want to do that. Because we have to do that. These are necessary decisions and I will argue that they are long overdue."

The premier said funding for mental health, addictions and some social programs will increase and frontline services "will be prioritized."

The government's plan is to balance the budget within four years, Toews said. 

"But we'll do that in a thoughtful way," he said. 

The MacKinnon panel said last month that to balance the budget by 2022-23, the government must cut operating spending by "at least" $600 million a year and "substantially reduce" capital spending.

Total spending in the 2018-19 budget was $56.2 billion.

NDP MLA Shannon Phillips said the opposition is expecting deep cuts in many departments. She will be looking at key areas in Thursday's budget, specifically "health care, community social services, education and municipal affairs."

She said the NDP will release its own shadow budget within a few days.

'Batten down the hatches'

Ron Kneebone, scientific director of social and health policy research at the University of Calgary, said he thinks Albertans are ready for the province to "take some steps" to balance the budget.

"The feeling in Alberta right now is to batten down the hatches," he said Wednesday. 

"We have an unfriendly federal Parliament, the economy is not doing extremely well, the energy industry is still in trouble, and I think the feeling amongst Albertans is probably that it's a good time to get serious about our budget and make it closer to balance, if not balanced. And get spending under control."

Kneebone said he expects spending on health, education and social services to all be reduced.

But he hopes the government also has a plan for better, long-term revenue sources. 

"This is going to be an important budget," he said. "I think the long-term future for Alberta is different than it has been in the past. And it's time to rethink how we've done budgeting. I think it really calls for a more small-c conservative approach to budgeting than we have in the past." 

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