Edmonton

Alberta panel asked to recommend path to balance without raising taxes

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has named a panel chaired by former Saskatchewan finance minister Janice MacKinnon with a mandate to find a path toward a balanced budget without raising taxes.

'I think Albertans will be very well-served to have independent expert advice'

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and Finance Minister Travis Toews, far left, introduce the members of the newly appointed Blue Ribbon Panel on Alberta’s Finances at a news conference Tuesday in Edmonton. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has named a panel chaired by former Saskatchewan finance minister Janice MacKinnon with a mandate to find a path toward a balanced budget without raising taxes.

The panel, which also includes former ATB Financial president Dave Mowat and former University of Alberta dean of business Mike Percy, is expected to report back by Aug. 15.

Their recommendations will be used in formulating a provincial budget this fall. Finance Minister Travis Toews said at a news conference Tuesday the panel's report would be released to the public.

"An election of a new government is an opportunity to reset ... and that's why I think Albertans will be very well-served to have independent expert advice from this panel," Kenney said.

The other panel members are:

  • Kim Henderson, former deputy minister to the premier, cabinet secretary and head of the public service for the Province of British Columbia.
  • Bev Dahlby, a distinguished fellow and research director at the School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary.
  • Jay Ramotar, who held several deputy minister postings with the Alberta government, including Service Alberta, Solicitor General and Public Security, Health and Wellness, Infrastructure and Transportation and Treasury Board.

MacKinnon was finance minister in the 1990s under former Saskatchewan premier Roy Romanow, when the government was able to return to a balanced budget. She was critical of the fiscal direction of the previous Alberta NDP government under Rachel Notley. 

MacKinnon told reporters that the focus of the government shouldn't be on taxes but on growing the economy and getting taxes under control. 

"Relative to the rest of Canada, this is a big-spending province in virtually every area," she said. "So that's correctly what the focus should be on. Get that spending under control." 

MacKinnon said Alberta's high spending has not translated into better services for residents. 

"Putting in place a framework in which you have to prioritize, you have some fiscal discipline is really important," she said. "Because in the long term then, you have more money to increase program spending or reduce taxes."

'Political cover'

The NDP accused Kenney of using the panel to provide cover for future government cuts.

Deron Bilous, MLA for Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview, said there is no way to balance the budget by 2022 while cutting corporate taxes without making massive cuts to government services.

"My concern is that Mr. Kenney is putting them up as a way to pass the buck," Bilous said of the panel.

Joel French, executive director of Public Interest Alberta, said balancing the budget without raising taxes is like telling your doctor you want to lose weight while refusing to exercise or make dietary changes. 

"It is telling that the panel's mandate includes the UCP election promise of not raising taxes but fails to mention Kenney's oft-repeated commitment that front-line services would not be cut," French said in a news release

"It looks likely that this panel is set up to provide political cover for him to break that promise and cut the public services Albertans rely on and value."

Kenney said the UCP promised in its platform to name a panel to help reform Alberta's tax system. But that won't come until later in the government's four-year mandate.

"I would anticipate that in roughly 2021-22, we will see an expert panel to advise us on the optimal tax structure in Alberta for jobs and growth," he said. 

Janice MacKinnon, the former finance minister with the Government of Saskatchewan, will chair the province's newly appointed Blue Ribbon Panel on Alberta’s Finances. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)