Notley raises spectre of Klein-style cuts under UCP government

Premier Rachel Notley says Jason Kenney will turn back the clock and hurt Edmonton just as Ralph Klein hurt the city in the 1990s, by freezing public sector spending if he becomes premier.

'Holding spending at zero will require reckless cuts to the parts of the system you can't cut'

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley is expected to call the spring vote within the legislated period of March 1 and May 30. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press )

Premier Rachel Notley warned Thursday that if Jason Kenney forms government, he would freeze public-sector spending, hurting Edmonton the way Ralph Klein did in the 1990s.

In a lunchtime address to the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce Thursday, Notley said Kenney denies cuts are coming.

But she says Kenney's vow to freeze spending will have the same effect because Edmonton's population is growing. She says holding spending at zero per cent increases still requires "reckless cuts" in parts of the system. 

"Cuts of billions of dollars for things people need.," Notley said. 

"And when people get less — at their hospitals and care homes, in their classrooms — it's a cut, plain and simple. People get hurt. Workers get fired. And families get left in the lurch."

Notley's remarks followed what's becoming a familiar theme: the UCP will be a throwback to the past, while the NDP is looking to the future by funding services that support economic growth. 

Edmonton voters elected NDP MLAs in every city riding in 2015. As Notley looks to the spring election, it appears she wants to make sure she maintains those seats. 

In her speech, she hearkened back what many consider a dark time in Edmonton's history — when the Klein government slashed thousands of public sector jobs in order to eliminate the deficit. 

Notley could have made the decision to do the same when oil prices collapsed after she took office in 2015. But she told the audience that she chose not to. 

"I knew that we couldn't make the mistakes of the past and take an axe to the very things that support a strong Edmonton and a strong province," she told the crowd.

"We all saw how that went in the 1990s. It was brutal for this city, it was brutal for its people. It set development in Edmonton back decades. And it took a generation to recover."

Notley also vowed not to introduce health care premiums, and sales and payroll taxes if she is re-elected.

Most of the crowd gave Notley a standing ovation at the end of her speech.

Notley's address was the last of the chamber's series of lunchtime events with the leaders of the provincial political parties. 

Liberal leader David Khan, United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney and Alberta Party leader Stephen Mandel have already appeared. 

As premier, Notley determines when Albertans will go to the polls this spring. She has said she plans to honour Alberta's fixed election period legislation where the vote must be held between March 1 and May 30, 2019.

Notley has held press conferences over the past month which critics claim were free of real news and instead were opportunities to talk up her government's record.

Last week, Notley took a partisan swing at Kenney, her main opponent, when she alleged he intended to introduce tolls on Alberta highways.

The UCP fired back by saying Kenney's user-fee idea would only apply to new infrastructure required for industry.

Notley said in her speech Thursday that the party is admitting that the plan for tolls is true. 

As for Kenney, the UCP leader launched a four-day tour of northern Alberta with events in Slave Lake on Wednesday. Kenney's trip will include stops in Grande Prairie, Fairview, La Crete, Peace River and High Level.