Alberta Finance Minister Joe Ceci took a shot at the new leader of the Alberta PC party, Jason Kenney, while trying to sell Calgary’s business community on the new NDP budget.
Speaking at the Calgary Chamber of Commerce on Monday, Ceci said he is always looking for efficiencies and that a Kenney-led Conservative party would hurt Alberta.
“They would gut public services,” he said. “They would put us back to some bad times where we had huge deficits in infrastructure as a result of cutbacks, where we had qualified people leave this province because there wasn’t opportunity for them.”
Ceci said the budget is meant to protect services Albertans want and need, adding that the government has been hiring public servants only when new infrastructure – like schools and hospitals – demands it.
READ MORE: Alberta budget 2017 promises new hospital for Edmonton, more Calgary long-term care, nothing for Red Deer hospital
“The frontline focus is where we are adding staff. We’re not doing things that can’t be explained … if we’ve got new infrastructure across this province, they have to have reasonable staff to deliver the services.”
Chamber president Adam Legge called the 2017 budget a ‘disappointment’ and said the NDP government had failed to grapple with the province’s fiscal realities. He said the 2023 target for a return to surpluses is too far away.
“I worry that the provincial view is we can’t cut frontline services. The reality is other provinces in this country are able to achieve equal or better outcomes in certain areas for less money per capita,” he said.
“We have to have a meaningful conversation with Albertans as to how to close that revenue and expense gap. We must start tackling our revenue and expense problem,” said Legge, who later told reporters a provincial sales tax should be part of the discussion.
Defending the NDP budget, the finance minister said his government is making choices that will “support a diversified economy” and keep people working.
“We don’t want to make an already bad situation worse, with more people getting on the unemployment lines,” he said.
“Conservatives, they’ll go the other way,” he added. “They’ll totally throw over the hardworking Albertans and their ability to provide services. They’ll throw over the infrastructure we’re doing in this province and they’ll make it impossible to live a high quality of life.”
Jason Kenney did not immediately respond to News Talk 770’s request for comment.