EDMONTON – Less than 48 hours before Alberta’s budget is delivered, opposition Wildrose leader Brian Jean took advantage of an opportunity to speak to Albertans via a television segment to blast the NDP government for tax increases and what he called “increased regulations.”
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Less than a week after Premier Rachel Notley delivered a televised address to speak to Albertans about the province’s economic crisis, Jean officially responded to the segment in a televised address of his own, afforded to him by the NDP government and which he thanked Alberta taxpayers for.
“Through a series of tax increases and increased regulations, Alberta’s competitive edge on every front and across almost all industries, is slipping,” he said. “Families have less money in their wallets and are now worried about a $3-billion carbon tax that they cannot afford.”
Faced with a cataclysmic collapse in oil prices, a slide that first began in the summer of 2014, the NDP government has acknowledged Thursday’s budget will likely see the province run a deficit of more than $10 billion.
In Tuesday’s address, Jean recognized how closely tied Alberta’s fiscal crisis is to the slumping oil prices, saying “we can no longer simply hope for the price of oil to rebound to get Albertans back to work and secure our long-term prosperity.”
But Jean flatly rejected the NDP’s stated policy of maintaining social spending, suggesting it would lead to unsustainable deficits and negatively impact the province’s credit rating.
“In a few short years, Albertans will face $50 billion of debt,” he said. “Interest payments will soon be the largest expense in government after health, education and social services.”
Jean said NDP tax increases will drive money and jobs away from the province and said the the government’s carbon tax and plan to phase out coal will raise costs for consumers and hurt the economy.
The Wildrose leader suggested he believes he can deliver a balanced budget without laying off nurses or teachers and could do so by finding “just a few pennies of savings for every dollar spent.”
Jean suggested Wildrose ideas like reducing the small business tax, getting rid of the carbon tax and returning WCB surpluses to create jobs,could get Alberta’s economy back on track.
In Notley’s televised address last Thursday, the premier offered some tough words for Ottawa, suggesting it needed to do more to ensure a pipeline is built that would bring oilsands bitumen to tidewater and to rethink a decision to exclude Edmontonians from being eligible to access supplemental Employment Insurance (EI) benefits announced in the federal budget.
READ MORE: ‘I won’t let up. We must get to ‘yes’ on a pipeline’: Tough words for Ottawa in Notley TV address
Early in his address, with an Alberta flag hanging behind him, Jean offered similar criticism of the Trudeau government, though he didn’t acknowledge Notley’s words.
“In Ottawa, we have a government that simply does not understand the issues we face,” he said. “From red tape on pipelines to tanker bans on the west coast to discriminating against energy workers in an unfair EI system and to a broken equalization system.
“Our federal government is saying it does not care about Alberta’s interests.”
READ MORE: Trudeau won’t say why Edmonton was left out of EI extensions in federal budget 2016
Jean finished his address by saying while he understood the next year will be a difficult one for many Albertans, he believes in the province and will continue to hold the government to account before ending by saying “may God bless Alberta.”
The Notley government paid for the eight-minute televised response from the opposition but did not reveal how much it cost. the total cost for production and air time of Notley’s 15-minute televised address was $90,000 and was projected to reach more than 300,000 Albertans. The cost is similar to former premier Jim Prentice’s March 2015 address, pegged between $80,000 and $100,000.
With files from Erika Tucker.