The long-awaited report on Alberta’s finances was released last week and lays out a framework for the soon-to-come fall budget. Below you’ll find a recap on the 26 recommendations laid out in the report, along with a recap of other stories you don’t want to miss.
Blue Ribbon Panel
Last week, Alberta Finance Minister Travis Toews and former Saskatchewan Finance Minister Janice MacKinnon addressed media questions regarding Dr. MacKinnon’s analysis of Alberta Government spending. The report primarily looked at spending for health care, advanced education and K-12 education. The report indicated that these three programs were singled out because they comprise 70% of the government’s total operational spending, with spending on health taking up most of it.
The government’s main messages were clearly designed for the general public. Minister Toews emphasized that Alberta has a “Spending Problem”, noting that Alberta spends $10.4 billion more per capita per year than the average of British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec.
Our team at New West dug into the report to deliver our best analysis of what it means. The brief was made available to clients last week and can be read, here.
Government Announcements and News
- Good news was delivered to the UCP government Friday morning with the Court of Appeal in a 2-1 decision overturning the injunction against Bill 9. As a result, wage talks on three collective agreements with the AUPE are back on hold until October 30. Finance Minister Travis Toews called the decision a positive result for Alberta taxpayers.
- A new website has been launched – Albertainquiry.ca associated with the public inquiry led by Commissioner Steve Allan into foreign funding of anti-oil campaigns.
- The UCP government is reviewing the province’s energy regulator, the AER, and is seeking input from stakeholders and the public on how to improve the AER’s mandate, governance and system mandate. Feedback will be received by the public until October 14, 2019 here.
- Toews released the UCP’s first quarterly financial report at the end of August, painting a bleak picture of Alberta’s current financial situation. Coupled with the Blue Ribbon panel report, the UCP are priming Albertans for an austerity budget this fall. Some of the key figures found in the Q1 fiscal update are higher debt servicing costs ($93 million additional to Q1 of 2018), $166 million higher in income tax revenue, and $66 million less in other tax revenue due to the elimination of the carbon tax and lower tobacco and fuel consumption. You can read the full report here.
- Students were back to school after Labour Day with many school boards in the province stuck in limbo awaiting the aforementioned fall budget. Also related to Alberta’s school system, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange announced the lifting of the ban on seclusion rooms in the province that was put into place by the previous NDP government in March 2019, with new standards to be in place by the end of October.
- The Federal Court of Appeal has dealt disappointing news related to 12 appeals of the Trans Mountain expansion project. There are 12 requests to appeal the June approval of the pipeline project before the court. The Federal Court has agreed to hear 6 of the 12 appeals in an expedited fashion. Energy Minister Sonya Savage stated that the UCP government is disappointed, and that “we need construction to start now”.
- Speaking of pipelines, Bill C-69 was proclaimed federally with Energy Minister Sonya Savage and Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer calling it a “dark day for Alberta and Canada as a whole”.
- Schweitzer also announced the start of a new ‘talking rural crime’ tour, which began in Bragg Creek and Springbank Thursday and will continue throughout the province during the month of September.
- Good news was announced for Edmonton area commuters by Transportation Minister Ric McIver on Thursday with construction set to begin on widening the southwest leg of the Anthony Henday ring road from four to six lanes. The project was started by the previous NDP government. The project is expected to take three years to complete.
- Premier Kenney is following through on a commitment made at the Council of the Federation meetings that took place earlier this summer related to removing barriers to free trade, with the introduction of an amendment that would allow provinces to remove their own exceptions in the Canadian Free Trade Agreement.
- Ernst & Young has been selected as the contractor to review Alberta’s electronic health information systems. A final report will be provided to government in January 2020 following consultation with health-care professionals, patient groups and other key stakeholders.
- Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women Minister Leela Aheer took part in several announcements and events including the raising of the Pride Flag in Calgary with other government MLAs and announcing $13 million in funding for the Winspear Centre in Edmonton.
- Minister Toews responded to two Auditor General reports related to public agency board member recruitment and reporting performance results to Albertans stating that his Ministry takes the reports seriously and will be working to address the AG’s concerns.
- Advanced Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides will be touring the post-secondary institutions in the province in September and will meet with board members, students and staff. You can view his tour schedule here.
- Legislative Committees are back in action this week with the Public Accounts Committee meeting on September 10-11 related to Service Alberta, Justice and Solicitor General and the Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee and the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund Committee meeting September 12.
- Two big municipal events are on the docket for the fall – the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA) Convention will be held September 25-27 in Edmonton while the Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA) Fall Convention will be held November 12-15.
- The federal election (October 21) is 6 weeks away, and judging by the amount of commercials already seen on your local TV screen is in full swing in all but name. The Conservative campaign will be formally launched Wednesday, with the election having to be called no later than Sunday.
- The UCP’s first AGM since forming government will take place November 29-December 1 at the Westin Calgary Airport.