MacKinnon panel releases recommendations ahead of Alberta's fall budget
Alberta is overspending and sweeping changes are needed to get the province back on track, according to a report released Tuesday in Calgary.
The blue ribbon panel’s report contains 26 recommendations about the government’s finances and how to balance the budget by 2022-‘23. But the changes won’t be easy.
Operating costs would have to be cut by $600 million each year and capital expenditures would need to shrink significantly, the report says.
“Alberta has a spending problem and the government needs to act quickly and decisively to reduce its spending,” said Janice MacKinnon, who is the former Saskatchewan finance minister and served as the chair of the panel.
Cuts and efficiencies need to be found in each and every government sector, but particular aim was taken at education and healthcare spending.
Among the recommendations to rein in healthcare spending is moving to allow private clinics to perform more day procedures, “more fully utilizing the skills of healthcare professionals beyond doctors and nurses and changing the way doctors are paid and the amount they receive,” MacKinnon said.
Other recommended changes include increasing post-secondary tuition and determining if any of Alberta’s post-secondary institutions should be shuttered.
The panel also said public sector wages are higher in Alberta than in other provinces and salaries should be legislated.
“The UCP campaigned on wage constraint. If you’re going to balance the budget through spending, you’ve got to go after wages,” said MRU political expert Duane Bratt. “It’s been messaged since the election.”
The report also says Alberta’s per-capita spending far exceeds the average spending in Ontario, Quebec and B.C.
“We spend much more than any other province. In fact, our spending has been consistently higher than the provincial average for the last 25 years,” said finance minister Travis Toews. He’ll use the report and consider its recommendations to put together the province’s budget, Toews said.
Albertans have a “right to be worried” about what’s in the report, said NDP education critic Sarah Hoffman.
“I think that they are trying to create whatever excuses they can for being able to come forward with deep cuts that are going really going to have negative impacts on ordinary Albertans,” Hoffman said.
Alberta’s provincial budget will be tabled in the fall.