|David Eggen, left, Rachel Notley, Brian Mason, Leader, NDP Opposition, and Derion Bilous, all of Edmonton, were in the community room of the library for the Alberta NDP Broken Promises Budget Tour Wednesday. Herald photo by David Rossiter|
Service cuts are not needed in the richest province in Canada. Instead, Alberta should simply cancel Ralph Klein's tax cuts for big companies and energy producers.
That's the message from Alberta New Democrat leader Brian Mason, as his four-member caucus listened to voters across southern Alberta.
"This is not an economic downturn," he said here Wednesday, in the wake of the Conservative government's forecast of a 2012-13 deficit as high as $4 billion. "It's financial mismanagement by the Progressive Conservative government."
So Albertans should brace for service cuts and broken promises in the government's budget address early next month, he warned.
"The PCs created this mess by cutting taxes and royalties for corporations and wealthy Albertans" and counting on high oil prices, he said. "Now they'll break promises to Alberta families to try to clean it up."
During a public meeting later, Mason heard how those feared cuts will affect University of Lethbridge students and reduce public services for southern Albertans.
Earlier Wednesday, Lethbridge East MLA Bridget Pastoor confirmed job cuts are expected to be included in the budget speech March 7. But they could be spread over the next few years, she said in an interview.
"It won't be slash and burn," the government member said. "It's a three-year plan.
"In the meantime, things could change."
But the budget won't offer many pleasant surprises, Pastoor predicted.
"Times have changed," and Albertans realize that.
"I think people will probably not be surprised at how austere the budget will be."
But Lethbridge speakers said the government must consider tax changes to allow critical plans and services to continue.
Armin Escher, student president at University of Lethbridge, said students fear the government will remove its cap on tuition fees - forcing many post-secondary students to quit classes or go still more deeply into debt.
Premier Alison Redford must keep her promise to fund five major post-secondary projects across the province, he added - including a long-needed upgrade for trades training at Lethbridge College.
At the university, he said, some cutting-edge researchers are forced to work in science laboratories dating to the 1970s, far inferior to today's high school labs. But instead of approval for their plans for a new science building, he said, U of L officials fear their operating budget will be cut by five per cent or more, leaving tuition hikes as one of the only ways to balance their books.
Escher and representatives of other Lethbridge-area groups lined up to outline their concerns, as budget-cut warnings echoes across the province. They were also questioned in public hearing style by Mason and fellow Edmonton MLAs Deron Bilous, David Eggen and Rachel Notley.
Speaking for Lethbridge-area members of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, Sherry Hunt cited Economic Development Lethbridge reports that eight of the city's top 10 employers are provincial or federal agencies, hitting this city's economy if cuts are severe.
The federal government is already cutting services across the nation, she pointed out, and now Alberta's government says it's following suit - because the province has failed to collect adequate royalties and taxes.
"The provincial employees will be the scapegoats for the government's failure."