Big spender: Alberta panel says savings to be found in health, education changes

Alberta’s spending per capita is the highest in Canada, the report adds

Big spender: Alberta panel says savings to be found in health, education changes

A panel looking into Alberta’s finances says the province habitually overspends on its services and needs to get tough on schools, have university students pay more and force doctors to charge less.

The panel, chaired by former Saskatchewan finance minister Janice MacKinnon, says in a report that Alberta’s annual expenditures would be $10.4 billion less if the province were to spend the same per person as do British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec.

It says that if Alberta matched the other provinces, it would have a $3.7-billion surplus this year instead of a $6.7-billion deficit.

Alberta’s spending per capita is the highest in Canada, the report adds. And its debt is on track to reach $100 billion in four years.

To balance the budget by 2022-23, as the United Conservative government has promised, the panel suggests there be no increases in government spending for four years and a reduction in operating costs by at least $600 million, as well as cuts in capital spending.

“Raising taxes is not the answer. Alberta has a spending problem and the government needs to act quickly and decisively to reduce its spending,” MacKinnon told reporters at a news conference Tuesday.

“The province needs to go beyond merely cutting spending to transform the way services and programs are delivered.”

Premier Jason Kenney ordered the report shortly after his United Conservatives were elected in April.

“We must act now,” said Alberta Finance Minister Travis Toews. “Future generations and Albertans today are counting on us to make the decisions that will put us back on a solid fiscal path.”

Among the report’s 26 recommendations are sweeping reviews of health care and education.

The report recommends making greater use of private or not-for-profit clinics to deliver health services that don’t need to be done in hospitals. It suggests limiting the costs doctors charge for services and using legislation if new fees can’t be negotiated.

The report calls for cuts to administration costs in education and funding incentives for school boards based on better educational outcomes.

It recommends ending a tuition freeze for post-secondary students and suggests “the government should move quickly to address the future of those post-secondary institutions that do not appear to be viable in future funding scenarios.”

When it comes to public-sector bargaining, the report says there needs to be salary restraint across government and legislation should be used to set wage levels.

“What we learned today is it’s going to hurt — that health-care services are going to be reduced and many of us are going to be paying out of pocket for things that we need,” said Shannon Phillips with the Opposition NDP.

“Our tuition fees are going to go up. Our school fees are going to go up. We learned that we’re going to be paying more for less.”

Phillips said it’s an approach that is going to be viewed as aggressive by physicians, teachers and public-sector employees.

“Essentially to go to war with doctors and I don’t think that will be productive at all. And there’s further indications that they want to go to war with the public sector, which is going to be tremendously expensive,” she said.

An official with the Alberta Medical Association said the group is reviewing the report and declined comment.

Toews said nothing is written in stone yet regarding labour negotiations.

“We wanted to ensure that we were well informed before we continued with labour discussions with the public sector,” he said.

The president of the Alberta Teachers Association called the document a recipe for more uncertainty and instability in the province’s education system.

“(The report’s) recommendations for performance-based incentive systems for funding schools do not have any basis,” said Jason Schilling. “Such systems have proven to be unsuccessful and generally result in less funding for schools and fewer supports for students who have greater needs.”

The head of the Alberta Federation of Labour called it an attack on public services, children’s education and jeopardizes the future of all working Albertans.

“The MacKinnon report is a prescription for disaster and will not lead Alberta to prosperity,” said president Gil McGowan.

“If these recommendations are put into place, they will make Alberta’s economy sicker.”

Ron Kneebone, an economics professor at the University of Calgary, said there are no real surprises in the report.

“It’s just confirming the general direction that the government ran its election campaign,” he said.

“It didn’t seem to be any big hurry … They’re still talking about balancing the budget by 2023.”

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A roundabout is proposed at the intersection of Hwy 11 and 781. (Photo Courtesy of McElhanney Engineering)
Twinning of Hwy. 11 to see roundabouts at Sylvan Lake, Benalto and Eckville intersections

Five roundabouts are planned along Hwy. 11 as part of the previously announced twinning

On Sept. 29 the First Sylvan Lake Sparks decorated the sidewalks at the Bethany Care Centre with pictures and uplifting messages. Pictured left to right are Maddie, Nora, Teagan, and Isabelle. At the time all Girl Guide meetings and activities had to be held outside. (Photo Submitted)
Sylvan Lake Girl Guides planning cookie drive-thru this weekend

The cookie drive-thru is Nov. 29 from 12-4 in the high school parking lot

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, announced the province surpasses one million COVID-19 tests Friday. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
COVID-19: Central zone active cases up by 100 in last 24 hours

Most central Alberta communities under province’s enhanced measures list

Sylvan Lake RCMP, Fire Department and Victim Services will be out on Dec. 5 for the annual Charity Check-stop. File Photo
Give Sylvan Lake RCMP the bird at Charity Check-stop

Sylvan Lake RCMP will be accepting frozen turkeys for the food bank during the charity check-stop

Ecole H.J. Cody School. File Photo
Sylvan Lake high school temporarily moves to online classes

Over the weekend, H.J. Cody reported six positive cases of COVID-19

Kyle Charles poses for a photo in Edmonton on Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. Marvel Entertainment, the biggest comic book publisher in the world, hired the 34-year-old First Nations illustrator as one of the artists involved in Marvel Voice: Indigenous Voices #1 in August. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
VIDEO: Indigenous illustrator of new Marvel comic hopes Aboriginal women feel inspired

Kyle Charles says Indigenous women around the world have reached out

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speak to the media about the COVID-19 virus outside Rideau Cottage in Ottawa, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s inability to manufacture vaccines in-house will delay distribution: Trudeau

First doses of COVID-19 vaccine expected in first few months of 2021, prime minister says

This undated photo issued by the University of Oxford shows of vial of coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, in Oxford, England. Pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca said Monday Nov. 23, 2020, that late-stage trials showed its coronavirus vaccine was up to 90% effective, giving public health officials hope they may soon have access to a vaccine that is cheaper and easier to distribute than some of its rivals. (University of Oxford/John Cairns via AP)
VIDEO: How do the leading COVID vaccines differ? And what does that mean for Canada?

All three of the drug companies are incorporating novel techniques in developing their vaccines

Ilaria Rubino is shown in this undated handout image at University of Alberta. Alberta researcher Rubino has developed technology allowing mostly salt to kill pathogens in COVID-19 droplets as they land on a mask. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-University of Alberta
Alberta researcher gets award for COVID-19 mask innovation

The salt-coated mask is expected to be available commercially next year after regulatory approval.

Russ and Luanne Carl are sharing about their experiences of fighting COVID-19 this past summer. (Photo submitted)
Stettler couple opens up about COVID-19 battle

Luanne and Russ Carl urge others to bolster personal safety measures amidst ongoing pandemic

This 2019 photo provided by The ALS Association shows Pat Quinn. Quinn, a co-founder of the viral ice bucket challenge, died Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020, at the age of 37. (Scott Kauffman/The ALS Association via AP)
Co-founder of viral ALS Ice Bucket Challenge dies at 37

Pat Quinn was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, in 2013

Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada David Lametti speaks with the media following party caucus in Ottawa, Tuesday, January 28, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Exclusion of mental health as grounds for assisted death is likely temporary: Lametti

Senators also suggested the exclusion renders the bill unconstitutional

Claudio Mastronardi, Toronto branch manager at Carmichael Engineering, is photographed at the company’s offices in Mississauga, Ont., Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020. As indoor air quality becomes a major concern in places of business, HVAC companies are struggling to keep up with demand for high quality filtration systems. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
Business is booming for HVAC companies as commercial buildings see pandemic upgrades

‘The demand right now is very high. People are putting their health and safety ahead of cost’

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speak to the media about the COVID-19 virus outside Rideau Cottage in Ottawa, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Long-awaited federal rent subsidy program for businesses hurt by COVID-19 opens today

The new program will cover up to 65 per cent of rent or commercial mortgage interest

Most Read