Danielle in QP, October 23: Provincial Fiscal Reporting

Ms Smith: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Alberta is in deficit trouble. That’s pretty clear now. The Associate Minister of Finance shocked his colleagues when he actually told the truth and admitted that the government would only attempt to run a balanced operating budget this year while taking out debt to pay for everything else. Then the real Minister of Finance tried to reassure Albertans by explaining that this was actually a legitimate way to balance the books. Finally, the Premier tried to smooth things over with what looked like a redefinition of the word “balanced.” Albertans want to know the real truth. When is the budget, all of it, going to be balanced?

Mr. Horner: Well, Mr. Speaker, this is my purview: to bring forward a budget based on my consultations with Albertans, which we’ve done. I’ve already mentioned that. I think Albertans can rest assured that when we put forward the budget next year, it’s going to include the priorities of Albertans. It’s going to include funding for our capital plan, and our commitment is that it will be balanced.

Ms Smith: Mr. Speaker, this government is also running an honesty deficit. The last fiscal update avoided telling the entire story, even though by law, by the government’s own law, it has to.

What the minister did last time, not showing all the numbers, might even be illegal. Will the Finance minister commit to a complete and full and honest update next time?

The Speaker: Let us remember the 35-second rule and no preambles, please. Let’s continue.

Mr. Horner: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I take exception to some of the accusations, frankly, that might have been thrown across there.

We have a very high standard of reporting. In fact, what we’re doing is making it better. We are going to give Albertans a comparison of what our actual is to what our original budget was.

We did that in the first quarter. We believe that we met the terms of the legislation in what was released in that first quarter. We will be sitting down with the Auditor General and the audit committee, as we already have, and talking about further refinements to our quarterly updating. In fact, we did not decline any requests for information, including from the opposition.

Ms Smith: Well, we’d like to see a full update next time. Mr. Speaker, given that the deficit hole is huge and only getting bigger and given that we see no evidence yet of any effort to fix the problem and given that energy prices remain low and the Canadian dollar remains high, how will this minister reduce spending to restore a little confidence that he actually knows what he’s doing?

Mr. Horner: Well, Mr. Speaker, it’s interesting that in the 60 some-odd-plus meetings I’ve had with captains of industry in our province, with CFOs of corporations, with chambers of commerce, they are very confident of this government’s ability to move forward and deliver on what Albertans’ priorities are, and I feel quite confident. We’ve also done in-year savings expectations. We have increased them. If the hon. member had been listening when we did the first-quarter update, she would have got this, that we are going to be looking for in-year savings of more than half a billion dollars. We’ve asked departments to review all of their capital spending, and in fact we’ve made some adjustments in that regard.