Local MLAs: MacKinnon report recommendations good for province

Findings from the MacKinnon report was released last week.

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Albertans across the province are talking about the 26 recommendations made in the MacKinnon Report.

Released last week, the 82-pages long report has four recommendations for the health sector, five in education, three for the public sector, six under capital spending, six aimed at balancing the budget and one each for program review and enhancing Alberta’s competitiveness.

Strathcona County MLAs think it is a step in the right direction.

“The panel had a mandate to conduct a deep dive into Alberta’s finances so we as a government can make informed decisions going forward to follow through on our commitment to get our fiscal house in order and get a balanced budget in the next four years,” explained Sherwood Park MLA Jordan Walker. “Upon review the report, my reaction is Alberta has an overspending problem and what I liked about the report was that it gave a comparative perspective and noted that if Alberta’s annual expenditures were about $10-billion less and its per-capita spending matched the average spending of Canada’s three largest provinces, B.C., Ontario and Quebec, we would actually be running a surplus.”

The MLA outlined there still will be lots of debate before any final decisions are made since the Alberta government hasn’t yet adopted the recommendations.

“We will use the report to inform us on the upcoming budget and it is now brought to cabinet and caucus to debate and discuss internally and will be debated and discussed in the legislature,” he said. “The next steps are for every member to inform themselves on this report and to help us craft a prudent budget to get Alberta back on track and that is what Albertans elected us to do.”

With a number of recommendations to education and health care, some are concerned Alberta will see major cuts to both areas.

“I haven’t got any phone calls or emails yet about the report from concerned residents, but what I would say on health and education, as you know they are the two largest budget items for the Alberta government and rightfully so, for us to get our fiscal house in order, our economy back on track, we have to be innovative and engage in the transformational changes the premier said in health but to also find better ways to deliver services with better bang for the buck of our taxpayer because even though we are spending higher on per capita average than other big provinces we’re not receiving the outcomes as these other big provinces,” explained Walker.

Walker said there are recommendations to find savings by empowering strong strategic leadership and establish better outcomes to measure progress against other provinces.

“Both in health and education, we made a commitment to maintaining health care and education funding, particularly on the front line. The panel recommended a decrease in funding that goes to administration and governance, which isn’t the critical front line workers of teachers and principals,” Walker added. “I think the people of Sherwood Park that might feel unease should know we are committed to our campaign pledge to maintaining health care and education funding at current levels but to find savings in the administrative side.”

Walker said the recommendations in health and education will just serve as a basis to find a better bang for the taxpayers’ buck and should not affect front-line staff.

Since the report was released, many have criticized that it is comparing Alberta to provinces that have a provincial sales tax or harmonized sales tax. Walker said now it not the time for Alberta to bring in any more taxes.

“From our government’s perspective, we don’t have a revenue problem we have a spending problem and we want to maintain Alberta’s tax competitiveness,” he said. “We need to get our spending under control first before we go to Albertans with our hands out to them because we’ve had a brutal recession over the last five years and from what I’ve heard at the doors from a lot of people in Sherwood Park is that tax increases isn’t the issue saying we have a spending problem.”

UCP colleague and local MLA Nate Glubish echoed Walkers statements in an email.

I don’t think Albertans were too surprised to learn that we have been overspending,” the Strathcona-Sherwood Park MLA said in a statement. “One number that was very enlightening to me was that our per capita spending is by far the highest in Canada, and if we had kept in line with the average spending of BC, Ontario, and Quebec, we would be facing a $3.7 billion surplus instead of a $6.7 billion deficit.”

The report paints a grim picture of pending unemployment in Alberta and a weaker economic outlook. Deputy NDP leader Sarah Hoffman slammed the report as a political flak jacket for the UCP and pointed to the over-sized piece of cardboard signed by now-Premier Jason Kenney during the election campaign.

Hoffman said Kenney used the prop, which promised the UCP would maintain or increase spending on Alberta’s health-care system but that flies in the face of the MacKinnon report recommendations.

“Our focus on balancing the budget is not just about keeping our promises,” Glubish added. “It is also about providing for a sustainable future — one where we can continue to afford the high-quality programs and services that Albertans need.”

When asked about the corporate tax cut earlier this year, Walker said he believes the benefits will show up soon in Alberta.

“We were elected to get the economy back on track to create jobs and the job creation tax cut we believe will do just that to spur more growth and bring in more revenue,” Walker said. “Previous governments raised taxes and businesses left the province and we lost the Alberta advantage. We need to grow the economy and create more jobs and that’s what you’ll get with a UCP government because we’re a deep believer in the power to lower taxes to raise prosperity, including government revenues, for all.”

“It takes a while to right the ship, including for those major corporate tax cuts to have an effect and it won’t happen overnight or over one quarter or even two, you’ll see it in the medium to the near term where you start to see key economic indicators hiking up,” Walker added.

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