Province's fiscal challenges could impact education

January 13, 2015

Housekeeping legislature session wraps up

With oil prices having fallen from more than $100 a barrel in June to around $50, Premier Jim Prentice has said that, unless the province cuts spending and increases revenue, it will be left with a $6.25 billion deficit in the upcoming 2015 budget and deficits of around $5 billion in each of the following two years. He’s said that deficits of this magnitude are unacceptable and that tough spending decisions lie ahead.

"This is not budgeting as usual. Governing responsibly requires us to be disciplined with spending, prudent with revenues and cautious with forecasts," he said in a December 15 statement announcing that a new seven-member committee of MLAs was being formed to work on the 2015 budget.

The committee’s role is to look at economic projections, capital and operating budgets, policy commitments and revenue forecasts, and make recommendations to Treasury Board. Prentice said the government is also taking action to control spending for the remainder of this fiscal year, through cost containment measures that include limiting the hiring of staff, and limiting spending, grants, travel and training to only that which is required to meet critical operational requirements or legal commitments.

New schools in jeopardy?

Education Minister Gordon Dirks stressed during a year-end editorial board meeting with the Calgary Herald that the government will do everything it can to keep the promise made during the fall byelection campaign to build 55 new schools and modernize another 20 facilities by 2018.

"We’re going to do everything we can to deliver on the commitments that we’ve made while managing in a prudent, fiscal manner," Dirks said, according to the Herald.

"We have a province that has almost 650,000 students, a projected enrolment increase of three per cent for next year," he continued. "And even if Alberta’s growth rate diminishes somewhat because of the energy world, we’re still going to have new students coming to our province, and we’re going to continue to have to build capacity to meet the growing student enrolment needs."

Full-day kindergarten unlikely

During his Herald interview, Dirks said the government is unlikely to fund all-day kindergarten in the near future due to the province’s fiscal situation.

"In straightened financial circumstances such as we’re facing, to provide funding for all-day kindergarten or a variety of other issues that some people may see as just as important in their minds as all-day kindergarten … would be a challenge," Dirks said.

Implementing full-day kindergarten was one of the promises that Alison Redford made when she was running for the PC leadership in 2011.

Fall sitting keeps house

The fall sitting of the Alberta Legislature ended on Dec. 12. The session sat for 15 days and passed 10 bills, mostly of a housekeeping nature.

Among those bills was Bill 3, the Personal Information Protection Amendment Act, which authorizes trade unions to collect, use and disclose personal information without consent only in the limited circumstances of a matter relating to a labour relations dispute. ❚