NDP looking for cost savings in government programs and agencies

By Bruce Hinkley, MLA for Wetaskiwin-Camrose

Congratulations to Louise Mosier who has been appointed as a public member to the Council of the College of Registered Dental Hygienists of Alberta.

Two constituency recipients of Community Facility Enhancement Grants are the Royal Canadian Legion - Wetaskiwin Branch 86 (upgrade for furnace and air conditioning) and the Friends of Chester Ronning School (for their playground redevelopment). Sacred Heart School in Wetaskiwin was the recipient of a Communities Initiative Program grant to build an outdoor notice board and sign.

In a recent MLA Update we had a chance to preview the numerous rural and agriculture based green energy programs which will make life better for all Albertans.

This week here is a review of other initiatives undertaken to strengthen rural Alberta.

We dismissed the Agriculture Financial Services Corporation Board after finding senior executives and staff had expensed things like hockey games, limos, golf trips and alcohol. The board has now been replaced and is doing a better, more transparent job providing producers, agribusinesses and other small businesses loans, crop insurance and farm income disaster assistance. We saw in 2016 how AFSC reviewed and streamlined its inspection processes and handled the massive claims due to unharvested acres harmed by cold and snow.

Our government via the Marketing of Agricultural Products restored autonomy to agricultural commissions and their members with the flexibility to implement the service charge model that works best for them.

We have passed legislation to enhance wildfire prevention, to discourage unsafe behaviour and give firefighters more tools to keep Albertans and their communities safe. Part of that included quadrupling the funding for the Fire Smart program.

We have continued to fund Agriculture Societies supporting rural community organizations and projects right through the economic downturn despite the Opposition advocating spending cuts.

We have raised the provincial loan guarantee for feeder associations to $100 million from $50 million. This was requested by the castle industry for several years as the demand for cattle increased. This will allow much more flexibility in servicing feeder associations. We worked with the federal government to quickly implement an Agri-Recovery program response for ranchers effected by an outbreak of Bovine TB. We supported the investigation of the outbreak with veterinary support, financial support through AFSC and through coordination with other provincial departments like Health and Environment and Parks. Also through our advocacy, affected ranchers were eligible for livestock tax deferral provisions to defer a portion of their 2017 sales proceeds of breeding livestock until 2018 to help replenish their herds.

Job creation and diversification continue to be part of our economic focus. Albertans will see even more investment, job creation and green generation in the next rounds of the Renewable Electricity Program.

The Renewable Electricity Program is expected to attract approximately $10 billion in new private investment and create abut 7,200 jobs for Albertans by 2030.

This process will keep power affordable for Albertans building on the success of the first round which set a record for lowest renewable pricing in Canada.

Working with Indigenous communities will encourage economic activity, create local jobs, and help reach our goal of 30 per cent renewable energy.

The third round will follow the successful approach of Round 1 and add approximately 400 megawatts of renewable electricity.

Increasing renewable energy will enhance our leadership position as a responsible energy producer while protecting our health, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and making life better for Albertans.

Our government has taken significant steps to carefully find savings while continuing to support and protect the public services Albertans rely on. These measures include: Negotiating practical agreements, with no raises in return for job stability, with public sector unions, such as the Alberta Teachers’ Association and United Nurses of Alberta.

A salary freeze until September 2019 for all nonunion staff and management across the public sector. Since it was imposed in April 2016, the freeze has saved $29 million a year in the Alberta Public Service alone.

An ongoing hiring restraint in the Alberta Public Service, which has saved a total of $204 million since the beginning of 2015.

Reducing health care costs by $100 million over three years by reducing generic drug prices and $28 million in 2017-18 from the operational best practices review. Cutting the salaries and eliminating bonuses for the highest-paid executives of Alberta‘s agencies, boards and commissions, saving nearly $16 million annually.

The review of public agencies, boards and commissions, resulting in a number of amalgamations and dissolutions, saving $33 million over three years.

Consolidating and transforming government corporate services, such as communications and IT, finance and HR saving $15 to $20 million annually once implemented, while achieving better results.

Further limiting departmental discretionary spending is expected to see a 10 per cent reduction for 2017-18 from the previous year. A savings of approximately $8 million.

Our plan to reduce the deficit is working - $1.4 billion reduction in 2017. We will continue to make efficiencies, while maintaining infrastructure investments.

The carbon levy is helping to reduce emissions as studies show already, Alberta‘s economy continues to grow and the Conference Board of Canada predicts Alberta‘s economy will be one of the best in 2018. The fear mongers have been wrong again.

First published March 8, 2018, in the Camrose Canadian.