Bell: Danielle Smith to Albertans — 'We're all in this together'

The province can’t spend every dollar they have because they also want to pay down debt and save for the future and build stuff.

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The speaker is Premier Danielle Smith.

It is Friday morning, the day after her government rolls out its budget.

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“I’m just asking everyone, including members of our public service, to accept we’re all in this together.”

Wow. Haven’t heard that turn of phrase for quite some time. Heard it a lot not so long ago in days many of us would like to forget.

“I hope everyone is going into this with a spirit of co-operation and collaboration. We’re all in this together. It benefits all of us.”

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The premier clearly has a message for Albertans. One for all and all for one.

Smith says her UCP government is making a course correction.

This year’s spending on provincial government operations will see a much smaller increase than the year before.

Next year, the increase in spending will be even lower.

This idea the province would spend up to the rate of inflation and the growth in population ain’t happenin’.

Smith tells us the government can’t keep spending year over year at a much higher rate than the money they’re taking into the treasury.

“I think we have to be mindful we don’t have to keep on doing everything as we’ve always done it.”

This year the province projects a small budget surplus but not in cash.

The province will still be borrowing.

The debt still goes up.

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The question for the premier.

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How can you tackle the pressures of inflation and a growing province and wage demands from nurses and health-care workers and others if you don’t spend to meet the inflation rate and population increase?

How does the math work?

Smith says the dollars coming to the province and the amount the province spends have to match.

And the province can’t spend every dollar they have because they also want to pay down debt and save for the future and build stuff.

“That’s what I’m asking Albertans to understand, the challenge here.”

This is what Smith means by “a little restraint.”

The premier says the government has to find a way to bring more money into the piggy bank.

Smith pledges to build up the Heritage Fund so the province can rely less and less on an oilpatch windfall.

She wishes Alberta could get there fast but it is going to take time.

Smith wants to “get a handle on health care.”

The premier asks if there’s a way for some patients to be treated somewhere else rather than in an expensive hospital bed where she pegs the cost at $1,500 a day.

She says there are 1,547 people in hospital beds just waiting to go somewhere else.

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Smith mentions continuing care, home care, rental housing, mental health and addiction treatment.

The premier is finally asked if she will move off her plan, if she will blink if there is a mass of protesters outside the legislature, workers out on the picket line, her support getting wobbly.

On Friday morning, she sure gives the impression she is standing firm.

There are voices of opposition.

Mayor Jyoti Gondek
Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek reacts to the provincial budget at city hall in Calgary on Thursday, February 29, 2024. Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia

On Thursday, Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek takes on Smith.

The mayor finds it “incredibly unnerving” the province is taking $96 million more this year from Calgary property taxpayers.

Yes, a portion of your property tax goes to the province even though you receive one bill and not two.

The province says the extra money reflects the growth in the assessment tax base.

Gondek tells the press if Calgarians have issues with how much they’re paying out in property taxes she understands, she is with you.

If you just spit out your coffee, get a cloth and clean it up.

A veteran newshound who knows all the nooks and crannies of Calgary city hall (no, it’s not me!) asks Gondek if she believes the province is piling on and trying to increase the anger directed to that place not so affectionately known as The Big Blue Playpen.

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The mayor says those are not her words.

But …

“Does it look like the province is piling on city council at a time when they know property taxes are a concern for Calgarians? Absolutely.”

Speaking of taxes, the promised full personal income tax cut from the province, about $1,500 a family, won’t come until 2027.

Smith says lower taxes are possible because her government is controlling spending.

“We heard from Albertans loud and clear. They do not want tax increases. They actually want tax cuts,” says the premier.

“That’s our marching orders. We’ve got to make sure we can live within the very substantial means we get from Albertans and we have to find new ways of doing business.”

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