All eyes are on Tuesday's budget

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There’s only one thing to see during this year’s spring legislature sitting and that’s the budget, said Alberta Liberal leader David Swann.

The government released its throne speech on Thursday and read its Bill 1, a competitiveness review, but all eyes are on Premier Ed Stelmach and next Tuesday’s budget, Swann said.

“This budget is going to set the tone for his attempts, both to keep people from leaving his party to go further to the right, and his mandate from the people of Alberta to protect those vital services that we depend on,” Swann said.

On Thursday, former cabinet minister Fred Lindsay said he may consider a move to the Wildrose Alliance Party at some point in the future.

Government house leader David Hancock said Thursday the government is also very focused on financial issues.

“Our focus this spring is on the fiscal situation in Alberta and how we can make sure Alberta comes out of this worldwide recession with strength,” Hancock said.

“One of the things we’ve tried to do is get the budget in early so it can be passed by the end of March, before the end of the fiscal year.”

Alberta’s fiscal year begins April 1.

“It’s nice to have the budget done before the start of the year rather than starting to spend money you don’t necessarily have,” said St. Albert MLA Ken Allred.

He’ll sit on a budgetary committee again this year. With the rise of the Wildrose Alliance, he’s expecting more opposition debate in committee meetings.

Major legislation in health care and education will come forward during the fall session, Hancock said.

The government has been hinting for months that the upcoming budget will aim to trim costs. Thursday’s throne speech stated the government is confident about Alberta’s fiscal position due to its cash reserves and low taxes.

Swann called the speech vague and recycled.

“It is a lot of rehashed ideas that failed to inspire,” he said.

Bill 1 — the Alberta Competitiveness Act — aims to have the province working closely with industry, business leaders and Albertans toward making the province one of the most competitive jurisdictions in the world.

“A more competitive province will provide the environment for the creation of new business opportunities and the exciting careers and high-paying jobs we all want for this and future generations,” said Premier Ed Stelmach.

The review will include a look at the oil and gas royalty regime that Stelmach changed after taking office and which has been adjusted repeatedly since.

Swann sees Bill 1 as a red-tape elimination exercise, something that should be ongoing in government. Nevertheless, he’ll be keeping an eye on the process.

“My concern of course is that this act could translate into a race to lower standards and actually reduce the quality of environmental and labour standards in the province.”

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