EDMONTON - The provincial government's decision to cut infrastructure spending and impose a public-sector hiring freeze is hard to justify in light of the rosy financial figures released today, says Alberta Federation of Labour president Les Steel.
According to the government's own documents, the provincial economy is expected to grow by 4.9 percent in 2001 - more than double the national average. At the same time, private and public sector investment is expected to increase by 14.2 percent.
"The Premier and the Finance Minister want Albertans to believe that we can no longer afford to hire desperately needed staff in areas like health and education. And they want us to believe we can no longer afford to invest in infrastructure," says Steel. "But the government's own budget forecast paints a different picture. There doesn't seem to be any good reason to embark on another austerity program."
Steel points out that the price of oil is exactly what the government predicted it would be at this time - and the price of natural gas is only marginally lower.
"It's true that the international economy has taken a turn for the worse and that places like Ontario and the U.S. are edging toward a recession," said Steel. "But here in Alberta, the sky is not falling."
Steel says the labour movement is particularly concerned about the public-sector hiring freeze, deferred construction projects and the decision to reduce transportation grants to municipalities - which have already been cut in half over the past seven or eight years.
"The hiring freeze means that we won't be able to deal with the staffing shortage that is currently undermining service in areas like health care and children's services," says Steel. "And the decision to defer infrastructure projects and further reduce grants to municipality's means that our province's infrastructure will continue to deteriorate. These projects were already long overdue. This is just going to make a bad situation worse."
Steel says the government's new fiscal plan proves - once again - that the Klein Tories have an unhealthy and inflexible focus on debt elimination at all costs.
"They want Albertans to believe that cuts to people and services are the only option," he says. "But there are other options for dealing with the dip in natural gas revenues. What about 'deferring' debt elimination for a few years? And what about 'deferring' tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy until resource prices rebound? The government has to realize that cuts are not the solution to every problem."
For more information call: Les Steel, AFL President @ (780) 499-4135