While Albertans will be fascinated to see how the federal election goes, what maybe equally as important is what happens three days later as the provincial budget is tabled. 

While those in the petroleum industry are concerned about who gets into government especially if it is a minority government and either the PCs or the Liberals  need help votes-wise, the NDP and the Greens have all but stated in their campaigns they aren’t concerned about the petroleum sector. And, just ask people in the oil industry what they think of Justin Trudeau. Angst within the ranks of one of Alberta’s biggest employers to be sure.

However, what Premier Jason Kenney does in his first budget which will be tabled Oct. 24, a few days after the federal election will set the tone for his tenure. 

Already, he is using tough talk which seems to be a reoccurring theme whether dealing interprovincially or within his own. 

Kenney has already shown other signs as being his own person, my way or the highway type of person.

His unapologetically pointed statement he would rather have Conservative Andrew Scheer in federal government was predictable, even though one wonders if he himself has eyes on the federal leadership. 

Kenney says they have to grab hold and stop losing control of the province’s $62.7 billion debt.  The 2018-19 budget tabled by NDP’s Joe Cici had a projected revenue of $47.9 billion with spending at $56.2 billion and was the fourth consecutive deficit budget of the NDP. 

The previous NDP government’s philosophy was to spend out of tough times and recover financially later. Small ‘c’ conservatives like the UCP want everything balanced now. Conservatives would also rather ensure big business is taken care of first. Cut spending, hold the line on services and smaller government. 

Kenney is making it clear, he has a strong will and no one will push him around. Yes, by talking down to anyone who dares disagree with the forthcoming budget, you aren’t a normal Albertan. Flex those muscles. 

The recently-released MacKinnon panel report on finances said Alberta government needed to cut operating expenses by $600 million over four years in order to help balance the budget by 2022-23. Sounds like if a person in the public sector retires, they won’t be replaced. He told a they would minimize  “potential layoffs by maximizing attrition.”

Kenney noted there would be no budgetary cuts in education or health, but perhaps a realignment in where and how the budget is spent. 

On the surface it is ironic that as a former immigration minister and knowing all the new families including many students are coming in from all over the world, that Kenney holding the line on education and health spending is a priority.

However if he can get the money to where it needs to be spent and not elaborate spending then Kenney will be lauded and not panned. Kenney will need to sell it to Albertans and how he does it will be fascinating to watch. 

Cue the hard sell-type quotes with themes of “Too bad”; “You can leave” or the “Unions have had it easy for the last four years” forthcoming from Kenney and finance minister Travis Toews.

Kenney’s release of the annual salaries of political staffers (i.e. chief of staff and principal secretary -$224,138 each) was somewhat of a negative if not hypocritical start.  Although one of the UCP staffers noted the provincial government is spending 21 per cent less than the NDP did. 

Talk is cheap, even when it comes to what promises to be a frugal budget. It could be the classic tough bravado and dire warnings of impending Draconian cuts only to have it be a lot less harsh so as to appear not so bad.

“It could’ve been a lot worse,” will be the echo statements coming from the coffee shop regulars.

Make no mistake, Kenney is in charge of this ship, no one else. How Kenney steers this budget and conducts himself post federal election and post budget will chart his course as premier and eventually his future in politics provincially or (again) federally.

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