Alberta Finance Minister Doug Horner says everything from toll roads to public-private partnerships on courthouses will be on the table at Saturday’s second economic summit of 2013.
Mr. Horner said the province wants a wide-ranging discussion among academics, political and business leaders on new ways to find the cash to build things in a fast-growing province.
“What about a P3 [public-private partnership] for a courthouse? What about a toll road? I mean, these are some of the things that we should talk about,” Mr. Horner said in an interview Tuesday.
He stressed the government isn’t actively pursuing toll roads, but said it needs to be discussed.
“We just came back from travel in New York. You drive from Newark, where we landed, into downtown New York and I forget how many toll gates we actually went through,” he said.
“[A toll road] is not something that we should just simply say, ‘Well, we don’t have to do it in Alberta because we’ve got lots of money.’ Maybe we should do it exactly because we have the resources.”
The province has already used cost-shared, public-private partnerships to build schools, but Mr. Horner said he wants to hear other ideas.
The one-day summit will be held at the University of Alberta. Mr. Horner, Premier Alison Redford and Kyle Fawcett, the government member spearheading flood recovery, will attend.
The summit will also deal with how to invest the money the government is setting aside in its savings account. The savings account was launched last year as part of a new budgeting process that subdivides the budget into three categories: capital spending, day-to-day spending and savings.
Mr. Horner said the time has come to solicit ideas on where to invest.
“We’re saving a bunch of money. What are saving it for?” he said.
“I think [the solution] is a blend of things. There are things that we need to set aside in terms of endowments for investment into research and development.
“[And] there are good opportunities for us to set aside dollars that will help augment operational costs should we need them in the future.”
NDP Leader Brian Mason, who will attend the event, said it’s disappointing that Premier Alison Redford’s Tories need these kinds of think-tank sessions to get themselves out of a hole they’ve dug but refuse to acknowledge.
“There were major tax cuts under [former premier] Ralph Klein for profitable corporations and for the most wealthy of Albertans – and middle-class taxes have actually increased compared to what you might pay in B.C. or Ontario,” said Mr. Mason.
Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith said she will attend the summit because she sees the topics as trial balloons on where the government wants to go.
“We believe infrastructure has to be done on a pay-as-you-go basis over a 10-year time horizon [and] have a public, prioritized list,” said Ms. Smith.
“They’re just trying to find all kinds of fancy ways of packaging up more borrowing.”
Along with the summit, the province is also seeking ideas through an online survey and 11 open-house meetings starting Oct. 9 in Athabasca and ending Oct. 18 in Edson.
This is the second economic summit. The first was held at Calgary’s Mount Royal University in February.
Some panelists at that event urged the province look at a sales tax or consumption tax to bring in revenue.
But Mr. Horner reiterated the province is not considering a sales tax.
He said the catastrophic June floods that wiped out roads and bridges and other infrastructure in southern Alberta in June will factor into Saturday’s discussions.
The flood has changed capital priorities, he said, but wouldn’t be more specific.
“The capital plan will change, that’s one thing we do know. We’re in the process right now of prioritizing the projects, but it’s a little early for me to give any kind of [specific] indication.”