Alberta Premier Alison Redford, making her first speech in the legislature since taking over the top job, has promised that her government will balance the budget within two years.
“Albertans expect their government to plan for the future, and we will not let them down,” Ms. Redford told the house on Monday in a speech to open the fall sitting of the assembly. “We will balance the budget by 2013-14. And we will plan ahead.”
The speech capped a unique day in the legislature. Politicians agreed to suspend the regular business of the house to allow the leaders of all parties to speak about how the province can respond to the teetering global economy.
It was Ms. Redford’s first day in the premier’s chair since being sworn in on Oct. 7.
She took over a Progressive Conservative government that has been running multi-billion-dollar budget deficits in recent years as lean times around the globe have taken a bite out of oil prices.
During her party’s recent leadership race, Ms. Redford promised to balance the books by 2013. But last week she hedged on it, saying the fluctuating global economy makes it difficult for an export-dependent province like Alberta to get back in the black.
In the speech, she also promised to conduct roundtables and surveys in the weeks to come to gather Albertans’ ideas on the best way to spend and save.
Before the speech, Ms. Redford faced opposition attacks in her first question period as premier.
Paul Hinman, deputy leader of the right-leaning rival Wildrose Party, accused Ms. Redford of “undermining” the work of an arm’s-length government panel by publicly endorsing the proposed Heartland power line project.
The Alberta Utilities Commission is to rule Nov. 1 on whether to approve the $596-million line, which would deliver extra power to homes and businesses along Edmonton’s eastern boundary.
The commission has to determine if the power needs outweigh the costs to taxpayers, the land disruption and any health risks.
Ms. Redford said Friday she hopes the commission approves the line because the power is needed.
But critics, including the Wildrose, say the commission is now in a conflict of interest because the premier can hire or fire the commission chairman.
“This blatant political interference destroys any credibility this process has left,” Mr. Hinman told Ms. Redford in the house.
Ms. Redford did not back down.
“For eight months [during the leadership campaign] I’ve said I believed the Heartland transmission line was critical,” she said.
“The AUC has undertaken their process. It’s an independent process. They’ll release their decision. I’m looking forward to seeing that decision.
“I expect that if the AUC was in any way concerned about the compromising of their independence, they’d have commented on it.”
Critics say the Heartland line is not needed and that the extra power will be sold by power companies at a hefty profit to U.S. customers.
The first day of the sitting was also disrupted by two protesters. They unfurled a banner that read “Change The System, Not Just the Premier” before being hauled out by security.
It was the Tories’ first day without Ed Stelmach at the helm. The former premier is still in the legislature, and has a seat in the back row under the press gallery overhang. He was not in the house Monday.
The fall sitting continues Tuesday, then will recess for four weeks and return for an expected two-week session on Nov. 21.
Ms. Redford says her new cabinet and caucus team need more time to get their legislative agenda in order.