Alberta politicians – facing billions of dollars in red ink – get back to business in the house Tuesday to pass what Premier Alison Redford calls a watershed budget along with a new centrepiece Financial Management Act.
"It's been some time in Alberta since we've taken the time to be thoughtful and deliberate about setting that fiscal framework, and I think it's going to be a really exciting session," said Ms. Redford in an interview.
"I'm really, really proud of this budget," she added, referring to the 2013-14 spending document to be unveiled Thursday by Finance Minister Doug Horner.
"(And) I'm proud of the work that we've done on our financial management structures, and the legislation that you're going to see with respect to the Financial Management Act."
The spring sitting of the legislature, a continuation of the fall sitting, will focus on what Ms. Redford has called a "once-in-a-generation" budget to begin moving Alberta away from its dependence on the roller-coaster revenues of oil and gas.
While Alberta's economy remains strong, falling prices for oil sands crude are expected to halve the $13-billion in oil and gas revenue Ms. Redford's team had hoped to take in for 2013-14.
Those same falling revenues have ballooned the current year's budget deficit from $886-million to $4-billion.
On top of that, Alberta's rainy day savings Sustainability Fund has fallen from a peak of $17-billion four years ago to $3.4-billion, and it may be gone altogether by this time next year.
For the last six weeks, Ms. Redford and Mr. Horner have warned Albertans that while spending will continue in key areas such as health and education, lean times have arrived.
Provincial politicians are forgoing their inflation-linked salary hikes this year, and Mr. Horner has announced a three-year freeze on management salaries along with a 10 per cent cut in management jobs.
Public sector unions have been told that there's no extra money.
However Official Opposition Wildrose leader Danielle Smith said Ms. Redford has only herself to blame. In last year's election, Ms. Redford campaigned on returning the budget to the black while also spending more on schools, health clinics, and to help those in need.
Ms. Smith said the PC government's conversion to sound fiscal management is too little, too late after three years of spending hikes culminating in a record $41-billion budget last year.
"I wish they had taken the fiscal agenda seriously three years ago when we started raising the alarm and putting forward our alternative budgets," said Ms. Smith.
"The spending promises that (Ms. Redford) made during the election were absolutely unattainable, and now she's trying to backpedal. She's created the problem that she now finds herself in."