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Commentary: Tough decisions ahead

Fiscal pressures mounting

With Alberta’s budget deficit now far larger than anyone would have predicted before the COVID-19 pandemic, the first-term Jason Kenney government is facing some very difficult decisions going forward over the upcoming weeks and months.

Whether those decisions will involve deep social program cuts, steep increases in taxes, and bitter battles with the province's doctors and public servants remains to be seen.

What is known is that residents in Mountain View and Red Deer counties are sure to feel the pain as much or even more than Albertans living in Calgary, Edmonton and other large urban centres.

One area where a decision may soon be made that could have catastrophic impacts on rural Albertans centres around the assessment model for oil and gas companies.

If the government moves forward with proposed deep cuts to the amount oil and gas companies pay to rural municipalities it could lead to heavy tax increases for rural businesses and residents, according to the Rural Municipalities of Alberta.

“Rural municipalities have few areas to cut spending, because so much of their budgets go to building and maintaining their massive road and bride networks,” said Al Kemmere, Mountain View County councillor and out-going president of the RMA.

The association says rural municipalities could lose close to $300 million if the proposed changes are OK’d.

Whether the Kenney government will right Alberta’s fiscal boat without unduly downloading on rural ratepayers and businesses while still maintaining vital social services is an open question.

With Jason Kenney’s approval rating now reportedly amongst the lower of all Canadian premiers ­– and with a recent poll indicating less than 40 per cent of Albertans would vote for the UCP if an election were held today – there is no doubt a tough road ahead for this first-term provincial government.

Residents here and across Alberta are no doubt watching with keen interest to see whether Jason Kenney and his fellow UCP MLAs can rise to the occasion and lead the province forward to better times.

Dan Singleton is an editor with The Albertan.