Premier Redford looks to private investment for infrastructure projects Appears to backtrack on promise for balanced budget by 2013-14

By Keith Gerein and Sarah O’Donnell, Edmonton Journal November 10, 2012

CALGARY – Premier Alison Redford suggested Friday her government is increasingly pursuing public-private partnerships and other private investment strategies to build Alberta’s roads, schools and health centres, casting doubt on her promise to balance all of the provincial budget by 2013-14.

Redford has said previously that she would keep her commitment to balance both the operating and capital infrastructure parts of the budget next year. But on Friday, shortly after her speech to the party’s annual general meeting in Calgary, she appeared to backtrack on part of that promise.

“We have always said we would balance our operating budget; we have also said we would have a long-term, transparent infrastructure plan,” the premier told reporters. “(Finance Minister) Doug Horner has made it very clear we need to fully finance that plan. I think that’s what Albertans have asked to do, and as long as we can do that in a way the ensures we don’t go into debt, then we are doing exactly what we committed to do.”

Asked to clarify how her government will do that, Redford said she will ensure the infrastructure plan is fully financed, but that could mean going to capital markets. She specifically noted the twinning of Highway 63 to Fort McMurray, a project the province has said it will consider borrowing for to complete as fast as possible.

“If you take a look at what were doing with Highway 63, we’ve made it very clear if everything we do right now is funded fully with cash in the bank, then we are never going to build anything more in this province,” Redford said.

“We know it’s going to be possible to use P3 approaches and to talk to people that want to make investments in this province and help us to build infrastructure. It’s been a successful model we’ve used before and it has really allowed us to make the long-term investments that are going to allow generations to continue to succeed.”

The government will soon roll out a new plan to create 140 family care clinics, which should all be operational by the end of her first term in 2016, she said.

Redford’s comments came after she launched a passionate defence of Progressive Conservative values to her political family, contrasting her party’s vision with the “backward” Wildrose party.

“This year, we will all remember the people of Alberta faced a clear choice between two radically different plans for the future,” she said.

“The choice was clear between a party that was stuck firmly in the past — or as Doug Horner likes to call them, the ‘SoCred Retreads’ — or our party, a party who bets on the people of Alberta knowing we can meet an ever-changing world head-on,” Redford said.

Alberta made a forward-looking choice, she said.

But Redford’s speech also was heavy with references to the past.

After an event that began with tribute to Peter Lougheed and thanks from his daughter, Pam Lougheed, for the support and tributes her family received after her father’s Sept. 13 death, Redford talked about the need to honour Lougheed’s legacy.

Redford has often expressed an affinity for Lougheed and his policies. But she also paid tribute Friday to the PC premiers who followed.

“Through the difficult times in the mid-’80s, premier Getty wasn’t about to stand idle while everyday Albertans suffered,” she said. “He invested in the priority services that mattered to the people of this province.”

She described premier Ralph Klein’s “difficult decisions” in the face of budget deficits, saying those efforts to balance the budget achieved “what others in Canada can only dream of: A debt-free province that remains the envy of the nation.”

The Governor General’s decision to award Klein the Order of Canada next week is something many have been waiting a very long time for, she said as the crowd applauded the news. “This is great news for a very deserving, very deserving Albertan.”

Premier Ed Stelmach earned Redford’s praise for steering Alberta through a global economic crisis, remaining focused on “protecting Alberta’s interests, investing in needed infrastructure and creating jobs across the province.”

Afterwards, Redford said she felt it was important in her first speech as leader to the party’s membership to pay homage to those premiers.

“From my perspective I wanted to pay homage to an awful lot of incredible men who I think have done tremendous things to build this province,” she said.

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