Alberta’s Prentice Calls Election for May Amid Record Deficit

Alberta Premier Jim Prentice called an election for May 5, seeking a mandate from voters for his plan to raise taxes and fees to counter a record deficit after oil prices plunged.

The Progressive Conservatives plan to “spend less and save more” for Alberta’s voters, said Prentice, who called the election more than a year ahead of schedule as he pursues stern policies to counter the oil crisis.

Prentice’s Progressive Conservatives will square off against a weakened opposition after more than half of the Wildrose Party defected to his government last year and with more than half of the Liberal Party’s elected members choosing not to run. The New Democratic Party may add to its four seats in Edmonton, the provincial capital.

Alberta’s next election would be due in 2016 if Prentice hadn’t called for an early vote. In Canada, voters choose representatives for the provincial legislatures, and the leaders of the party with most votes are named premiers.

Alberta is on the brink of recession, with the government predicting economic growth slowing to 0.4 percent this year, from about 3.5 percent in 2014, and a deficit of C$5 billion in the fiscal year that started this month. Prentice has announced increases to taxes and user fees and slowed spending growth to counter the shrinking price of oil.

Job Cuts

Sworn in last September as the price of oil began to collapse, Prentice has promised to reduce Alberta’s dependence on petroleum revenue while keeping pace with a growing population currently at about 4.2 million people. With the lowest taxes in the country, Alberta has lost jobs as the government estimates corporate profits for its leading industry will sink 50 percent this year and energy investment falls 30 percent.

At the same time, Prentice still plans to spend C$29.5 billion on fixing crumbling roads and building new hospitals and schools, little changed from a proposal when he became premier and oil was more than $90 a barrel. It’s little more than $50 a barrel now.

To pay for the new infrastructure and other spending, Alberta will borrow a record C$9.7 billion, mainly in Canadian markets.

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