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UCP cost-cutting plan likely to target universities

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The UCP debt-killing plan now taking shape is quite simple, on paper.

Freeze spending for health care and K-12 education. In every other area, cut or reorganize both government and funded institutions to save $600 million a year, for four straight years.

And it will come to pass that the budget will be balanced by 2022-23, they say. In 20 more years after that, the debt will be zero.

The plan, like the leopard in the zoo, is elegant in captivity, but let it loose and things get complicated in a hurry.

The government has already been working with these recommendations for more than two weeks. Many will be the core of the October budget.

There is no softening I can detect in Premier Jason Kenney’s UCP caucus. The only problem some have with the report, in fact, is they don’t think it goes far enough.

Never has a government worked so hard to convince Albertans there’s an immediate crisis. Finance Minister Travis Toews pounded home the message in a Chamber of Commerce speech Wednesday.

He used a slide deck showing that in virtually every area, the government spends more than other provinces and pays workers more, but gets results that are no better or often worse.


A slide showing Alberta’s debt is shown as Travis Toews, President of Treasury Board and Minister of Finance, speaks about Alberta’s Finance at the Calgary Chamber.

Azin Ghaffari /

Postmedia Calgary

If Alberta spent at the same level as the average of Ontario, B.C. and Quebec, Toews repeated, the annual saving would be $10.4 billion and there would be no deficit.

Kenney will keep his promise to freeze (not cut) spending in health and K-12 education, says his communications boss, Katy Merrifield.

And, by implication, that means everywhere else, look out.

The biggest overall target is public sector compensation. The UCP clearly feels that public pay must freeze or drop to national levels, even as the number of public servants decreases.

Pay for doctors, nurses and teachers would decline, even as operating spending for the health and K-12 systems is frozen.

The most obvious target for actual operating cuts is advanced education, an area not covered by Kenney’s freeze promise.

Minister Demetrios Nicolaides is right now touring many of the province’s 26 post-secondaries. He’ll meet a lot of people who’ve been worried for weeks by talk of deep cuts.

At the Chamber, Toews cited advanced education as a big spending problem, even before he got to health care.


Travis Toews speaks with Calgary Chamber President and CEO Sandip Lalli.

Azin Ghaffari /

Postmedia Calgary

Since 2005-06, he noted, spending on colleges and universities has increased nearly 110 per cent, while enrolment grew by 21 per cent.

Alberta spends $35,510 per full-time student, $15,000 more than Ontario, and also far more than both B.C. and Quebec.

The University of Alberta comes in for unwelcome attention. Government funding is $3,336 per full-time student, much more than the U of C, at $2,732 per student.

Both Alberta schools require far more public cash than the University of British Columbia, University of Toronto or McGill University.

This doesn’t necessarily mean the schools spend too much money — just that, in the UCP view, the public purse provides too much of it.

The MacKinnon report calls for wholesale reform, including abolition of the tuition cap and finding alternate sources of funds.


Former Saskatchewan finance minister Janice MacKinnon speaks on the report she chaired on the state of the Alberta’s finances at the McDougall Centre in Calgary on Tuesday September 3, 2019. Finance Minister Travis Toews listens in the background.

Gavin Young /

Postmedia

It also says: “The government should move quickly to address the future of those post-secondary institutions that do not appear to be viable in future funding scenarios.”

That could mean closing some schools, or shrinking them, or amalgamating them as campuses of larger schools.

Overall, one great question is how the quality of services can possibly be maintained amid such a drastic upheaval across the whole government.

Neither the UCP nor the MacKinnon report even contemplates the question. Rather, they launch into reveries about how the very implosion of bureaucracy can somehow unleash creativity and improvement.

The plan would “develop, transform and empower the public service so it has the culture and capacity to deliver on the economic vision and strategy established for the province.”

We’ve heard that one before, most notably in the 2008 health-care reform that promised less spending and brought more.

But this is the UCP’s emerging plan. We are welcome to drink to it. Heavily.

Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald.

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Pedestrian killed by car in Surrey

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One person has died after being struck by a car on Saturday night in the Newton neighbourhood of Surrey, B.C.

RCMP say a pedestrian was hit by a vehicle around 10:34 p.m, near the busy intersection of 152 Street and Highway 10.

Police say the pedestrian was pronounced dead on scene.

Evidence markers dotted Highway 10 for several dozen metres west of the intersection where a white car sat with front end damage.

The intersection was closed to traffic overnight while collision analysts examined the scene.

Police have not announced any details on what caused the crash.

Anyone who witnessed the collision, saw the vehicle beforehand, or has dash camera footage of the incident is asked to contact Surrey RCMP at 604-599-0502, or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS.

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Mississauga mayor statement after shooting in the city

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The mayor of Mississauga, Ont., says she’s “shocked and saddened” after a teenage boy was killed and five other people were wounded when gunfire erupted in the city west of Toronto on Saturday evening.

Bonnie Crombie called the incident a “senseless act of gun violence” and says her thoughts and prayers are with the victims’ families.

Peel Regional Police Chief Chris McCord said at a news conference late Saturday night that according to witnesses, multiple suspects unleashed a barrage of gunfire from semi-automatic weapons near a parkette behind an apartment building at around 6:20 p.m.He said a 17-year-old old boy died at the scene and that five others – a 13-year-old, a 16-year-old, two 17-year-olds and a woman in her 50s – were injured.

McCord said one of the wounded was in serious condition and that the other four suffered non-life-threatening injuries.

No suspect information has been released as officers continued to canvass the area for surveillance footage and police are asking anyone with information on the shooting to come forward.

Crombie thanked first responders who rushed to the scene and she says she hopes to take action in response to the shooting.

“As a member of the police board, I am committed to ensuring Mississauga remains one of the safest cities by working to get illegal guns off our streets,” said Crombie in a statement.

McCord has said that “a lot” of shell casings were found scattered over a wide area and that several vehicles were hit by the gunfire.

He said it’s early in the investigation and that many questions about the incident remained unanswered, including the motive, whether the victims were targeted and whether the shooting was gang related.

A music video was being filmed near the scene of the shooting, but McCord said he didn’t know if it was in any way linked to the case.

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Police seeking 7 suspects in shooting in Mississauga

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A 17-year-old boy who was killed in a shooting in Mississauga on Saturday night was an innocent victim, Peel Regional Police say.

Peel Police Chief Chris McCord told reporters on Sunday that investigators believe there were seven shooters involved in gunfire that injured four other teens and a woman in her 50s in a parkette behind an apartment complex.

The shooting occurred on Darcel Avenue near Dunrankin Drive, in the area of Morning Star and Goreway Drive. Police were called to the scene at 6:22 p.m.

Officers have recovered more than 100 shell casings at the crime scene.

McCord said police also believe the shooting was motivated by a rap music video that was filmed in the parkette and released last week.

The teen boy, whose name has not been released, was pronounced dead at the scene. The five injured people — a 13-year-old girl, a 16-year-old boy, and two 17-year-old boys — were taken to hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

Police say one of the injured people has been released from hospital and the remaining four are in stable condition

McCord said some of the injured are also believed to be innocent victims.

He said the shooting occurred as people in the parkette were setting up to shoot a music video and an ice cream truck was nearby.

No one is in custody, no suspects have been identified and officers are reviewing security camera video.

Police believe the shooters used semi-automatic weapons, but none of those weapons have been recovered.

Mayor says she is ‘deeply shocked’ by shooting

On Sunday morning, police canvassed the neighbourhood, knocking on doors in the hopes of finding witnesses and security camera video.

Officers also sent out a drone to obtain an aerial view of the crime scene and brought in a metal detector to scan for stray bullets in the grass.

Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie said in a statement Sunday that her thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families.

“I am deeply shocked and saddened to hear of this senseless act of gun violence in our city, it’s simply unacceptable. I urge anyone with information to contact police immediately,” Crombie said.

“As a member of the police board, I am committed to ensuring Mississauga remains one of the safest cities by working to get illegal guns off our streets.”

Crombie also thanked Peel police and paramedics who “swiftly” went to the scene.

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