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Wildrose pitches clipping Redford's travel wings to help balance budget

EDMONTON - Alberta's official Opposition says it's time to clip the premier's travel wings to help balance the provincial budget.

The Wildrose party says the province should ratchet back travel by Redford and her MLAs to $500,000 a year so it can begin to pay down a capital debt pegged at more than $8 billion.

It was one of 16 proposals released Tuesday by the Wildrose in its alternative budget plan.

Finance Minister Doug Horner is to deliver the actual 2014-15 budget on March 6.

Wildrose finance critic Rob Anderson said his party's plan would balance the budget within one to three years. It couldn't be done any sooner without cutting front-line jobs, he added.

"We want to stay away from cuts to the front lines — nurses, doctors, teachers, social workers — and instead focus on the bureaucracy," Anderson said in an interview.

"We think we can do that with the revenues that are coming in."

Anderson suggested that the best way to balance the books is to eradicate administrative bloat, starting with Redford's office.

He said leaders must "lead by example," but Redford has not done so, particularly with a recent trip to South Africa for Nelson Mandela's funeral.

Redford has apologized for the $45,000 trip, which included first-class airfare for herself and her aide and use of a government plane when commercial flights were available.

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil went to the Mandela funeral for under $1,000.

Critics have questioned other expensive travel by Redford, including last month's appearance at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Wildrose figures indicate travel costs under Redford have grown every year — from $626,000 in 2012 to a projected $1.4 million in 2014.

Derek Cummings, press secretary for International and Intergovernmental Relations Minister Cal Dallas, disputed the Wildrose projection and questioned the basis for it but would not suggest an alternative figure.

"The number of missions and the associated expenses related to ministerial and MLA international missions are different from year to year, depending on our estimation of the opportunities to support Alberta's advocacy and trade and investment priorities," Cummings said in a statement.

"I would note that expenses last year were only slightly more than the approximately $730,000 in 2008."

The Opposition is also proposing other savings such as cutting 10 associate ministers from Redford's 29-member cabinet.

Another $10 million could be saved, it said, by cutting in half the size of the government's communications arm, the Public Affairs Bureau.

Anderson said the non-partisan bureau is not only too large but has become a de facto partisan bullhorn for Redford's Progressive Conservatives.

The Wildrose would place caps on bonuses and severance payouts and claw back an eight per cent salary increase Redford's government granted all members of the legislature following the 2012 election. The premier has said that it's actually an eight per cent cut compared with what MLAs were making before the last election.

The base pay for Alberta politicians is $156,000. Caucus leaders and cabinet ministers earn more.

The Wildrose said it would also put an end to corporate subsidies and reduce expenditures on government bureaucracy by 20 per cent.

Total savings would be $1.9 billion in the first year alone, Anderson said.

But the Wildrose would also spend money — $48 billion over the next decade to fund priority infrastructure such as schools and roads.

The Redford government is faced with borrowing $17 billion by 2016 to pay for schools, roads, hospitals and other infrastructure for the hundreds of thousands of newcomers coming to live in Alberta.

Horner could not be immediately reached for comment Tuesday.

However, he and others in government have challenged similar Wildrose plans as rose-coloured blueprints for a crippling infrastructure deficit and mass layoffs.

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