EDMONTON -- Premier Jason Kenney addressed Albertans the night before his government releases its first budget, saying the UCP is making tough decisions on Thursday to ensure a bright future for the province.

Kenney and Finance Minister Travis Toews stressed Wednesday the budget is designed to turn the economy around and balance the books in the government's first term.

"We can and will overcome these challenges. But doing so will require tough decision," Kenney said Wednesday night.

"Let's be clear: this will not be an easy budget."

The government plans to lower its $62-billion debt with more jobs and investment, Kenney said. The budget will detail job creation measures and programs to diversify the economy.

The premier promised health and education will be protected, not cut. The budget "is a balanced plan that will lead to more jobs, grow the economy and will protect vital services."

Earlier in the day, Toews confirmed there will be cuts in the public sector, but insisted they don't "need to be that big."

"This is a budget of restraint and it will affect every area of government; certainly the public sector as well."

Health and education concerns

The Alberta Teachers’ Association is worried that it and students will find themselves in the crosshairs of government cuts.

The ATA says Alberta’s K-12 student population is expected to increase by 15,000 students over last year, and by 125,000 students over the past decade.

“Teachers are concerned about how the education budget has not kept up to the population,” said ATA president Jason Schilling.

Apart from support for class size, the ATA says it’s concerned about how any cuts will be felt in the classroom, particularly for special needs students.

“If the government believes in the philosophy of inclusion of students with special needs, then they need to make sure inclusion is appropriately funded,” said Schilling.​

Aside from education, the NDP also shared concerns on how cuts to the health sector may affect Albertans. 

"We have seniors facing the terrifying prospect of handing over what little money they have to pay for the prescription drugs they need," the Official Opposition said in a news release. "And we have a Health Minister deadset on moving to an American-style model where those with money get the care they need and the rest of us wait forever for a procedure or treatment that may never come."

'Bad information'

Alberta’s unions are also fearing the worst ahead of the budget.

Public-sector workers engaged in a lengthy battle with the UCP government over Bill 9, the Public Sector Wage Arbitration Deferral Act, which delays negotiations for public employees.

Union leaders called the bill a stalling tactic ahead of planned wage cuts.

“If a government has bad information, they’re going to end up making bad policy decisions. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what’s happening with the UCP right now,” Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, said in a release. 

Notley's response

NDP Leader Rachel Notley held a news conference in response to Kennedy’s address.

She spoke about how the NDP believes there will be deep cuts in the UCP budget.

Notley brought up the UCP’s Bill 3, the Job Creation Tax Cut Act, calling the $4.5-billion tax cut a “gift” for corporations.

“This premier ran on creating jobs, he has not delivered them. We’re down 27,000 jobs since that gift was announced.”

Notley said cancelling the crude-by-rail deal that the NDP created hit the energy sector hard and lost the province net $5.1 billion over five years.

“This premier has blown a $9.6-billion hole in the provincial budget,” she said. 

Notley said this year’s budget will be a tough one for Albertans.

“You will pay more, unless you’re a wealthy corporation.”

The provincial budget is expected to be released Thursday afternoon around 3 p.m. MDT.