By Cole Parkinson
Another spring is on the horizon and that means another United Conservative provincial budget has dropped.
In late February, the UCP unveiled their latest budget which projects an $18.2 billion deficit.
Despite the setback COVID has brought which has affected many ways of life, Cardston-Siksika MLA Joseph Schow is excited about the newest budget and what it brings for Albertans.
“I’m happy this budget is supporting Albertan lives and livelihoods. We have been through a very difficult 12 months with COVID and Alberta families are struggling. Whether it’s with the economy or with health because of the virus or a number of other things. I think this budget really focuses on supporting Albertans and their lives and livelihoods so I’m very happy with it,” he said.
Deficits are projected to continue over the next several years as the provincial government sees deficits of $11 billion for 2022-23 and $8 billion for 2023-24.
On top of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has gone on for the past 12 months, continued low oil prices have negated any climb towards a balanced budget.
As 2021 continues to see the global pandemic in full force, Schow says the UCP were focused on providing money towards health and fighting COVID.
The budget sees an increase in health spending to $23 billion while an additional $1.25 billion is being added in the COVID- 19 contingency to address health-care costs for responding to the pandemic.
“(COVID impact has) been significant. When this initially happened, we said we would protect people’s health, their financial security and the economy, in that order. We took a lot of measures as a government to try to flatten the curve of the virus and keep people safe. That included measures that were tough on the economy but we had to make sure we were protecting people’s livelihoods. We’re supporting that, and that had a lot to do with this budget, but we also had negative prices in oil last year. Going forward, we are seeing a rebound in the energy sector with the price of oil going up. It’s certainly a positive trend. This is a budget that is very focused on supporting Albertans but also recognizing that we had to make some serious investments during COVID that otherwise, we wouldn’t have to make,” continued Schow. “It’s huge. We’re increasing the health budget by four per cent, and that’s actually excluding COVID impact. We’re making it very clear that we are investing in Alberta’s health and healthcare. We have $5.4 billion going to physician compensation, $3.5 billion for community care and continuing care home programs. This is a budget that does focus a lot on healthcare and ensuring Albertans never have to worry about their healthcare and the quality of their healthcare. It certainly is an important step for us.”
In terms of oil prices, the UCP had total revenue at $43.7 billion in 2021-22 which was higher than the third-quarter forecast for 2020-21.
They also forecast West Text Intermediate oil price at US$46 per barrel for 2021-22 and Western Canadian Select at US$40.70.
With more vaccines on the way, and hope for normality, Schow expects a much better year than 2020.
“Alberta has a bright future ahead and I’m so excited about what this province is going to accomplish going forward. This has been a very tough year for us but we will get through this. We’ll persevere and the government will support Albertans so they can do what they do best which is some incredible things.”
Looking at education for 2021-22, the UCP has $8.2 billion set aside for Kindergarten to Grade 12 education services.
“What we are doing is making sure we have resources put in the hands of teachers and education. We’ve always been in support= of education. I’m a product of great teachers from southern Alberta — I’m a Magrath High School graduate. Our province is committed to supporting education with the resources they need but also recognizing that we have to what we can to get through these next couple of years,” stated Schow.
At a local level, the Horizon School board of trustees were happy the budget provided the same funding as the last.
“The Horizon School Division board of trustees believes school boards are in the best position to determine how local resources are deployed. We are exceptionally pleased that boards have been given maximum flexibility to meet local priorities and to maximize resources. The board will now begin work to create its own budget which will be tabled at the May board meeting. While we will have to navigate ongoing expenses due to the pandemic we remain committed to Horizon’s student success, which is a direct result of staff working with parents to deliver the best possible outcomes for our children. Together, we will continue each and every day to ensure our students get the best education possible. Thank you for all you do for Horizon’s students,” reads a release from board chair Marie Logan.
Post-secondary schools see roughly $5.1 billion in funding from the upcoming budget.
Schow also pointed to the UCP’s capital plan (2021-24) as a source of good news for Albertans.
The capital plan includes $5.9 billion for direct municipal support, $3 billion for capital maintenance/renewal of public infrastructure, $2.4 billion for roads/bridges, $2.2 billion for health facilities, $1.6 billion for school projects, $935 million to streamline government service delivery, $568 million for public safety/emergency service projects, $496 million for agricultural/natural resource projects, $209 million for family social supports/housing and $251 million for sport/recreation projects.
“We are investing $20.7 billion to build new roads, schools and hospitals over the next three years,” continued Schow. “We recognize that a healthy economy depends upon solid and stable infrastructure. Even in Cardston-Siksika, we have seen tremendous investment in that area and we’re looking at putting money into irrigation. We know we need to invest in this province and this plan will support more than 50,000 direct and 40,000 indirect jobs. We have an amazing workforce here and of course, I’m impartial to southern Alberta because that is where I live. But whether you are in Cardston like I am, or you are up in Peace River, there are incredible people and this budget supports Albertans.”
The government projects an unemployment rate of 9.9 per cent in 2021, 8.4 in 2022, 7.3 in 2023 and 6.3 in 2024. The budget also sees $136 million over three years for the Alberta Jobs Now program, $166 million over three years for the Innovation Employment Grant and $500 in 2021-22 for additional investments in economic recovery.