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EDITORIAL: Little faith in upcoming provincial budget

EDITORIAL: The afternoon of the provincial budget will see who got what they wanted and who got a lump of coal.
Cartoon by Patrick LaMontagne/

The afternoon of the provincial budget will see who got what they wanted and who got a lump of coal.

Early indications show anyone hoping to be flushed with cash from provincial coffers will soon have their heartbroken.

Premier Danielle Smith has more than tempered expectations for what will come out of the 2024 budget when she said Feb. 21 that the province would keep spending below both inflation and population growth.

She had already told Finance Minister Nate Horner to limit government spending and departments such as Alberta Health Services are already firmly in the crosshairs while funding for municipalities has already been taken out back.

With more than 200,000 public sector works having contracts expire in 2024, the province and unions are firmly on a head-on crash course with one another – especially as cost-of-living continues to soar – and the private sector has largely failed to keep workers up with inflationary adjustments in salary.

In a budget leadup announcement on Feb. 21, Smith declared the Heritage Savings Trust Fund would save the province and essentially be a money printing press with it estimated to be worth as much as $400 billion by 2050.

Appraised at $21.6 billion last summer, the fund has a long way to go to get to that 2050 mark. The best laid plans often go awry, especially when a piggy bank full of cash can be easily accessed. It happened in the early 1980s under Premier Peter Lougheed when financial troubles began to show themselves after the fund had been established in 1976.

A key election promise for Smith was a $1 billion tax cut that would save people up to $760 a year. While tax cuts are little more than hollow promises to win easy votes, it’s a major campaign promise that’s now been dashed.

Cutting public services should be avoided at all costs, but it’s not a negative to continually go through and find what can possibly be trimmed.

The pressure for a government to spend more will always be the case, but priorities clearly need to be established.

Inflation has ravaged the bottom line of people across the world and the reality is difficult choices are having to be made for many due to the rising cost of food, housing and other basic needs.

In the Bow Valley, key services such as education, healthcare, housing, environment, parks and tourism all need attention in the upcoming provincial budget.

Whether any or some of them get attention, will soon be determined but some have an uphill battle.

At a Feb. 26 media conference, housing minister Jason Nixon put Canmore on blast by using them as an example for the rest of the province that if municipalities want to see provincial money for affordable housing they better get out of the way when it comes to development approvals and “start approving projects.”

While increasing revenue from tourism has long been a focus of the provincial government, housing and other services are required to keep the industry afloat and prospering.

Some people may think it’s an adventure to live in a camper van in Vanmore, but at -40 Celsius in January it goes from being a life choice to explore to a moment of desperation to survive.

In the 2023 budget, the long-term budgeting for the Environment and Protected Areas ministry had it increased by $106 million to $553 million for 2023-24 but slashed by almost $200 million to $357 million for 2025-26.

Throughout the region, the doctor and medical personnel shortage may have fallen to the wayside but the pressures have only remained with fewer residents having access to a family doctor.

Stashing away money in a rainy day fund is fiscally prudent to a certain extent, but ignoring the needs of today and tomorrow to prop it up more quickly is ultimately to the detriment of more than four million Albertans.

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