The provincial budget released Thursday is far from the surprise salvo of cuts to municipalities the government announced in the fall budget, but Edmonton city leaders are feeling let down.
Mayor Don Iveson said he’s disappointed there’s no money dedicated to supportive housing, despite evidence that this type of housing will reduce costs in health care and justice systems.
“We brought them, you know, a signed, sealed and delivered answer with federal support, AHS buy-in, agency partners, philanthropic and private sector partners, Iveson said Thursday afternoon. “We’re ready to go.”
Iveson said the lack of a housing investment from the province represents a “lost opportunity to save money and reduce social disorder.”
He said he hears complaints from the business community consistently that the social disorder is “an impediment to the very investment that we’re trying to attract to our city right now.”
Coun. Aaron Paquette echoed the mayor’s thoughts on the lack of funding for housing and homelessness.
“Doing the right thing — the humane thing — is also the prudent thing. It’s fiscally prudent,” Paquette told CBC News Thursday evening.
“I would have liked to see a lot more of that in the budget — just broader thinking and more forward-thinking because, yeah sure, you can save a few dollars here but you’re going to pay for it down the road and we do.”
City councillors have been pushing the province to contribute to supportive housing for several years and were especially vocal about the lack of funding last fall.
Last fall, the Alberta government’s cuts to infrastructure funds meant Edmonton had to deal with about $185 million less for capital projects than it had banked on.
The Alberta government also repealed the city charters: deals between the province and Edmonton and Calgary that gave the cities more autonomy on how they spent infrastructure money.
Those details came as such as surprise the mayor cancelled a trip to the Netherlands that day.
Iveson was ready to board a plane but turned back, headed for the legislature to comment publicly on the province’s unexpected move, and called for a special council meeting the next day.
Since then, Edmonton city council has made decisions to defer or cut projects in their own budget.
“I think that the last budget did sort of set the tone for what we can expect and I think we made the adjustments to those budget changes that were received,” Coun. Tim Cartmell said, who also voiced disappointment in the lack of housing funding.
“It is more or less adapting to that new reality and carrying on with doing the best we can with what we’ve got for our citizens.”
Thursday, the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association took aim at the Kenney government’s move to take a bigger slice of the provincial education tax from municipalities.
AUMA President Barry Morishita said despite the province freezing spending in the education sector, it appears they are collecting an additional 4.1 per cent, which is equivalent to about $102 million from taxpayers.
“Let’s call this what it is: a tax increase that’s making life more unaffordable for Albertans and one that has been downloaded to municipalities to collect as part of municipal property taxes.”
Morishita added that the AUMA wants to work with the province on the common goal of “getting Alberta back to work.”
Both the Edmonton and Calgary chambers of commerce voiced their support for the budget, praising the government’s focus on cutting red tape and creating jobs.
Edmonton Chamber of Commerce CEO and president, Janet Riopel, highlighted the positive aspects of the provincial budget in relation to employment.
“Budget 2020 recognizes that Alberta’s job creators are the economic engine of our province,” she said in a statement.
“Budget 2020 keeps us on the path towards balanced budgets while putting the focus squarely on what Alberta needs most – jobs.”
The province reinforces its commitment to a number of capital projects.
It earmarks nearly $300 million over three years for the Gene Zwozdesky Centre at Norwood, $230 million over three years for Edmonton hospital and $12 million for the neurosciences Intensive Care Unit at the University of Alberta Hospital Brain Centre.
Between 2021 and 2023, the province is also investing $12 million to the Telus World of Science and $20 million to the Winspear Centre.
Investment for large infrastructure projects includes nearly $1.4 billion over three years for both
Edmonton and Calgary LRT and just over $1.4 billion for Edmonton/Calgary Ring Roads.