6 ways the provincial budget affects Albertans

The Alberta budget was unveiled by Finance Minister Doug Horner at the legislature in Edmonton Thursday afternoon. CBC takes a look at what the budget actually means for the average Albertan.

Budget highlights include flood recovery, new roads and health facilities

Finance Minister Doug Horner discusses the budget in a pre-speech news conference on Thursday. (Scott Lilwall/CBC)

The Alberta budget was unveiled by Finance Minister Doug Horner at the legislature in Edmonton Thursday afternoon.

The province anticipates an operational surplus of $2.6 billion, but that doesn't take into account capital spending and financing. 

CBC's analysis of the budget predicts a consolidated surplus of $1.1 billion. 

The big hit to Alberta's finances will come on the capital side of the budget as the province plans to borrow $5.1 billion this year for schools, health facilities and roads — pushing the government’s total debt to $14.5 billion.

Horner justifies spending $19 billion on capital projects over the next three years, even if it means borrowing billions, because interest rates are the lowest they have been in 50 years. 

“Albertans and financial experts alike have told us [that] borrowing for capital makes good financial sense,” he said in his budget speech.

But big picture numbers aside, what does the budget actually mean for the average Albertan?

To begin with, the province says there are no new taxes or tax increases.

1) Flood recovery

Southern Alberta was hit by devastating floods last June that have put a large dent in Alberta's budget plans.

The province says the federal government plans to pitch in $2.4 billion for disaster recovery and $200 million for First Nations housing — which is slightly lower than the $2.8-billion prediction made by the federal government last November.

But the province says the Disaster Recovery Program (DRP) is expected to cost $3.8 billion this year and $1.1 billion in operational and capital spending over the next three years to address flood recovery initiatives.

This year's budget promises investment in several initiatives:

  • Grants for erosion control and flood mitigation efforts.
  • Flood hazard mapping.
  • Required mitigation work at sites damaged by the flood.
  • Mitigation related to water and wastewater infrastructure.
  • Protecting high-priority areas that are susceptible to future flood damages.

2) Building, modernizing schools

The province estimates 18,000 new students will enter Alberta's school system next year.

To keep up with growth, the province has announced 50 new schools will be built and 70 current schools will be modernized over the next three years.

Roughly $1.2 billion has been set aside for the initiative. The province says $345 million of that total will be available next year. 

The province is currently unsure of the final total since many of the projects have not been tendered. It plans to also utilize public-private partnerships — or P3 funding — to accomplish its goal.

Another $109 million has been designated to complete the work remaining on 35 new schools and school modernizations that were approved in 2011.

3) Highway, ring road construction

The province says 2,500 kilometres of existing provincial highways will be rehabilitated over the next three years and 258 kilometres in new or twinned highways will be built.

Twinning Highway 63 to Fort McMurray remains on track for completion in 2016, which the province estimates will cost $691 million over the next three years.

The process of completing Calgary's ring road by building the southwest portion was also mentioned in the budget. While the province is waiting for federal approval for the project, which still has to be tendered to discover the total cost, it has set aside $1.8 billion over the next three years.

The province has also earmarked $868 million to finish Edmonton's ring road.

Roughly $1 billion has been set aside for the next three years for a Basic Municipal Transportation Grant, which is aimed at road building. It's now labelled under the Municipal Sustainability Initiative, which has been given a $150-million boost to funds already promised over the next three years. 

The funding goes towards projects like public transit vehicles and facilities, recreation and sport facilities, roadways and bridges and storm sewer systems.

GreenTrip funding has also been extended for municipal transit initiatives around Alberta until the 2019-20 budget year, with a large portion of the funding going towards Calgary and Edmonton. The province says it has already committed to $1 billion in GreenTrip projects, and will spread out another $900 million to 2019. 

4) Health facilities

Health care in Alberta is responsible for 45 per cent of the operational expenses in the province. The budget puts that number at $18.3 billion.

Three health facilities in the province — Calgary's South Health Campus, Kaye Edmonton Clinic and Sherwood Park's Strathcona Community Hospital — will be given $393 million in operations funding.

On the capital side of things, Family Care Clinics will receive $25 million for each of the next three years.

The province says the stand-alone facilities will provide non-emergency services such as treating illnesses, screening and immunization and will be staffed by health professionals to meet the unique health and social needs of the particular community.

A new cancer centre in Calgary, which the province is projecting will be done in 2020, will receive $160 million over the next three years. Meanwhile, Edmonton's cancer strategy will get $36 million over the next three years.

Several hospitals — such as the Foothills Medical Centre and Peter Lougheed Centre in Calgary — have also been promised funds to complete construction projects.

5) Post-secondary funding

Last year post-secondary institutions across Alberta were hit with a huge cut to operational grants.

While Alberta universities recovered much of the funding cut last year, they did not recover all of it.

This year the province is also promising to create 2,000 new full-time spaces on Alberta campuses.

It sets the operational grants at $2.1 billion in 2014-15, which is an increase of $32 million from last year.

Next year's total includes the $50 million added in-year during 2013-14 to address enrolment pressures, and the province will provide a further $32.5 million to support enrolment in targeted programs.

There are also six post-secondary projects on the books totalling $487 million over the next three years.

6) New funding 

The budget promises $1 billion in new operating funding for health, schools, colleges, universities and human services.

The province has also allocated $1.5 billion to assist Albertans with prescription drugs, cancer therapy drugs and specialized high-cost pharmaceuticals. There will also be a push in Alberta for generic drug pricing and a plan to work with other provinces and territories on a national drug plan.

Child intervention funding will be increased by $42 million for a total of $735 million. Out of that total, $199 million is earmarked for foster care support to help fund 5,000 child placements.

The homeless support program will receive an additional $19 million to house roughly 2,000 Albertans currently without a place to live. The province will also fund more than 3,200 additional emergency and transitional shelter spaces this year.

There will be a 44 per cent budget increase for enhanced home care and rehabilitation. The province says the $40 million will be used to help 1,000 more people go home from hospital with enhanced home-care support.

The province also plans to provide funding for 40 new RCMP officers.


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