Federal election a chance to talk, Nenshi says

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi is welcoming the opportunity to talk about what cities need, something he thinks might happen if a federal election is called this spring.

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said he saw "not much of anything" in the 2011 federal budget released Tuesday.

The upside, as Nenshi saw it, was that the speculation about the future of the government following the release of the budget might create an opportunity to talk about what Calgarians need.

"If we do go into an election, then I welcome this as an opportunity for all of the parties to start talking about that muscular urban agenda I've been speaking of, to really tell us what they think about cities, what they're going to do for cities," Nenshi said.

"One of the big headline stories of this budget is that 25 per cent drop in the deficit is due to the ending of the stimulus program anymore, so it's because we're not building stuff anymore, and we're particularly not building stuff in municipalities that Canadians need."

Enshrining the annual $2 billion gas tax transfer for municipal infrastructure as a permanent program is a good move, but it's a campaign promise that's been offered for years, Nenshi said.

He said no new money for cities was offered in the budget.

Doctors enticed to rural areas

If by some chance an election is not called and the budget is approved, at least one aspect of it might prove appealing to rural Alberta.

David Kay is the executive director of the Alberta Rural Physician Action Plan, a program aimed at increasing the number of rural physicians.

He was happy to see that the new budget allocated $9 million annually to forgive up to $40,000 in student loans for doctors and $20,000 for nurses who practice in rural and remote communities.

Kay said that for the last decade, Alberta's economic situation has made it one of the top three provinces to draw in new doctors.

"The growing economy has allowed Alberta to invest pretty well in public infrastructure that's important to physicians and their families when they're looking to move to a location," Kay said.

He said the province funded a similar program in the 1990s but that money now pays for residency positions in rural communities.