Calgary

Alberta premier applauds federal budget's EI changes, infrastructure spending

Premier Rachel Notley says employment insurance reforms contained in the federal government's 2016 budget represent a "good start" that will have an immediate impact for out-of-work Albertans. She's also "cautiously optimistic" on infrastructure spending announcements.

Alberta still has to crunch the numbers, but premier is pleased with stimulus spending and EI reforms

Rachel Notley reacts to the federal budget on March 22. She's 'cautiously optimistic' on infrastructure spending and pleased with changes to EI. (CBC)

Premier Rachel Notley says employment insurance reforms contained in the federal government's 2016 budget represent a "good start" for out-of-work Albertans. 

She's also "cautiously optimistic" on infrastructure spending announcements.

"We know that that's going to help people right now, and that's really critical. There are people all over this province who are really suffering," Notley said in an interview with Peter Mansbridge shortly after the budget was released.

Speaking to reporters after that interview, she said it's "very important" that the EI reforms are retroactive in order to help Albertans. ​

She said her government will have to go through the numbers to see just how much the province will receive from this budget, and whether that will add up to the $1 billion Alberta wanted.

"We don't exactly know how it's going to be allocated," she said. 

Nenshi excited

Mayor Naheed Nenshi said he is excited about the stimulus spending. 

"I've been saying for some time that the best things governments can do in this economic downturn is keep building, and this federal budget gets us on the path toward keep building," he said. 

He's also excited about new money for affordable housing for a city that has been falling short for years. 

"We haven't received any money for new units to be built in Calgary in the midst of a housing crisis since 2011. The fact that the federal government is stepping into this role again is very, very, very significant," he said. 

He's also hoping money promised in 2014 that never flowed will be fast tracked to the city.

Nenshi said a lot will depend on the upcoming provincial budget and what it promises for Calgary. 

"I am committed ... to putting the new money to work right away in the city, getting stuff built, putting people to work, but we need the province to do its part before we can determine which projects will be done," he said.

Provincial budget

Notley said there will be similarities between the federal budget and the upcoming provincial budget in terms of its vision for helping weather tough economic times and said the expected deficit is not the result of "unfettered spending," but of a troubled economy.

"We are going to invest in being that shock absorber," she said.

"Albertans need a government that will partner with them and support them, not a government that will say times are tough and we're going to take a strip off of you too."

Notley told the media there's been a lot of work over the last few months in Alberta on how to reduce emissions and the province is in a good position to access innovation funds announced in the budget, unless it's already been earmarked for other projects, which isn't known at this time.

Edmonton hasn't been included in changes to the EI program that will make it easier to access money, which Notley said she's disappointed in and notes she doesn't know what numbers Ottawa used to reach that decision.

"If it doesn't make sense, we will push hard on that," she said.

Notley also praised the investment in First Nations education. 

"For years and years and years we have failed to provide, even remotely appropriate levels of education on reserves," she said, adding Alberta will see almost $500 million worth of investment on that front.

The federal budget also pledged $251.4 million to Alberta from the Fiscal Stabilization Program.

The numbers

The first budget from Justin Trudeau's government finds the Liberals compromising some of their election promises to keep others, laying out a longer and larger string of deficits to begin the kind of long-term investments they say Canada needs.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau called the plan "reasonable and affordable," despite the red ink washing across the otherwise sunny tone of his rookie budget.

Here are some highlights:

  • Deficit: $29.4 billion this year, $29 billion the next, before falling — but no surplus forecast before the next election.
  • Debt: Expected to grow by $113 billion by 2020-21, but debt-to-GDP ratio to stay mostly flat at around 32 per cent.
  • Growth: Deficit based on 0.4% annual growth — much lower than economists predict.
  • Employment Insurance: Changes make it easier to qualify for benefits, and extends benefits for workers in 12 hard-hit regions, plus a bigger-than-expected cut in EI premiums next January.
  • Infrastructure: $120 billion over 10 years, focusing first on public transit, water, waste management and housing infrastructure.
  • Canada Child Benefit: New monthly tax-free payments start July 1 to replace UCCB and other tax measures: up to $6,400 a year per child under 6, and $5,400 those aged 6 to 18. But this amount begins to claw back for households with an income over $30,000 and is eliminated entirely for incomes over $190,000.

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