Calgary

Calgary Mayor Nenshi says 'caretaker budget' fails to seize opportunity

Alberta's budget did not feature deep cuts to balance the books, instead pushing off that accounting to a post-pandemic province. But the numbers will still constitute important realities in Calgary in the coming year.

Alberta budget allocates funding for Calgary universities, community infrastructure

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said the Alberta government's 2021 budget failed to seize on opportunities presented by the ongoing pandemic. (Ed Middleton/CBC)

Alberta's budget did not feature deep cuts to balance the books, instead pushing off that accounting to a post-pandemic province. But the numbers will still constitute important realities in Calgary in the coming year.

Speaking after the budget's release, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi characterized the plan as a "caretaker budget" that failed to seize opportunities proffered by the pandemic.

"There are some cuts in it that are really troubling," Nenshi said. "But the real issue here is there is nothing in this budget to get us back to where we were before.

"At the very least, let's hope this buys us some time to get it right, because we gotta get it right."

Cuts to capital grants

On Thursday, the Alberta government proposed nearly $62 billion in spending in the 2021-22 budget, with Finance Minister Travis Toews predicting a $18.2-billion deficit in the coming year.

The budget will also see a rise in health-care spending, a boost in the government's three-year construction plan by $1.7 billion and a reduction for municipal capital grants over the next three years.

Nenshi said the cuts to capital grants will translate into fewer construction jobs, while reduced spending on post-secondary education will harm attempts to diversify the economy.

"It cuts our capital spending by 25 per cent. On the one hand, they want us to build stuff and create jobs, and on the other hand, they want to take away the money we need to build stuff and create jobs," Nenshi said.

Education funding

Mount Royal University will receive $50 million as part of the budget over the next three years to repurpose existing spaces within the Calgary post-secondary school.

MRU president and vice-chancellor Tim Rahilly said the university would use the funding to refurbish the school's old conservatory and library space.

In addition to the $50 million, the school also has a private gift of $15 million for the renovation.

"For us, this is centre space on our campus. It's original 1970s space that was created when this campus was built and was vacated when our Riddell Library and Learning Centre was built," Rahilly said. 

"So it's a tremendous opportunity right in the heart of campus. And it will allow us to also increase our campus community by slightly more than a thousand students. So we're just, we couldn't be more delighted."

The Alberta budget includes $50 million over the next three years to repurpose existing spaces within Mount Royal University. (CBC)

But some have taken issue with changes in the budget related to education. University of Calgary student union president Frank Finley said he thinks cuts to post-secondary will lead to a "brain drain" in the province.

"Let's also acknowledge the really important role that post-secondary plays in innovation and economic development," Finley said. "This budget is not going to stimulate the economy. It is not going to create innovation. Quite the opposite, in fact."

Other funding initiatives

The Glenbow Museum and Vivo for Healthier Generations in Calgary will also receive funding as part of $251 million over the next three years designated to support building and maintenance of community infrastructure.

The budget sends $15.5 million to the Calgary Zoo, which will fund upgrades and expansions of the river otter habitat and new habitats for polar bears and other Arctic species, which are new to the zoo.

The Calgary Zoo will receive $15.5-million as part of Alberta's 2021 budget, which will, in part, fund new habitats for polar bears and other arctic species. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

Health facilities will see funding allocated for construction projects as part of the 2021 budget, including the Calgary Cancer Centre, which will receive $212.6 million in 2021-22.

Taking a full view of the budget, Nenshi said the provincial government failed to chart a course for a post-pandemic Alberta.

"We see a government, frankly, in an identity crisis," he said. "[The government is] trying to figure out if they are the Wildrose Party, if they are a centrist progressive party, if they are a party that believes in economic diversification and investing in it or in returning to the past.

"Certainly, we haven't seen much example of a deeply fiscally conservative party here either."

Nenshi added that he is worried about Alberta's growing debt and if it will hurt the province's credit rating. In the end, the mayor said that could cost municipalities more money when they need to borrow money for projects.

With files from Janet French, Scott Dippel and Lucie Edwardson

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