Edmonton

'The message is solidarity': Rally takes aim at Alberta budget

About 100 people took to the steps of the Alberta legislature on Saturday to voice their opposition to the recent UCP budget.

'We need to begin open, visible resistance to the plans Jason Kenney has for Alberta'

Protesters opposing the province's budget took over a lane of traffic on 107th Street on their way to the Alberta legislature. (Jordan Omstead/CBC)

About 100 people took to the steps of the Alberta legislature on Saturday to voice their opposition to the recent budget. 

The group gathered at Beaver Hills House Park before marching along 107th Street to the legislature grounds. 

Austin Johnson says he organized the rally with the help of grassroots Indigenous activists after seeing broad discontent about the budget on social media. 

"The message is solidarity for all Albertans and community," said Johnson, from Samson Cree Nation. 

"A lot of people might feel frustrated because they thought we might have been past this or we've already overcome this as a province." 

Shy Fudger used a walker as they marched toward the legislature. As a university student with a disability, Fudger was particularly concerned about cuts to post-secondary education and the government's decision to untie monthly disability benefits to inflation.

"It's just making it harder for people to exist," they said. "It's despicable. Absolutely despicable."

Shy Fudger says the budget makes life harder for students and people with disabilities. (Jordan Omstead/CBC)

The government lifted a five-year tuition freeze in the latest budget, allowing post-secondary institutions to raise tuition fees by seven per cent every year for the next three years. The budget also increases student loan interest payments from prime to prime plus one per cent. 

"When you're paying thousands of dollars a semester and getting thousands of dollars in student loans, that adds up really quickly," Fudger said. 

The Alberta government has defended the budget as a set of difficult, but necessary measures to return the province to surplus by the fiscal year 2022-23, and to ease the province's debt, forecast to reach $71.8 billion by the end of this year.

But Rory Gill, president of CUPE Alberta, said the government's decision to cut corporate taxes from 12 per cent to eight per cent was made on the back of the public sector.

"There will be visible, painful results of what [Premier Jason Kenney] is going to do, and it's going to affect every Albertan," Gill said. 

The march started at Beaver Hills House Park in downtown Edmonton before making its way to the legislature. (Jordan Omstead/CBC)

Finance Minister Travis Toews said the government will look to roll back wages across the public sector, from teachers to healthcare workers, by an average of two per cent in upcoming wage arbitration. The government is also looking to cut the public service by 7.7 per cent by 2023.

Gill said Saturday's rally was just the beginning of the resistance to those cuts. 

"We need to begin open, visible resistance to the plans Jason Kenney has for Alberta," he said. 

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