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Budget sends Alberta deeper into the red

The 2021-22 budget predicts a deficit of $18.2 billion and debt ballooning to a record $115.8 billion by the end of the year.

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Alberta Finance Minister Travis Toews introduced a budget Thursday that will see the province sink even further in debt.

The 2021-22 budget predicts a deficit of $18.2 billion and debt ballooning to a record $115.8 billion by the end of the year.

But Toews said there may be light at the end of the tunnel.

Toews said widening distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine in the second half of 2021, along with the rebound of the oil and gas industry and changes to the public sector salary structure will help the province recovery financially.

The deficit target of $18.2 billion is $2 billion less than the 2020-21 forecast. Deficits of $11 billion and $8 billion are targeted for 2022-23 and 2023-24 respectively.

Total expense in 2021-22 is $570 million less than the forecast for 2020-21. Total expense is $58.4 billion in 2022-23 and $58.9 billion in 2023-24.

“Budget 2021 ensures health-care funding to see all Albertans through the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, it lays the foundation for economic growth and job creation while carefully managing Albertans’ hard-earned tax dollars. It’s a budget that protects our health-care system and positions Alberta to emerge from COVID-19 stronger than ever,” said Toews.

“The economic outlook is slightly more positive than in previous reports. This is mainly due to rapid vaccine development, higher oil prices and slightly better 2019 ‘actuals’ than expected,” reads the budget.

Government of Alberta budget

The debt is now expected to reach $116 billion by the end of the fiscal year. The interest on the debt will cost $2.8 billion, or more than $600 per Albertan, every year.

In 2021-22, total revenue is estimated to be $43.7 billion. This is $1.4 billion more than the 2020-21 forecast of $42.3 billion.

Watch the news conference

Government of Alberta budget figures

The budget makes large increases in health spending, including a $900 million overall increase, $1.3 billion in new contingency funding specifically for COVID-19, $97 million to clear surgical backlogs caused by the pandemic, $143 million over three years for new health care facilities, $200 million to boost continuing care, and $140 million for mental health supports.

Watch the budget speech

“Budget 2021 gives the health system the resources it needs to keep fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, while keeping Albertans safe and healthy. With another record investment in health, our government’s absolute commitment to Albertans’ health and well-being is clear. Alberta’s government will continue to support and invest in quality health care, both during and after the pandemic,” said Health Minister Tyler Shandro.

There is $5.4 billion for physician compensation and development, “as the government continues to manage these costs through the physician funding framework.”

The budget keeps K-12 funding the same with new funding for the construction and modernization of 14 schools as part of the overall $1.6-billion investment in education.

Post-secondary institutions take a cut.

“There is a modest decrease from the 2020-21 forecast reflects the government’s commitment to bring post-secondary institution spending in line with other jurisdictions,” said the budget.

The three-year Capital Plan provides $191 million to support post-secondary institution projects to expand student capacity and learning environments, including new funding of $50 million for the Mount Royal University Re-purposing Existing Facilities project.

It includes new financial supports for working parents, $3.1 billion in economic recovery programs and stimulus, and the continued advancement of the largest infrastructure stimulus spend in Alberta’s history – $20.7 billion that will create 90,000 high paying jobs, Toews said.

Budget 2021 is also asking the public service to take a pay cut.

“Alberta is broke. And we aren’t talking about darn-I-missed-a-cellphone-payment type broke. Seriously broke,” said Miranda Rosin UCP MLA for Banff-Kananaskis.

“Over the past year, our Government has done what necessary to protect the health and financial security of those living in our province, and today’s budget, centered around the very theme of Protecting Lives and Livelihoods, will reflect that.

“Let me be clear: I, nor anyone in our government will never ask Albertans to do that which we are unwilling to do ourselves, which is why us MLAs took a five per cent reduction in pay immediately upon entering office in 2019, and why our staff recently took a similar reduction. Now, it is time for the rest of the public sector to do the same,” said Rosin.

“Budget 2021-22 does commit to finding labour efficiencies in government, keeping debt-to-GDP below 30 per cent, and gradually bringing spending in line with other provinces.”

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation criticized the 2021 budget for a lack of effort to save money.

“Every business and family have found ways to save money during COVID-19 and the downturn, so why is the only place we can’t seem to find savings the Alberta government?” said Franco Terrazzano, the CTF’s Alberta Director.

“We need to see leadership at the top, but instead the Premier’s office is increasing its own budget by $2 million and that’s unacceptable.”

The Blue Ribbon Panel on Alberta’s finances found that the Alberta government would spend $10 billion less every single year if it brought its per person spending in line with comparable provinces, such as British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec.

“I don’t think too many Albertans are laying away at night wishing the Premier’s office would increase its budget by $2 million,” said Terrazzano.

“Taxpayers are struggling, and they need to see their tax dollars used more efficiently. The pandemic has increased costs for everyone in some areas, but the rest of us outside government have found other ways to save money. The Alberta government doesn’t seem to have a coherent plan to find savings.”

Premier Jason Kenney has ruled out the introduction of a provincial sales tax. 

“As much as I hate deficits, now would be the worst time to cut billions of additional dollars in spending when we need it in health care and we need it to help stimulate economic growth,” he said this week.

The NDP had called on Kenney to invest in health care.

Dave Naylor is the News Editor of the Western Standard
dnaylor@westernstandardonline.com
Twitter.com/nobby7694

Dave Naylor is the News Editor of the Western Standard and the Vice-President: News Division of Western Standard New Media Corp. He has served as the City Editor of the Calgary Sun and has covered Alberta news for nearly 40 years. dnaylor@westernstandardonline.com

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Joc2257

    February 26, 2021 at 12:45 pm

    Toews’s Budget is relying on oil being stable at $40 for Alberta Select and getting this oil to market. TMX still isn’t built, KMX is cancelled, his buddy in the big chair hasn’t done much on either of those pipelines or much of anything else from what I can see.
    This is how the old PC and the NDP government, Albertans demand something more than a wish and a prayer from their governments.

  2. Chris

    February 25, 2021 at 5:18 pm

    C

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BREAKING: Omicron found in Alberta

On Monday, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announced 156 Albertans self-quarantining after returning from travel in a country that had been hit with Omicron.

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The tentacles of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 have reached Alberta.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw said an Albertan returning home from Nigeria, via the Netherlands, has tested positive for Omicron.

Hinshaw said they tested positive a week ago and the person, who traveled alone, is now self-quarantining.

She said medical officials are trying to “delay” the spread of the variant until more research is done.

But Hinshaw refused to say where the traveller lives over fear it would identify them.

Hinshaw also urged people not to take out their frustrations against the family of the infected person nor the countries that are under an Omicron watch.

In her daily update, Hinshaw said in the last 24 hours, health officials have found 238 new cases of coronavirus. There are 434 people in the hospital with 81 in ICU. Another six people are reported to have succumbed to the virus.

On Monday, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announced 156 Albertans self-quarantining after returning from travel in a country that had been hit with Omicron.

Six confirmed cases of the variant of concern have now been confirmed in Canada so far.

Earlier in the day, Canada added Nigeria, Malawi and Egypt to its Omicron travel ban.

On Friday, the government put restrictions on travellers from South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and Eswatini.

“Obviously we’re watching very, very closely the situation with Omicron,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on his way into the cabinet meeting.

“There may be more we need to do and we’ll be looking at it very carefully.”

More to come…

Dave Naylor is the News Editor of the Western Standard
dnaylor@westernstandardonline.com
Twitter.com/nobby7694

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Unvaxxed grounded in Canada

As of November 30, travellers will no longer be allowed to submit a negative test result in place of proof of vaccination to board a plane or train in Canada.

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As of Tuesday, Canadian travellers over the age of 12 will no longer be able to fly or travel by train in Canada without proof of vaccination.

The policy was originally set to come into effect on October 30, however, the federal government announced it would grant a grace period to unvaccinated travellers allowing for a negative COVID-19 test to be provided within 72 hours of the trip.

As of November 30, travellers will no longer be allowed to submit a negative test result in place of proof of vaccination to board a plane or train in Canada.

The new travel restrictions for the unvaccinated come on the heels of the emergence of a new variant of concern (VOC) dubbed Omicron by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Cases involving the new variant, originally detected in South Africa, have been found in other countries including five cases within Canada.

Although there is not much known about the new variant at this time, the WHO confirmed scientists around the world are working to determine how the highly-mutated variant will affect transmissibility and severity of illness in the population.

Canada, along with other nations, closed its boards and expanded its screening protocols to travellers arriving from affected areas in southern Africa.

The Canadian airline industry welcomed the vaccine mandates when they were announced in October. Air Canada and West Jet have both confirmed they will be asking all travellers to produce proof of vaccination before boarding their carriers as of Tuesday.

While health measures such as masking and screening will still be required, no measures for quarantining individual travellers have been put in place with the exception of those who have travelled through or arrived from southern Africa.

“If you indicate to your airline or railway company that you’re eligible to board, but fail to provide proof of vaccination or valid COVID-19 test result, you won’t be allowed to travel and could face penalties or fines,” the government indicated in a statement.

The Canadian government is also warning permanent residents abroad to expect to provide vaccine passports to return home.

The rules don’t apply to commuter trains.

The Government of Canada has created a “reliable way to show proof of your COVID-19 vaccination history when travelling internationally and within Canada,” states the government’s website. The document is verified once uploaded to ArriveCAN upon returning to the country.

The website warns travellers are not guaranteed entry to another country with the documents and suggests checking the rules of your destination country and the countries you travel through.

“Today, Canada passed a sad milestone in its history,” said Matt Slatter, a pilot with a major Canadian airline and a founder of Free 2 Fly, a hub that has “Canadian aviation professionals standing with passengers in defence of freedom.”

“No longer can it hold itself as a beacon of freedom and liberal values.”

The Free 2 Fly website encourages passengers and airline workers who “feel strongly that the ability to travel should not be linked to vaccination status,” to sign up and join their movement.

“With the advent of mandates requiring all aviation and rail passengers to be vaccinated, Canada is now effectively a two-tier society,” said Slatter.

“On one tier, compliant citizens are afforded many of the rights they once enjoyed in a free society. While the other tier is essentially relegated to their own localities, with limited exception.

“History suggests this style of governance will only lead to more tragedy and heartbreak. The cure is inevitably worse than the disease. Will Canada learn from the mistakes of the past?”

Currently, there are just under 38,000 signed up on the Free 2 Fly site. One of the goals of the group is to “wage a legal campaign to block, and/or overturn, all vaccination mandates.”

Melanie Risdon is a reporter for the Western Standard
mrisdon@westernstandardonline.com

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CRTC trying to hang up on spoof calls

Caller ID spoofing occurs when callers hide or misrepresent their identity by displaying fictitious or altered phone numbers when making calls.

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All those calls from the taxman and Canadian Border Services officials threatening to arrest you could soon be coming to an end thanks to new regulations from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

“Many Canadians are now able to determine which calls can be trusted thanks to a new technology aimed at combating spoofed calls named STIR/SHAKEN. Caller ID spoofing is frequently used in nuisance and fraudulent calls to mask the identity of the caller,” said the CRTC in a release.

“As of today, telecommunications service providers will certify whether a caller’s identity can be trusted by verifying the caller ID information for Internet Protocol-based voice calls. This new technology will help reduce the frequency and impact of caller ID spoofing. As service providers continue to upgrade their IP networks and offer compatible phones to their customers, more and more Canadians will be able to see the effects of STIR/SHAKEN.”

It’s believed up to 25% of all calls in Canada are scams.

The CRTC said Caller ID spoofing occurs when callers hide or misrepresent their identity by displaying fictitious or altered phone numbers when making calls.

“This new caller ID technology will empower Canadians to determine which calls are legitimate and worth answering, and which need to be treated with caution. As more providers upgrade their networks, STIR/SHAKEN will undoubtedly reduce spoofing and help Canadians regain peace of mind when answering phone calls,” said Ian Scott, CRTC CEO.

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