All eyes on UCP government ahead of Alberta budget 2024

Click to play video: 'All eyes on UCP government ahead of Alberta budget 2024'
All eyes on UCP government ahead of Alberta budget 2024
The Alberta government will table Budget 2024 on Thursday, Feb. 29, and all eyes are on the government to see where spending will be directed. Morgan Black reports. – Feb 19, 2024

The Alberta government will table Budget 2024 on Thursday, Feb. 29, and all eyes are on the government to see where spending will be directed.

Dr. Paul Parks, president of the Alberta Medical Association, said he has been advocating for dedicated funding for primary care and acute care.

“We do have two concurrent crises. We have issues and a crisis with access to primary care and we have issues around access to the acute care system in the hospitals,” Parks said.

“We are going to be handcuffed to be able to stabilize and move forward on the entire health-care system if we don’t address the crisis of family medicine first.”

Parks said he has had positive communication with the health minister and premier on these topics, and is hopeful dedicated funding will be included in next week’s budget. But he admits Alberta is falling behind other prairie provinces.

Story continues below advertisement

“Whatever the finite pot ends up being for the year in the budget for health care, we need firm commitment right up front attached with the budget saying, ‘We are going to commit to a new funding model for family physicians that will make us competitive again with our prairie provinces.”

Parks said not investing in primary care will have a trickle-down effect on the entire health-care system.

“We must secure that foundation for family medicine and rural generalists. If we don’t, then everything in our system will just cost tenfold more, patients will just wait longer and longer, and outcomes will be very poor,” he said.

“They (the government) have said they understand the urgency and how critical it is to invest in primary care and stabilize the acute care system.”

The latest health and medical news emailed to you every Sunday.

Edmonton not always given ‘the attention that it needs’

Speaking at an event in Edmonton on Sunday, Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said the city’s asks are around economic growth opportunities and tackling societal issues such as homelessness, mental health and addictions.

He said the city is working closely with several ministries on the asks, but believes Edmonton hasn’t always seen its fair share from previous provincial budgets.

“We have noticed in the past the provincial government has not given our capital city the attention that it needs,” Sohi said.

Story continues below advertisement

“The city has always seen under-investments from the provincial government of the past. But I am hopeful that this new government will give Edmonton fair treatment and equitable treatment.”

Economist weighs in

Chetan Dave is a professor of economics at the University of Alberta. He isn’t optimistic when it comes to spending on health care.

“I think health-care spending is going to be incredibly contentious,” he said. “I am anticipating cuts.

“This government does not leave me with a lot of confidence that they care about the social spending that most Albertans care about, when it comes to health care, education, higher education,” he said. “I think their priorities are elsewhere.

“I am pretty pessimistic on the spending on those items that the standard, middle-class family that’s growing and working… that those families would normally care about.”

Dave expects to see the government spend on things like law enforcement and solutions for the homeless crisis. He also believes there will be crisis funding for wildfires “mainly because the politics repercussions of not doing so will be massive.”

In a fiscal update in November, Finance Minister Nate Horner said the province was on track to record a $5.5-billion surplus when the 2023-24 budget year ends in March.

Story continues below advertisement

That is a $3.2-billion increase from the surplus predicted when the budget was introduced in February 2023.

The extra money is due mainly to oilsands royalties and higher personal and corporate income taxes.

Click to play video: 'Alberta’s budget surplus growing'
Alberta’s budget surplus growing

Dave said in the medium- and long-term, he’d like to see Alberta move away from relying so heavily on oil revenues.

“Oil prices have been fluctuating in the low- to the medium-$70s range. So I’m guessing that that continues for a little bit. They are famously volatile,” he said. “I am probably thinking around sort of low-70s, mid-70s maybe if we’re lucky, which kind of suggests that this year’s budget will probably come in either a sight deficit or a slight surplus.

“If they’re that committed to a balanced budget and oil prices are not coming in super high like anticipated – which was overly optimistic,” he said, “then it will be a situation where they’re going to have to cut somewhere or maybe hope to ride it out a little bit.

Story continues below advertisement

“Despite what might sound like doom and gloom from me, the fact of the matter still remains that Alberta, across the provinces, does just fine and I think will continue to do just fine.”

Global News will have extensive coverage of Budget 2024 next Thursday afternoon as soon as the budget is tabled in the legislature.

Sponsored content